Just add water.

There are many places on the planet where climate change is being debated. Barza Village in the Far North of Cameroon isn’t one of them.

The beautiful houses of thirsty Barza.

This area in the Sahel area of Africa (the transitional swath of land between the Sahara desert to the north and savanna to the south) has always been hot and dry, with 7 months of scorching heat that often reaches 113 degrees. But in the past 22 years, things have gotten far, far worse for the farmers of L’Extreme Nord.

The grannies remember when rainfall was dependable and water accessible.

Rainfall has decreased from 900 mm to about 400 mm a year. Nearby Lake Chad had a surface area of 25,000 square kilometers in 1970; today its surface area is 2,000 square kilometers. (How did I not know this??) And for the people here in Barza, water has gone from being something that is a challenge to obtain — to something that consumes their entire day, as the people walk back and forth repeatedly to the only source of water, a river 10 kilometers away.

In 2003, Papa Maliki, Barza’s village chief, in desperation started a GIC community group, with the intention of asking for help in ensuring the education of the town’s children and reducing poverty and malnutrition.

But it all starts with water.In 2006, Heifer began to offer assistance with sheep and donkeys (that can carry water) and in 2011, in conjunction with Bethlehem Foundation and the GIC community group, Heifer dug a borehole that would provide clean, potable water to the town — for which the people are indescribably grateful.

The daily queue for precious water at the borehole.

The hole is 55 meters deep, but working 16.5 hours a day it’s already pushing capacity, and every day at noon it must be given 90 minutes to rest and refill. Barza’s borehole is managed by Tabitha Koffa, president of the GIC, and with the water committee, she’s established a system of distribution based on the town quadrants, and a maintenance fund to which everyone contributes in the event the borehole needs repair: $4/year for a family; $2/year for a single person.

Borehole President Tabitha Koffa, with a lot on her mind.

Each of Barza’s 200 families may take (2) 20-liter jugs every other day of the fresh, clean water from the borehole –but it still takes about 150-200 liters of water a day to provide drinking, cooking, washing and animals’ water in these large households. So the women (and men, since Heifer’s gender trainings taught that water collection is not just women’s work) must still walk 5 miles each way to carry questionably safe river water back to their homes.

When I saw the process and drove (not walked) the route, I got enraged. Many philanthropic organizations like charity:water and Dig Deep have called water a basic human right – and when you consider the complete, utter, appalling waste of human capital as people haul water on their heads five miles to home … it makes you wonder what our priorities are. Yes, it’s a government’s job to build the infrastructure that provides water to people’s homes, but it’s a moral crime, in my estimation, for us to allow anyone on this planet to live without water.

One borehole costs @ $15,000. The Far North of Cameroon is estimated to need 11,600 of them. That would cost $174 million – about 40% of what the USA spends on a single F-22 Raptor aircraft.

Politicians can argue all they want about climate change, but the fact remains that we’ve caused the vast majority of it (Americans use 25% of the world’s energy & cause far more of the carbon emissions that are driving up temperatures and wreaking havoc on weather patterns) and poor people in the Sahel are picking up the tab.

Or should I say picking up the 20-liter bottles of unclean water, putting them on their heads, shifting their babies on their back – and walking slowly home.

Categories: Africa, Cameroon, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Water | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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28 thoughts on “Just add water.

  1. Thanks Betty, I share your outrage…we need to do so much more now.


    • This just made me crazy, Pierre …
      I couldn’t believe in our day and age people are still spending
      all their time and energy hauling water that isn’t even safe
      to their homes. There is something so wrong in our world that we would allow this to be the way of life for millions of people when we know exactly how to solve this problem.

  2. Very tough. Really, a solution is a must. This is not meant to be trite but lets put some gamers on this one to come up with a battle plan so to speak. Thanks for the info.

    • Whatever it would take, Kim– but I agree, we should be thinking as creatively as possible, because this is an unacceptable situation … for sure!

  3. Suzanne Vaezi

    I have followed your stories, this one is really upsetting. Not to have water is a crime against humanity!

    • I usually try to be as upbeat and optimistic as possible, but the situation in the Sahel is just beyond belief. It is truly Ground Zero in climate change, and the poorest people are the ones who are suffering most … as usual. I just couldn’t make it a cheery story … so thanks for writing.

  4. etexbill

    The sad thing is, if we don’t do something soon, we’re all going to find ourselves in this situation.

