Access to water can make a big difference

After decades of protracted crises in Somalia, water is scarce and unaffordable to many. But a large-scale water and sanitation project implemented by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is changing that – and transforming lives in the process.

An estimated 6.4 million people – 40 per cent of the Somali population – need emergency, life-saving assistance with water and sanitation. Some 3.5 million need safe drinking water, while others need sanitation services and hygiene supplies.

This desperate situation forces many people in vulnerable communities, especially women, to walk long distances and spend hours searching for water from open sources. Often these sources are highly contaminated.

Limited access to water also forces many people to practise open defecation. Without access to soap and other essential hygiene materials, diseases like diarrhoea and cholera can thrive.

Asha Ahmed, 39, lives with her family in Kalabayr village in north-central Somalia. She has seven children: three sons and four daughters. Kalabayr village is dry and rural and inhabited mostly by pastoralists – people who graze livestock over a wide area. Getting access to safe water here is a struggle. 

“I used to walk every morning from my village to another village 12 km away to collect water from open shallow wells,” says Asha.

“The distance was too far, so I was only able to carry one jerrycan of water on my back, which was not enough for drinking, cooking, and washing, or for feeding our livestock.”

Sometimes, the water that the villagers collected was contaminated, and people fell sick with diarrhoea. During the dry seasons, when the shallow wells were empty, they were forced to buy water from water trucks at an unaffordable price.

I used to walk every morning from my village to another village 12 km away to collect water from open shallow wells.
Asha Ahmed, 39, is a mother of seven children. She collects water from the NRC-constructed water point in Kalabayr village. Photo: Abdulkadir Mohamed/NRC

Responding to the dire situation

The project that NRC has implemented has enhanced the resilience of communities in Harfo and Galdogob districts through improved water supply, sanitation, adoption of good hygiene and increased opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.

By constructing storage facilities and watering points, and extending the piped network, we have provided communities with access to clean and safe water.

The installation of solar pumping equipment for many boreholes has reduced the cost of water and the maintenance required. Underground tanks for harvesting rainwater have also been rehabilitated.

This project is jointly funded by The Netherlands: Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS) through United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA).

This project has positively impacted our lives. It has restored our dignity as human beings... Put simply: no water, no life.

“We are not worrying about water anymore,” says Asha. “And most importantly we are not walking long distances to look for water. It is just a matter of taking our jerrycans and collecting clean water from the water point nearby.”

“Now we have enough water for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing, which was not possible before. People are not feeling sick anymore because the waterborne diseases have decreased. Our girls and boys can also spend time in school without so much disruption,” she continues.

“This project has positively impacted our lives. It has restored our dignity as human beings. Water is very important, especially for people like us who live in rural areas. Put simply: no water, no life.” says Asha. “We also have animal troughs close to our homes where our animals can access clean and safe water anytime.”

Goats drink water from the NRC-constructed animal trough in Kalabayr village. Photo: Abdulkadir Mohamed/NRC

Water helps children stay in school

This water and sanitation project is also enabling children to stay in school. Darusalam Primary and Secondary School in Goldogob district is one of the schools where NRC has constructed water points and handwashing facilities.

“I can drink water using the tap that NRC has installed just in front of our class,” says Abdi Hassan, one of the students at the school. “I don’t need to walk to my home or elsewhere to get water. Every day, I can access water. We also have water to wash our hands.”

Abdi Hassan, one of the students at Darusalam primary and secondary school in Galdogob district quenches his thirst. Photo: Abdulkadir Mohamed/NRC

The project also addressed poor sanitary and hygiene conditions in schools. Children who are regularly instructed and practise good hygiene behaviour at school tend to do the same at home.

Additionally, we connected the toilets that had been recently constructed by a local partner to the water system. We also provided safe spaces and materials that girls can use for menstrual hygiene, meaning they no longer need skip school while menstruating.


Ikran Mohamed Farah and Farhiya Abdi Ali, two of the female students at Darusalam school wash their hands at the NRC-constructed water point. Photo: Abdulkadir Mohamed/NRC
Now with Covid-19, handwashing is even more important. Having clean and safe water in our school means a lot to all of us.

Access to handwashing facilities and soap has significantly improved the health and wellbeing of the students.

“We now have a water tap, private toilets for girls and handwashing facilities in our school,” says Ikran Mohamed Farah, a female student at the school.

“We can wash our hands anytime to be clean and avoid diseases. Now with Covid-19, handwashing is even more important. Having clean and safe water in our school means a lot to all of us.”

Access to water is essential for communities to not only survive, but to thrive. This project has enabled these communities to stop drinking contaminated water from unprotected sources. They are saving valuable time by not having to travel long distances to collect water. The animals that they depend on for survival can stay healthy too, and children can spend more time in school.

Read more about our work in Somalia