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Clean water for rural families

Unreliable access to water in rural Timor-Leste leaves hundreds of families vulnerable to illness and poor nutrition, affecting children's learning, health and play. So these communities are doing something about it.

Novelia and her family wash their hands at their new water tap
Novelia, left, can now attend school uninterrupted with clean, reliable water piped to a tap right near her home.
In a small village in rural Aileu municipality, where Rosalina do Rego and her family live, poor water facilities prevent their daily activities from running smoothly.

Rosalina and her husband Agustinho are forced to get up very early in the morning to prepare the needs of the family. Their daily routines involve fetching water, cooking, cleaning, and preparing their children to go to school. In addition, the family has to walk down the hill to fetch water every day.

Rosalina has four young children, and all have been affected by illness, including coughing and a water-borne disease known colloquially as ‘allergy’, which is commonly transmitted when hands aren’t washed properly.

Plan International Timor-Leste, together with the Aileu Water Authority (SMASA), is working with the local community to tackle these problems through the Sustainable Water Municipality (SWiM) project, to promote sustainable water management in rural Timor-Leste.

The SWiM project aims to improve access to water one sub-district at a time. This approach focusses on improving existing water systems benefitting households, schools and health centres. Where necessary, SWiM has supported communities to build their own water systems where none existed before.

Building local management capacity

Rosalina and Agustinho’s eldest daughter, eight-year-old Novelia, is happy to have easy access to water now. “I am glad that now I have access the water near my house,” she says. “I can spend more time to study and playing with my siblings.”

Equally important to SWiM’s success has been the development of the technical and financial capacities of local water groups, especially women members, to effectively manage their water systems. Through Plan International Timor-Leste’s local partner, Women Association for Development in Aileu (FADA), the project has boosted local women into core management positions in all of the water management groups in every target village, and 10 of 20 groups in the project pilot area are now led by women.  

I am glad that now I have access the water near my house. I can spend more time to study and playing with my siblings.

The water management group in a neighbouring sub-village is lead by a woman, Maria, which until recently was rare. She has more trust from her community and regularly conducts regular meetings in order to get feedback or to inform the community on activities. With strong support from the community, who provide $1 per month to water system maintenance, the water management group, under Maria’s leadership, is now able to provide water services for 64 households, a significant improvement from the nine households that had access before SWiM began.

 “Some of my children got sick because they help me fetching the water,” says Maria, explaining how the exertion of walking long distances every day could cause arm and back pain. “Also, my husband and I sometimes fight on how to use the water sparingly. Yet after we got our water system installed near our house and within the community, we no longer spend more time to walk to fetch the water instead we use the time to spend with the family and planning to have a new garden in our house.”

Now we have water running to this school, children come to school earlier now and not late anymore.

In the pilot area of Aileu municipality, SWiM connected an additional 803 households in 20 communities to close water sources and improved water coverage from 41 per cent to 91 per cent. SWiM also reached 15 schools, reading over 3,000 students and improving accessibility by 95 per cent.

Clean water for health and education 

School teacher Afonso remembers that many students were previously late to school and affected by many diseases such as diarrhea and malaria due to lack of access to water. “We have a school feeding program, in which we provide some foods to students on a regular basis,” he says. “However, since we do not have water, the students do not wash their hands before taking food which result in their getting sick after that”. Furthermore, Afonso added that even when after teaching session they did not able to wash their hands, as there was no water.

Anito, a 12- year- old school student, says he was kept absent from school because he was having diarrhea. He did not wash his hand before meals, as he did not have enough water at home. He and his siblings had to walk few kilometers to fetch the water for their daily use.

“I am very happy that now we have water running to this school, children come to school earlier now and not late anymore,” says Afonso.

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SWiM is funded by the Australian Government through the Partnership for Human Development program in Timor-Leste. Technical WASH engineering support for SWiM was provided by Plan International Australia.