This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Urgent search for water in Mozambique

Six men grasp the long metal handle of a drill and walk slowly in a circle. They lean into the task, using their body weight to drive the drill shaft into the dry soil.

Lydia Pensar waters her garden near a sand dam at Matambo, Mozambique. Built in 2013, the dam supplies 54 families with fresh water for irrigation and other uses. — Matthew Sawatzky/MCC
Lydia Pensar waters her garden near a sand dam at Matambo, Mozambique. Built in 2013, the dam supplies 54 families with fresh water for irrigation and other uses. — Matthew Sawatzky/MCC

They have hand-drilled some 16 feet down and have a dozen feet or more to go. Even then, there’s no guarantee the water will be potable. An attempt nearby was abandoned after three days of drilling when workers found the water too saline to be used.

Across Mozambique, the search for clean and reliable water is urgent and constant.

People risk illness by drinking from contaminated sources. Months of drought leave communities unable to sustain gardens and livestock.

Mennonite Central Committee is working to move away from only responding in emergencies, said Jana Meyer of Falls Church, Va., MCC representative in Mozambique.

“We are finding ways to prevent them, or make the situation more tolerable,” she said.

Through its partnership with the Christian Council of Mozambique, MCC is investing in water projects in dozens of communities — from drilling and maintaining wells to harvesting water from sand.

Water from sand

Henriques Cubonera Mbondo admits that when he first heard about the plan for a sand dam in his village of Maule Maule in Tete Province, he was perplexed.

“I thought: Water from sand, how can that be?” he said. “But now I know it’s possible, and we have lots of water. You can see my garden. We have kale, lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage.”

To build a sand dam, a concrete wall is built across a dry riverbed. During the rainy season, the wall slows the flow of the river, and water infuses the coarse sand that builds up behind the wall. During the dry season, water can be extracted by digging into the sand.

MCC and the Christian Council of Mozambique have supported the building of sand dams in Changara District since 2008. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank provides a grant.

Community members dig the foundation, collect rocks and do other tasks. When water is available, they are given seeds and trained in conservation-agriculture methods. MCC provides construction materials and seeds and helps some with the salaries of CCM staff.

Healthier children

According to Tiago Vilanculo, who oversees CCM’s work in Changara, rain falls there maybe three months a year, temperatures can reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit, and there’s a large livestock population.

“This district has a great challenge with food security,” Vilanculo said.

The sand dam in Maule Maule was built in 2013. Tino Gento was born in the village 45 years ago, but this is her first garden. She will use a large tomato she’s just picked to make a sauce for chima — porridge of ground maize, sorghum or millet — for her husband and eight children.

“We are eating a lot more vegetables now; you can see that our bellies are full,” she said, pointing to her stomach. “We had kids who were not healthy, but now they are.”

Mbondo has more vegetables than his family of seven can eat. The garden is also income.

“I can sell vegetables to buy oil and have my maize ground into flour, maybe buy some goats,” he said. “I feel secure.”

Attacked by crocodiles

In Caia District, the challenge is finding water free from contaminants, salt or other hazards.

Nfumo Arvelino Bonjesse Ntanda, 60, is a community leader in the village of Ndoro. Until a few years ago, his village got water from the Zangue River.

“At the river we got attacked by crocodiles,” he said. “As many as 16 people lost their lives.”

Ntanda said some people also went to an open well, with no protection from the surrounding environment. People suffered from diarrhea, skin rashes and other illnesses.

Open wells often are contaminated by livestock feces, insects and impurities on containers dipped into the water, said Betanico Fernando Dique, CCM coordinator in Caia District. The salt content can be high.

In other communities, women must walk several miles daily to the nearest source of clean water.

“No water, no life,” Dique said. “We see every new well with clean water as a victory.”

Water for 500 or more

The wells are drilled up to 32 feet deep to find potable water. Concrete coverings protect the well from contamination. A hand pump is used to draw water.

CCM works with communities to train people to maintain the well and make simple repairs. An elected committee oversees maintenance, cleaning and a collection of a small fee from each household using the well.

Each well provides water for 500 people, sometimes more. Between 2004 and 2014, 69 wells were constructed through MCC’s partnership with CCM.

Built with the support of MCC and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, 42 sand dams provide water to other communities in Mozambique, serving more than 12,000 people.

MCC and CCM partner with communities to address challenges that arise. Eight wells aren’t working, and over the next three years, the project will focus on rehabilitation while still building new wells.

For Meyer, the MCC representative, the projects not only provide water but also build peace.

“I think of the passage in Isaiah 32, where peace is described as a place where you can have your animals and a place to live and a place to cultivate,” she said. “This is how I see these projects.”

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