The Central African Republic crisis, explained
Here's everything you need to know about the current humanitarian crisis unfolding in Central African Republic.Read More
Years of conflict have decimated wells in Central African Republic, putting the population at risk of disease from drinking dirty water. But with a little bit of innovation — and a lot of people power — communities in the Kouango region are finally getting access to clean water.
Content Advisory:This story briefly details acts of violence in describing the effect of conflict on water points in CAR, under the section "A scarce resource."
When armed fighters came to Julien Dieudonné’s* village, he fled into the bush with his family. They lived in hiding for three months, foraging for food to survive.
Julien lives in Kouango in Central African Republic (CAR), a region decimated by conflict. Recently, soldiers attacked villages in the area, burning nearly 500 homes to the ground and forcing the population to flee for their lives.
The conflict has forced more than 600,000 people to flee their homes; many are living in crowded displacement camps without clean water or sanitation.
Though Julien has now returned home, sporadic fighting continues to this day, and it’s taking a heavy toll on affected communities. Most worrying of all, the majority of water points (such as wells) in the area have been destroyed. A staggering 95% of the area’s population is without access to clean water.
Sadly, in CAR this situation is not uncommon. The population has been dealing with the impact of conflict since violence erupted in late 2012. Infrastructure across the country has been destroyed, and countless water points have been left unusable due to violence, disrepair, and overuse. In some villages, water sources were purposely contaminated by armed groups who placed the remains of the deceased inside of community wells. The conflict has also forced more than 600,000 people to flee their homes; many are living in crowded displacement camps without clean water or sanitation.
In all, 70% percent of the country’s population does not have access to safe drinking water, and three out of four people lack adequate sanitary facilities. That’s a total of 2.2 million people who need water, hygiene, and sanitation assistance.
But how do you bring water to rural, undeveloped areas? Many parts of CAR are quite literally “off the grid,” meaning there are no water pipes to connect to and roads are often in poor condition or nonexistent. So bringing water to these remote communities means drilling wells — a task that’s more difficult than it sounds. It requires money, technical expertise… and a very big drill.
Unsurprisingly, there are not a lot of mechanized drills in rural CAR. So Concern has pioneered the use of manually operated “village drills,” which rely on genuine people power rather than electricity. The drills are 33% cheaper than typical mechanized drills, and can be transported to remote areas and assembled on site.
Of course, a village drill isn’t much use without a team to make it work.
When Concern arrived in Kouango, many people were still in hiding, afraid that violence would return to their communities. Julien’s family was among those who has returned, but he’d found that job opportunities in his town had all but disappeared.
“Now I can actually save some money for my children’s future. I’m saving for a small plot of land for a coffee plantation for them.”
So when Julien heard that Concern was hiring community members to form teams to manually operate the drills, he signed up. Now that he’s been trained, he and the seven other members of his drilling team are earning a fair wage — and twice what unskilled laborers make.
For Julien, drilling is a way to lift himself out of poverty.
“During the crisis, everything stopped and it was difficult to earn any money,” he explained. “Now I can actually save some money for my children’s future. I’m saving for a small plot of land for a coffee plantation for them.”
Best of all, the drilling teams have been set up for a sustainable future. The teams will one day become local associations that can be hired by other organizations. Julien and his team receive business management training in addition to all their technical training, and also learn about spare parts and tools so they can maintain the equipment over the long haul. In addition, the drills themselves are designed to be sustainable — running on manpower and using readily-available materials like rubble and gravel — and are much more environmentally-friendly than traditional mechanized drills.
“In addition to the money we receive now,” Julien explains, “we have learned skills particularly around maintenance. I like that I am part of a team as well — and hopefully we can continue to work together after the program is over.”
This year, Concern’s drilling teams will create 40 boreholes, providing clean water to some 14,000 people in the area.
*Names changed for security
Concern has been working in CAR since May 2014 and has reached hundreds of thousands of people. The complex situation demands a holistic response, so we’re engaged in a range of activities, including:
We’re reaching as many people as we can, but hundreds of thousands more need help. Together we can expand our life-saving assistance to off-the-grid communities in need.