Martha does not know her real age but appears to be about 80. She can barely move or perform basic tasks, without support. Luckily, she can rely on her granddaughter who helps her to meet her basic daily needs and does errands for her.

They live in Nicuita-B, in Namuno District, Cabo Delgado—the northernmost province of Mozambique.

A Red Cross team, while conducting a survey on the state of water and sanitation in Nicuita-B village, met Martha and discussed the water situation with her. She said that they did not have running water or latrines: which left them with no choice but to resort to open defacation and get water from small ponds that only fill up on when it rains.

“I’m old and without strength,” said Martha. “My granddaughter has the responsibility to collect water from the small ponds during the rainy season.” The water is dirty and unsanitary but it is all they have. “Sometimes we get sick and have diarrhoea,” she added.

When the ponds and wells are dry, the women in the village are forced to walk for long distances in search of the precious liquid.

Diseases

In Mozambique, over half of the population—14.8 million people—live without clean water. According to Water Aid, three in four people do not have access to decent toilets making dangerous diarrhoeal diseases and water borne diseases all too common. The situation has grown to almost crisis levels with the poorest people in rural communities being the most affected.

According to UN water statistics, 786 million people all over the world do not have access to safe water. This means that one in every nine people does not have safe and clean drinking water.

40 per cent of these people are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Martha believes her village urgently needs water, food, toilets and health services. “The water we collect from the ponds is very dirty and it is not always there,” she said. “We need a permanent water source.”  At the time Martha met with the Red Cross team, water sources consisted of nearby swamps and a spring that is located approximately 2km from her village. At the end of the conversation with Martha, the Red Cross team headed to the swamp. There, they found some ladies and children collecting very dirty swamp water.

The water was clearly unsanitary and would most likely lead to poor health.

They also visited the spring where they met some ladies who had water cans on their heads, laundry on their laps and five-litre water containers in their hands. They all looked exhausted, the task of looking for water was taking up a lot of their time and energy, leaving little to no strength to focus on other productive activities.

But all this was before the Red Cross intervened.

Happier and healthier

In an attempt to address these challenges, through a partnership with the Spanish Red Cross, the Mozambique Red Cross was able to build three mechanical holes with hand pumps and a few toilet latrines, in 2017. The families in these areas were further sensitised on the dangers of dirty water and open defecation.

These facilities have greatly improved the lives of the villagers, they no longer struggle to get water and are now rid of water borne diseases. The villagers can now focus on more productive activities such as farming, education and trade which will improve their livelihood and quality of life.

The most joyful of all is Martha, the elderly lady who singlehandedly improved the life of her community with her bravery and eloquence. “Today, we are happier and healthier as we have clean water and toilets. We can now focus on other important needs in our lives,” she said.