VIS believes that poverty will not be eradicated without sustainable universal access to clean water, nor without suitable sanitation infrastructures and hygiene behaviors which indeed represent a human right and must be ensured; VIS acts in conformity with the goal 6 of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which states: “Ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. VIS acts in some of the most remote areas of Ethiopia focusing on the WASH sector as a first step since water represents a crosscutting issue and its scarcity affects all aspects of communities’ daily life such as:
A. Health. Water scarcity affects health since people are obliged to drink less water, mostly in fairly hot climates; most of the time water is not even potable, leading to water borne diseases of all genres and in the most extreme cases to death. Water borne diseases in villages affected by water scarcity are responsible for the most frequent pathologies, representing a veritable plague for a huge number of communities.
B. Education. Water scarcity affects education since most of the children are involved in the daily water gathering activity by their mothers and are obliged to help them in the long trips towards safe water sources. This activity can take more than 8 hours of walk per day for which children cannot attend classes and are forced to drop out of school. In the same way, young and adult women who must undertake these long trips in order to ensure the water needed by their families cannot attend any afternoon literacy classes in the villages. In this way water scarcity directly effects education for all villagers.
C. Social Inclusion. Water scarcity affects social inclusion of women since they cannot take part to any of the villages’ community activities and life. Villages look mostly like semi uninhabited places where only men live with some children and part of their cattle, and wait to receive their women and children returning with water and animals. In this way, women are completely cut out of the villages’ social life, becoming more marginalized with their social role relegated to that of “water gatherers”.
D. Food Security. Water scarcity affects food security since the cattle involved in the water gathering activity suffer from the stress of the long trips, trips which weaken them leading to illnesses, basically resulting into consistent decreases of production of milk and healthy progeny. Water scarcity also means that all the gathered water is used for personal consumption and none of it can be used for agricultural purposes, which would be useful to ensure the diversification of food production in areas where food security is very much in danger.
E. Co-living among neighbor communities. Water scarcity also leads to problems in co-living among neighbor communities: in situations where one single water source serves different communities, conflicts among different villages become common, since every community claims its right to the water source. This also happens in cases where one community benefits of a water source inside its village and is forced to share it with communities coming from far with their children and cattle and depending on their same water source. Conflicts (often armed) related to the shared use of the water are common in areas affected by severe water scarcity. In this regard, VIS intends the WASH sector as the first crucial field of intervention, since it focuses on the very first people’s basic need, while having direct repercussions on all other aspects of people’s daily life.
What really happens in a village after ensuring free access to potable water as well as raising H&S standards? Surely, people can finally focus on all other aspects of life such as education, work, social life, but what if this is somehow impeded? What if the water issue actually represents only the first step of a wider chronic situation of poverty? What if something else still endangers the route to development, despite the water access assured? In this regard, VIS has been conducting a series of assessments in the villages, together with the beneficiaries, the local partners and the local authorities, trying to define the nature of this impediment and reaching the definition of two main areas of further intervention, following the WASH activities: HEALTH and EDUCATION. In most of the target villages, although water has been ensured and despite the presence of a safe water source, the total lack of infrastructure dedicated to these two sectors affects people’s lives enormously: people in need, especially elders, children and pregnant women are taken to the nearest health centers only when there is a vehicle available; in most of the cases they are forced to remain at home and either wait for a nurse to come from the nearest place or to be treated traditionally with all the repercussions that this may represent. In this way, people usually get seriously ill and in some cases, they die of simple basic illnesses that could be easily treated in better circumstances. The same happens with education: in some villages despite the presence of a water source for which children are finally allowed to attend classes, there is no school which they can attend and education is not yet promoted. Only in a few cases, families have the chance to send their children in larger villages/towns where they have relatives who can host their sons and daughters. In most cases, children drop out of school and start daily labouring as shepherds, loaders, etc. Lack of Health and Education therefore still plague some villages that have access to water but cannot overcome the problem by themselves. This is why VIS has built a large number of health posts and health centers as well as primary, intermediate and high schools, ensuring the provision of all technical equipment and furniture, in a joint action with the Ethiopian National Government which assigns to our structures the adequate number of teachers, doctors and nurses. These infrastructures also represent an essential asset for further institutional, local, and international organs as well as non-profit organizations, which can use them to run trainings and capacity buildings interventions for the local staff. During its many years of activity in the WASH sector, VIS has managed to gain an outstanding experience in this field, building up connections and partnerships with a large number of humanitarian actors, private companies, international and local organizations, donors of all genres but most of all with people, single beneficiaries, small cooperatives and civil society organizations which has widened VIS capacity to look at the problem of water scarcity, from the lowest perspective, up to the most complex one. This allows our organization to formulate ideas and solutions that really can satisfy the people’s needs, from the region, down to the district, and on to every single village reached. For every single intervention and at all stages, VIS aims at promoting collaboration among all involved stakeholders, from the local authorities to the single individuals, raising trust, inclusion and therefore reinforcing a sense of ownership, encouraging the beneficiaries and the local authorities appropriate the project to an extent, facilitating the process of hand-over of the infrastructure. For this purpose, according to the nature of the intervention, VIS has established defined formulas of collaboration together with the target communities, defined formulas that tend to increase people’s role within the activities undertaken. As a result, VIS, its partners and the target communities work proficiently together according to established duties carried out jointly. Three examples of this are:
In order to ensure the full sustainability of the interventions, VIS works at building appropriate capacities among those people who are designated as responsible for the interventions, both of their operational and financial management capacity. Water committees are formed and all members are properly trained in order to have the community lead and manage the infrastructures. Moreover, VIS also addresses the population, especially women who are trained on adequate hygiene behaviours and are ready to replicate the output of the trainings by transferring their knowledge at a household level to their children and husbands.