Angoche, a rural coastal district in northern Mozambique, is a hidden treasure. I lived there for 10 weeks during my practicum, partnering with a local NGO. I lived in a beautiful colonial home. I ate the best seafood I’ve ever had (seriously, crab-lovers from all over the world come to this area for a taste). I drank delicious palm wine. I visited almost untouched white-sand, clear blue water beaches with renowned snorkeling. The only problems were that I was harassed by police officers on the way there, the short distance took hours longer than it should due to a bumpy miserable road that is destroyed by flooding every year, and I saw several local people defecate in the same beautiful water I was about to snorkel in.
Actually, as I immersed myself more into the lifestyle and made local friends, I began to realize the many challenges that people in Angoche face, and it’s almost unfathomable to me. Perhaps primarily, roads are horrendous. Flooding earlier in the year had made the only road to the provincial capital impassable for five months, which meant no goods were imported while most agricultural fields were destroyed; everyone went hungry. Also during this time, the entire north half of the country lost power for over two months. The fragile coastal ecosystem cannot support the (relatively dense) population, and presents countless challenges to infrastructure. Conservation agriculture efforts are some of the most important interventions that benefit local people. Fishing, the primary source of income for rural families is dangerous and has highly fluctuating profits. While pit latrines are common, most wash away during flooding, which defeats the purpose of safe containment of fecal sludge. HIV/AIDs is at epidemic levels. Very few people complete the hospital’s free treatment the treatment because local understanding of the disease is abysmal. Instead, the disease spreads because of widespread culture of sex; condoms are too expensive, cheating is so much “the norm” that it is expected, and people actually believe that not being sexually active makes them sick. Gender inequality and domestic violence are significant. Education is of poor quality; secondary schools are too far away for youth in rural communities, and teachers often don’t show up and are known for corruption (accepting bribes or sex to change grades is common practice). I met educated people from rural backgrounds that had essentially been shunned by their entire communities when they left for school. Corruption is pervasive at every institutional level; it was even obvious to me (an outsider) in high-level district officials, village leadership, and even my colleagues in my work place. Gruesome memories from the violent civil war that ended 20 years ago still affect most adults.
However, I know water and my practicum organization has questions about water, so I did water. 37%1 of people in Angoche have access to an improved water source, which is usually a simple handpump.
These handpumps break often, require women to wake up at 3 am to wait in line, and are a primary location for quarreling. Specifically, I asked communities about the challenges they face in keeping these pumps working. Needless to say, the issues were abundant.
I also asked the government about their role in supporting communities in management of their pump. I’ll give you the short answer: they don’t do much. And it’s understandable, because they have very little funding, have no technical training to provide technical solutions in communities, own a single motorcycle to conduct of infrastructure projects in the district, and require a cost-prohibitive per diem payment anytime an employee leaves the office.
My description of Angoche, so far, has presented a bleak outlook. And yes, much of my findings were bleak. In fact, much of the development industry’s impact has historically been bleak. Given the heartbreaking quality of life in Angoche, a bleak outlook is not surprising.
However, any possible “solution” needs a basis in a complete understanding of the issue and the context that has created it. Long story short: Although few and far between, I also found a couple really successful examples of water points and their management practices. Some of these were even as the result of work from a local NGO!
So, more work to be done in Angoche. 🙂
1 37% is the figure if every handpump is functioning. But, no one has good data about how many are functioning or not. Probably about 20% are non-functioning at a given time… which puts total coverage for improved water sources closer to 30% (shhh…don’t tell the JMP).
About the Author
Kate Stetina is currently a B.S./M.S. student in Environmental Engineering. Her most notable achievements include shattering a Nalgene bottle, climbing 25 of Colorado’s 14ers, and researching feces and urine. She is passionate about water, sanitation, and hygiene in rural developing communities.