The life of Miquelina Anquebe, 56, has been anything but easy. Originally from Huambo, the second largest city in Angola, this mother of four found herself in a difficult economic situation following the early loss of her husband.
“When this happened, I had to search for a job that would bring enough money home to support my four children. At first, I had no idea what to do or where to go, but as time passed, I started by purchasing goods for retail sale,” said Miquelina. Little by little, and by using her savings, she built a small house in the São João de Almeida neighbourhood in the city of Lubango, where she lives to this day.
In 1993, Miquelina left the retail business to join the group of female coordinators of the first water point in her neighbourhood, installed by UNICEF and the Provincial Directorate of Energy and Water (DPEA). “In one way or another, I have always been involved with the water point. Initially I was part of the cleaning team, and began fully coordinating the point in 1994.” Recently, as the planet is celebrating World Water Day on March 22, we visited this water point to learn more about how it works and how it has helped to change thousands of lives.
The water point operates every day. The installation has two clearly demarcated zones, one for washing clothes and one with a wheel pump system. Everyone comes here, carrying their water barrels, and they are brought together; there is a feeling of respect for others, and the young assist the elderly in operating the pump. “Before the installation of the water point we had to walk very far as the water tank was on the other side of the neighbourhood, and there was never any water there as replenishment trucks are scarce,” said Miquelina.
Poor access to water
In Angola, access to improved water sources and sanitation facilities is still poor, particularly in rural areas. According to the 2014 Census, the number of families with access to a secure water source is only 44 percent. In other words, almost 6 in 10 families retrieve water from sources of questionable quality, potentially putting at risk their health and the health of their children, with potential diseases such as cholera or diarrhea. According to the Angolan Ministry of Health, diarrheal diseases account for 18% of deaths of children under 5. Inadequate hygiene practices are among the reasons for these deaths, as also are faecal-oral transmission diseases, malnutrition or stunting among Angola’s children.
However, the situation has changed for the families of the São João de Almeida neighbourhood, where the benefits of a safe water source can already be seen. As Miquelina says, having water in the community is a main driver in combatting diseases. “In the past, there were many more illnesses than there are today. The simple fact of drinking water of poor quality would make people fall ill without any apparent reason.”
There are also verified financial benefits. Now, for a nominal value of 200 kwanzas (1.2 USD) per month, each family can carry home as much water as they deem necessary, be it for showering, washing clothes, cooking or drinking – water that does not need to be boiled and is perfectly safe to drink. Miquelina says that “the money collected is used to maintain the facility, and whenever there are any problems all that is needed is a call to the DPEA technicians for them to come and repair the pump.”
Training for water professionals
Poor maintenance of water facilities in many regions of the country has been a genuine challenge, caused mainly by the weak response of local technicians. Due to this, the Angolan government – with support from UNICEF and funding from the European Union – is building and operating the Professional Training Centre for Water and Sanitation in Onga Zanga area, in the province of Luanda. The centre will train technicians from the government and other organisations, enabling them to perform maintenance and correctly operate the numerous water supply systems that have been built all over the country, including the point in Miquelina’s neighbourhood.
Although the improvement of basic sanitation is heavily influenced by access to water, it is not the only essential element. It is also important to develop infrastructure to avoid outdoor defecation and promote simple practices such as handwashing.
Miquelina and other women in her neighbourhood are aware of this aspect and received support from UNICEF in a project of constructing latrines in houses that lack these facilities. “An assessment is being done in the neighbourhood, house by house, to identify where work is needed,” said Miquelina. “Now that we have water, we will make good use of it to improve our livelihood. It is of great satisfaction to me to be working here and helping people have access to water, because water is life,” she concludes.
Vânia Casqueiro Barreto is a communications consultant and Heitor Lourenço is a Communication Officer at UNICEF Angola.