|The residents of Newih Ziban, a simple village of stone built houses perched on a rocky outcrop high in the mountains outside Mendefera have the guerrilla freedom fighters of the EPLA (Eritrean People’s Liberation Army) to thank for the mountain reservoir which is sited on their western approach.|
For it was during the 30 year war of independence from neighbouring Ethiopia that the EPLA first set about building the reservoir – a half-moon wall of rocks and cement in the side of the hill which was designed to catch the waters as they cascaded down the mountains during the torrential seasonal rains.
Terracing walls and check dams built higher up the mountains were developed to direct the waters into the reservoir, while the small stony terraces also served to filter out the top soils from the water, and thus serve the dual purpose of arresting soil depletion, and preventing siltation and diminished capacity of the reservoir itself.
In the years following Independence the reservoir at Newih Ziban fell into disrepair however, and because of leaks and siltation it was dry for several months each year.
The consequences were severe for the 600 local villagers, whose family members were forced to undertake a long and arduous six hours round trip to the valley below to collect water on a daily basis.
Following discussions with community representatives, Self Help Africa embarked on a repair programme to the reservoir at Newih Ziban, providing materials for the construction of a new reservoir wall as a replacement for the cracked and leaking original.
‘In an upland area such as this a system of gathering and storing rainfall is the best and most cost effective system of providing water for the community’, says Self Help’s Guoy Gebre.
‘As there are no natural springs anywhere nearby, and boring for water is simply too costly – with no guarantee at the end that it will be successful in finding water anyway’.
The rebuilt reservoir has transformed the lives of people such as 13 year old Samhar Habtom, who arrives at the reservoir shouldering her baby brother Nahnail, and leading the family donkey with its customised water containing pannier – made from the inner tube of a lorry tyre.
Samhar has travelled to the reservoir from her home around half an hours walk away, but in the past, she said that they used to spend close to half a day, travelling to and from the nearest water source down in the valley.
‘The situation is much better than it was a few years ago’, she says. ‘Because I can now collect water in just over an hour, I am able to go to school’, she says.
‘The villagers do not pay for the water, but they do pay in crops and food contributions for a caretaker to oversee the utility’, she says.
‘He makes sure that daily maintenance work is done, and that to avoid contamination, animals are kept away from the main reservoir, and are watered at an adjoining drinking trough instead’.