By Aileen Chang’10
Once verdant with banana trees, lime trees, and cabbage, the landscape of the Ethiopian village of Nebar Ketema today is desiccated. As the supply of natural spring water dwindles, so does the income of the farmers who rely on water for their livelihoods. In addition, as the water levels drop, the remaining water becomes concentrated with E. coli, Giardia, Schistosoma, and Amoeba.
The men and women of Nebar Ketema had no source of clean water to drink so they drank, washed, and cooked with contaminated water. Women walked on average four hours a day to the springs to collect water, which made their families ill. The children suffered from diarrheal illness leading to poor school performance, absences, and often times failure to complete primary school. In one school tested, 100 percent of the students were positive for schistosomiasis.
The Columbia Earth Institute’s Millennium Cities Initiative partnered with the non-profit organization Community Lab to raise $3,000 from online donors for a microgrant to help improve water and sanitation in Ethiopia. The people of Nebar Ketema used the microgrant to purchase local building supplies to construct two water points to funnel treated water from a city reservoir to their town. The villagers carried stones from their homes and provided the labor for the construction of the water points. Mekelle Water Supply Service designed the piping and directed the construction for free. The villagers have created a water committee to monitor the water points, charging 0.0076 U.S. cents per 20 liters for the water consumed, an amount the villagers can afford.
Microgranting for community-led water and sanitation projects is a relatively new concept. With this model, donors in the developed world can make donations on their credit cards for small amounts from the comfort of their homes. This money is then directed to empower communities and local governments to address health issues.
This small grant of $3,000 provided access to clean water for the 6,000 people of Nebar Ketema. Two water points were constructed in a central location so villagers walk on average only 30 minutes to collect water compared with four hours in the past. Where we once saw a line of 40 women waiting patiently for hours to fill their water can from a dripping, focally contaminated spring, now we see them laughing as clean water sprays out of the new faucets filling their cans in minutes.
The beauty of microgranting is that small donations of $10 to $20 can cumulatively make a very tangible and sustainable improvement in the lives of those struggling to survive.
Dr. Chang spent two months in Ethiopia as Millennium Cities Initiative’s microgrant manager, implementing the $3,000 microgrant that supplied the people of Nebar Ketema with a clean water supply. She is now a resident in internal medicine at the University of Miami and continues to work on global health initiatives and microgranting.