Involving Communities in Decision Making: A Water Project in Eritrea

Water Wells

Involving Communities In Decision Making

Involving beneficiaries in the solutions designed to lift them out of poverty is integral to HCI’s programming. Our work is increasingly moving towards a more localized approach, where communities participate in decision-making and take responsibility for the outcomes of the interventions to improve their lives. A great example of this is our Healthy Schools, Health Community water project in Eritrea. 

The project’s overall goal was to reduce the incidence of water-borne disease and infection in two rural locations of Eritrea. We accomplished this by constructing a borehole in the village of Ksad Dalwo and building latrines in Saharti Junior and Secondary School in Zoba Maekel. In both communities, the absence of safe water sources and sufficient sanitation facilities significantly impacts community members’ health, quality of life, and dignity. 

A Water Project in Eritrea

This project is now complete, improving the life of 1,993 individuals. Here are some of the notable outcomes of the project:

  • Safe water is now collectible within a 30-minute round trip, compared to a pre-project situation where many women in the community spent 1-2 hours per day collecting water.
  • The community’s incidence of water-borne disease has reduced to below 10%, as indicated by the number of households reporting incidences.
  • While it is too early to assess the impact of the improved school latrine block, it is anticipated to not only reduce exposure to disease and infection for students, but also contribute to:
    • more comfortable learning experienced with reduced anxiety
    • a more desirable teaching environment
    • increased pride in the school among students, teachers and parents

While we continue to assess the project’s outcomes, an interesting aspect of the project was how we designed it in partnership with the local community. The project began with preparatory meetings in both locations with a wide range of community members and relevant local government officials. HCI discussed project plans with the community, and the feedback received was incorporated in the project design and implementation. HCI also agreed to the specific roles played by the community in each location and the Water Resources Department of the local government. 

In the case of the borehole construction project in Ksad Dalwo, particular attention was given to the perspectives of those primarily responsible for water collection and water use in the household. Moreover, the project considered the needs of people and students with disabilities during the design phase. We also engaged two national bodies which are highly influential among their particular constituencies. The two national bodies are instrumental in creating awareness and mobilizing participation in development projects. These are the National Union of Eritrean Women, and the National Union of Eritrean Youth. 

In addition to engaging with the community in project design and involving the community in implementation efforts, HCI also supported creating a community-led water user association, an entity formally recognized by the Eritrean government. The association is tasked with safely managing and maintaining the water point and latrines. From this entity, caretakers were also selected and trained to identify, repair, and monitor the entire functioning of the water point. 

Community-led projects are crucial for sustainability as they give ownership, accountability, and independence to those whom the project impacts. With such projects, HCI challenges the notion that humanitarian aid is merely a hand-out that creates dependency on the donor. A project such as this demonstrates how to shift power and decision making from humanitarian agencies to communities on the ground. 

HCI has been proudly serving the Muslim community for 40 years, and through your generosity and support, our programs are continuously improving the lives of many vulnerable people. Each donation made enables us to further the mission of taking impoverished people from crisis to sustainability.

December 16, 2021

Human Concern International

Ottawa, Canada

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In The Field

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