    • Etex – I read a fascinating article on climate change in the Innovators issue of the New Yorker, and unfortunately, all predictions show that moderate climates will only be changed a bit, and possibly get more rain for better crops .. while the drier, poorer places will be totally screwed, and the pattern of what’s happening now will only get worse. I sure hope they’re wrong, or that we can do something really creative and powerful to reverse this trend.

  5. Thanks for this post, Betty. It is appalling that water is in such short supply and we in the developed world have done so little to right that wrong. I wish this post were FP. It’s so important, so fundamental, for God’s sake.

    • Thanks, Kathryn — I wish it were FPed, too… but then, I’m really happy that YOU read it and it made you feel so much the way I do. I hope and pray we can do something to make a difference in what’s happening over there – it really is haunting me.

  6. “picking up the 20-liter bottles of unclean water” – all that work for, the kicker, unclean water; it’s all so wrong and so upsetting.

    • Well, AA — the good news here is that with the borehole from Heifer, at least the people of Barza have 40 liters of fresh, clean water for drinking — so hopefully they can use the other water for washing, watering the animals, and boiling. Cholera has become an issue in the Far North in other towns, and hopefully this town can stay safe. But that walk is SO long and grueling… it’s just unimaginable they do it every single day. At least once.

  7. I always enjoy your blogs, and although we blog in completely different fashions, I thought it was quite ironic that today we both used the same title for our posts! How funny!!

  8. Tiffany — loved your cheerful post at Life With Blondie, and it’s the perfect antidote to my somber one. Thanks for writing … and for cheering me up!

  9. people are truely remarkable.

  10. Ahh Betty, they walk gently on this earth and we stomp around, but they pay the price for our cushy lifestyle. Sadly, until it is WE who suffer, I doubt much will change.

    Glumly, Sybil

    • Oh gee, I never want to make you glum, Sybil — but this did make me think mightily about what we could possibly do to make life bearable for the people of the Sahel. And I think it’s going to come down to foreign aid in terms of infrastructure support — much like what it needed in Haiti. If we could do water projects, through NGOs or government aid, throughout the Sahel, at the very least people would have potable water to drink … and they could use their tremendous energy and initiative to grow crops, raise animals and figure out ways to support themselves and their families. Africans are tremendously enterprising and creative — but without water everything grinds to a halt. It’s in everybody’s best interests that people’s energy is used in ways that aren’t totally primitive and stupid.

  11. Martha Radatz

    Yes it is an outrage. Someone needs to make stickers of one of your pictures and slap it above every water faucet in America so that people stop running water needlessly, are grateful for the access to the fresh, clean water they take for granted, and are moved to give what ever it takes to make sure every human being has that same right. This is just one reason why I appreciate Heifer and their emphasis on education of the giver. Throwing money at a problem is just too easy—something, some new awareness, must change us, change our habits of consumption. Thank you for being a part of our education!

  12. I love your outrage, Martha — it reminds me so much of my own!! Thank YOU for your passion …
    xoxoox b

  13. Holy crap. Very recently we were trying to impart some perspective to our teen girls about how lucky they were to have the problems they were complaining about. I think this post does a far better job of it. I hope like hell more organizations like Heifer can continue to implement solutions that we can help with. This problem really hit me.

    • It really hit me, too, JM … it is so important that our children realize how fortunate they are, but it’s difficult when their reality is so different. I hope that organizations like Heifer can make a difference — and I do have faith!!

  14. Too sad to think that this struggle for water is a daily occurance over there while we in North America are still cleaning our sidewalks with the hose on full because its “easier than using a broom”.

    I don’t know how those women manage to carry those water containers for miles every day. A few years ago I went to a National Geographic exhibition on “Water”. To demonstrate that water is really heavy one of those large containers the ladies carry on their heads was filled with water, and none of us could pick it up.

    • I have no idea how they don’t have severe neck issues — but maybe they do. Just because they keep on doing what they’re required to do to live; doesn’t mean they have no pain around it. It really killed me to see this… I felt so passionately how wrong it is that we live with such abundance and they live with such need.

  15. pixiealamode

    The terrible thing (well, one of the terrible things) is that we are fully capable of solving this problem, and haven’t done it just because….. Why?? We think aircrafts are more important than the health and happiness of others, I guess.

  16. You are SO right, Pixie … we are capable of solving this problem — or helping their government solve it. I just hope and pray we will.

  17. Pingback: SOCIAL GOOD SUNDAYS: Cows R Us with Heifer International | Thirdeyemom

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