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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 February 2005, 18:43 GMT
Water is 'foundation of progress'
Liz Almond in Bankolo, Tanzania
Liz Almond struggles to carry half the water a local adult would transport. Pic: WaterAid/Alex Macro

Twelve UK water company workers are visiting Tanzania to help raise awareness about the millions who lack access to clean drinking water.

The group - from a number of regional firms - are there with the charity WaterAid, which has worked in the country for more than 20 years.

During the two-week trip they are spending time in some areas with no access to clean water or sanitation, as well as others that have benefited from new facilities in recent years.

They hope to generate more support for the charity's water projects on their return to the UK.

A child in the world dies every 15 seconds from water-related illness.

BBC News talked to volunteer Liz Almond, 32, from the capital Dodoma, about their experiences so far.

Half the people in the Dodoma region, west of Dar es Salaam, have no access to clean water and sanitation.

I filled a 10 litre bucket, put it on my head and could only walk about 100 metres
Liz Almond

"The most moving thing for me has been the welcome we have received every time we have stepped off a bus somewhere," says Liz, who lives in Reading, Berkshire, and works for Thames Water.

"The atmosphere has been incredible, with children dancing and singing about how wonderful water is.

"I feel honoured because we have the easy and often fun job of raising money back in the UK, but it's the villagers and WaterAid people based here who are doing all the hard work."

The emphasis in their water projects is on sustainability and community involvement, adds the charity's fundraising and communications director Andrew Cook.

'Vicious cycle'

"The mobilisation and organisation of local people is half the battle. Drilling into the ground and installing the pumps is just the technology part.

"The people using the system have to have ownership of it - the problem with some aid in the past has been that it has often not been sustainable."

WaterAid works with communities to make sure they are involved in decisions about the project, and that they know how to fix any problems they later encounter.

Hygiene education is also provided, and villagers using the water invest in it by paying a "tiny" amount of cash for each bucket, he says.

Villages the British group visited already using the new local tap stands - as opposed to walking miles to collect dirty water - had progressed in a whole range of ways, including quality of housing, schools and hygiene, said Andrew.

Andrew Cook trying out a WaterAid pump, Lugala, Tanzania
A water and sanitation project is already underway in Lugala village. Pic: WaterAid/Alex Macro

"Water can be the foundation of development for a community, especially in rural areas such as this. Once they have a clean water supply they are motivated to do other things.

"Even the fact that they are for the first time having to collect money from people for a fund to maintain the supply - which of course has been the source of some arguments - makes a difference."

Villagers may go on to create co-operatives, or get up the confidence to approach the government for funding for school improvements, for example, he says.

"The crucial thing is they are starting to participate in order to get themselves out of this vicious cycle of poverty."

In the first part of the trip volunteers spent a day with families in the village of Bankolo, which has no clean water supply, said Liz.

"We walked about a mile in the heat and then had to queue for water from a hole. When they get it they know it will make them sick, but there's nothing else.

Better water systems here will allow the children to go to school
Liz Almond

"I filled a 10 litre bucket, put it on my head and could only walk about 100 metres. The women said that was the bucket the young girls usually carried, while the adults could take 20 litres. I felt very weak!

"Later that day we helped the mother prepare a meal, which took about three hours because the equipment was less than basic, just three stones with a small fire underneath.

"We then spent some time playing and singing with the children. Some of them don't go to school because they have to help with collecting the water.

"It's an important thing for me, as an education programme co-ordinator for the water company at home, that better water systems here will allow the children to go to school."

The most inspiring thing for the group so far had been the "community spirit" they had found in each place, and the will to change their quality of life, said Liz.

"When you start to create a basic infrastructure, people are empowered to improve their lives."

Next week the party will visit outer-urban villages in the central Tanzania Singida region and slums in the Temeke area of Dar es Salaam.

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