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Access to Water Empowers Women in Morocco’s Middle Atlas
I recently returned from Outerbate, a village high in the Atlas Mountains in central Morocco, where USAID broke ground on a new water supply system. In this Amazigh, or Berber village, the water supply system is more than 80 years old and serves only a handful of the village’s 300 homes.
I met Fatima Mazrou, a woman in her late 70s, who shared, “When we look for water, we sometimes get frozen and sick because the weather can go to below 10 degrees. It takes me at least one hour lining up to get water. Water and bread are critical to our survival.”
I was surprised to see that women do most of the hard work of filling buckets to provide their families with water. The challenge is that the village’s 1,200 inhabitants must fill buckets and water containers at a common tap, and the task disproportionately falls to the village’s women and girls.
During the summer months, the tap frequently runs dry. Water-related health problems are common. In the winter, this arduous trek up the mountain in freezing weather and back to the village carrying heavy pails of water leads to health problems for women, including miscarriages.
The time and work involved collecting water also means reduced primary school attendance by the village’s girls. Kuba Hamou, a sheep herder, told me that ”having better access to water would eventually free women to pursue income-generating activities and help keep our daughters enrolled in school.”
Financed by USAID’s Development Grants Program, the Outerbate water system is being installed to address some of these challenges. Implemented by a local NGO, Al Kheir, the program will provide clean drinking water to every home in the village, ending the current practice of women and girls filling water containers at a common tap. With the introduction of the new system, girls’ attendance in schools should also increase and hundreds of families will have access to water and improved sanitation conditions in their homes, schools and public areas.