Water management in Siketi – Clean water and university studies (SFSA)

Read at : Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA)


Sustainable Land Management

Water management in Siketi – Clean water and university studies

By Christian Bernhart

In 2003 for the first time, nearly 5000 residents of Siketi are drawing healthy drinking water from eight standpipes in the village. The collaborators in this project, which includes a reservoir, pumping system and supply pipes, were the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and the Center for Development and Environment (CDE) of the University of Bern, as part of their joint project for sustainable land management in Eritrea (SLM), which also has geography students at the University of Asmara conducting their own field studies.

Around 21 kilometers south of Asmara, next to a church overlooking the road to Mendefer, Siketi offers a panorama of the surrounding fields. Here 60-year-old grandmother Wuba Gnebru carries her youngest grandchild next to a nearly finished circular structure of stone blocks. “I’m new here, but that is a good thing,” she said of the border war that forced her to leave Ethiopia and return to her home village. Looking at the reservoir that will soon hold 100 cubic meters of water, she added with a wink: “Of course this water is dedicated to Jesus, but he won’t be drinking it alone.”

Engineer Alem Tasfamariam, technical consultant of the Eritrean Ministry of Water, is happy to hear the woman’s quick wit. After Eritrean independence, he ended his Canadian exile to take up supervision of the country’s water management projects.

Siketi, his home village, was known for its water resources even before the war, with plentiful ground-water reserves discovered near the village in the 1980s. The Ministry of Water dug an eight-meter well four meters in diameter. Whenever water shortages have struck the capital city, as during the drought of 1984/85, up to 30 trucks a day, each with a 13-cubic-meter tank, carried Siketi’s water to Asmara.

Inexhaustible to this day, these reserves also benefit the villagers. Every morning and evening, as elsewhere throughout the country, children lead donkeys to the well, drop in their buckets, haul on the ropes and pour water into rubber drums lashed to their donkeys’ backs. Water is also scooped into special troughs for cows and goats. Basic hygiene, however, is rarely observed in the hustle and bustle at the well. Bacteria from feces contaminate the drinking water, infecting children in particular with chronic diarrhea and digestive problems.

Renovation of Siketi’s water system began even before Eritrean independence in 1991, when the open well was partly shielded by a cement cover. Residents lugged stones uphill near the church, and even laid part of the 750 meters of pipes that would supply the future reservoir. Funds for a roof and the cement inner lining, however, were not yet at hand.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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