Angola: From War to Water
by Felix Wood
THE slim Angolan man works the handle of the pump and watches as clear water gushes from the nozzle. He pauses and points towards the river in the distance. ‘We used to have to walk all the way to the river for water,’ he explains. ‘Then people started getting sick and dying, so we approached the government to ask them for help.’
Sakaulendumba is the headman of Lendumba, a small settlement in the Moxico province of Angola. Moxico was at the heart of the civil war that was fought in Angola between 1975 and 2002. It was one of Africa’s longest, bloodiest and most devastating conflicts, during which a million people were killed and more than four million fled their homes.
Those from Moxico are now returning to a province where the infrastructure has been destroyed, that is heavily mined, and where the necessities of life, such as clean water, are lacking. In Angola as a whole only 32 per cent of the population has access to clean water.
|A community member in front of his home-made latrine, which the Salvation Army team helped design|
|A Salvation Army community mobiliser (right) with community members at the new water pump|
|Mines are an ever-present danger in the Angolan countryside|
|GAS member Angelina Mumma with a local man who has been trained to maintain the water pump|
|Headman Sakaulendumba tests the new pump|
The Salvation Army in Angola is working to address this need in partnership with Oxfam GB, the Angolan Government and the communities themselves, in the best traditions of sitting alongside communities and providing support so they can resolve their own difficulties.
Before doing anything Salvation Army workers immerse themselves in the communities in order to mobilise and motivate them, ensuring that the need for water and sanitation is understood and that the community supports the initiative. The community then appoints a Grupa Agua Saniemeto (GAS) which takes the initiative in helping the community construct latrines out of local materials, and in selecting sites for wells. Once this has been done the Salvation Army water technicians dig and build the wells, with the help of the community. They also train members of the GAS to operate and maintain the well, to ensure that any minor repairs can be performed by the community. Any major repairs will be carried out by the Angolan Government.
Angelina Mumma, a member of the GAS in Marco 25 community, explains: ‘The mobilisation team worked with us. They have visited the community more times than I can count and they still continue to come. We have now constructed 72 latrines and we know how to keep the well clean and working. I also continue to educate others to ensure they realise the importance of good sanitation practices.’
‘We are very happy with The Salvation Army,’ Sakaulendumba says. ‘We don’t have to walk far for water now and we are not getting sick from the water.’ But he is honest about the ongoing needs of his village: ‘Although we are happy with the water, we are in need of so many other things. The children have nowhere to go to school, and we have no clinic to go to when we are sick.’
This lack of amenities is a pressing need in an area that is far from the more accessible coastal areas. The destroyed roads and bridges make development of this area a difficult prospect, which the high prevelance of landmines only adds to. By the end of the conflict Angola was the most heavily mined country in the world, with 10-15 million landmines buried across the countryside – one for every Angolan man, woman and child. Nearly half the land is too dangerous to walk across.
And yet there is great wealth in Angola. It now has the fastest growing economy in Africa, thanks to an oil boom. It is Africa’s second-largest oil producer and the world’s fourth-largest producer of diamonds. Angola is a country that has vast mineral wealth, but at the moment this wealth is not reaching the poor. There is a huge gap between the powerful urban elite and the rest of the population which still lives in extreme poverty. Basic services remain poor while the elite grow rich. As one Angolan put it: ‘In Luanda [the capital] you have bad roads but big cars.’
Until recently the lack of investment in infrastructure has been attributed to the war. During the war other countries contributed to conflict through the provision of arms to factions they believed would advance their interest. Now the international community needs to work to ensure that Angola’s vast wealth is used to benefit the poor. Pressure can be put on donor governments – by individuals as much as organisations – to ensure that aid is used to promote good expenditure, and that similar conflicts are avoided in other areas of the world.
As global citizens, it is important that everyone is aware of the world around them and that people ensure their governments are a positive influence on international affairs.
In the meantime The Salvation Army will continue to raise funds to finance the provision of water and sanitation education, and help people on the ground directly. In the first two months of 2007 alone three wells were built and another existing well given the protection it needed. Communities have been mobilised to build more than 200 latrines. In the rest of 2007 the Salvation Army team hopes to build or rehabilitate a further seven water points and help another six communities build latrines. The GAS committees are strong social units that are able to work with the authorities to help maintain the wells, and they are integral to the development of their own communities.
As Angelina Mumma says: ‘We have been mobilised by The Salvation Army and we will continue to be active to ensure the well remains in use and that we teach good sanitation practices. The Salvation Army is enabling us to respond to our problems in a positive way.’
Felix Wood works in the Projects and Development Office of The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters