Eritrea's solar panel blues

تم النشر: 31 يوليه 2003 0:00 CET

The hi-tech blue solar panel appears incongruous in the ancient sun-baked landscape of Hagaz, northern Eritrea.

But the bright endless sunlight bounces uselessly off the panel. The solar-powered pump is not working. It has been broken for six months, to the despair of the 5,000 people who depended upon it to ensure there was enough water to go around.

“Before the damage we were getting enough water, but now very little is coming through to the well, so people have to queue for a long time to collect their daily supply,” says Jimea Musa, who guards and maintains the pump on behalf of the village of Firdigi.

Flicking at the switches, Musa demonstrates the problem. Red lights flicker on the control panel and the pump emits a high-pitched whine. “We have reported the problem but nobody knows what is wrong,” he says.

The broken pump is one of five in the drought-stricken region of Hagaz which are currently out of order. In most places, such as Firdigi, the effect has been devastating.

In an area where daily temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees in the summer, each family is limited to two Jerry cans of water per day – barely enough to drink and cook with. Basic health and sanitation have suffered and illness, such as diarrhoea, is inevitable.

As part of its ongoing work to help solve long-term water problems in Hagaz, the Red Cross Society of Eritrea (RCSE), supported by the International Federation, has hired specialist engineers from Asmara to repair the broken pumps. The RCSE is also working to rehabilitate hand pumps and dig deeper wells in the region which has suffered particularly badly in the country’s recent drought.

Water levels are reported to have dropped by as much as ten metres in some places and many villagers have to walk between three and five hours to collect their daily water supplies.

The RCSE is also operating an emergency water trucking service in the worst affected areas.

The shortage of water caused by broken pumps has also created unforeseen social problems. Since the pump in Firdigi broke down Musa says that he has been forced to act as an unofficial policeman.

“As there is not enough water we have to ensure that nobody takes more than their share and nobody is allowed to collect water more than once a day,” he says. “It is very hard to control people, I do not want to say no to them, but I have no choice.”

The strain is taking its toll. “I am really tired, I am not only here all day every day, but I dream of the water point at night too,” says Musa, who, as the father of ten children, complains that he does not have enough water even for his own family.

A few metres from the broken pump, a group of children wait in the hot midday sun for their turn at the well. Their yellow plastic containers are strewn around them and their donkeys wait patiently to carry the water back to the village. There is little shade and the sandy ground is strewn with thorns.

“Since the pump broke our problem has been a lack of water,” says Mihret, 15. “We are always thirsty now and we spend too much time at the well. We hope that something can be done.”

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