Turning on a tap at home is something that most of us take for granted, and washing hands – especially after using the toilet – is an automatic habit.
Handwashing, with soap and clean, running water, is a simple but effective way to prevent disease. But most poor families don’t have running water at home. In order to wash their hands, they have to fetch water in a bowl or mug.
In Kwanza Sul province in central Angola, Christian Aid’s local partner, the Angolan Congregational Church (IECA), trains people to build ‘tippy taps’ themselves. These simple, hands-free taps can save water while also saving lives.
‘Their main advantage is their convenience,’ explains Onésimo Nunda from IECA, ‘No one has to go to any great effort to wash their hands.’
In the five villages where this project works, killer diseases such as cholera and typhoid are an ever-present threat, especially for young children.
But with new DIY taps at home, it’s now quick and easy for people to wash their hands before handling food or after using their latrines – which were also built with Christian Aid support.
In 2018, all five villages reported a drop in disease.
Tippy taps take under an hour to make, using free or low-cost materials – four sticks, a plastic water container and a length of string.
After making a small hole near the top of the container, people simply fill it with clean water and hang it on a cross stick between two supports. They then use string to attach it to a foot pedal. When they press the foot pedal, the tap tips, and water trickles out.
As well as being quicker and more hygienic than using a mug or bowl, these taps only use about a tenth of the water for each wash – particularly important in arid areas where water is scarce.
Huila province in southern Angola is one such area. It already faces regular droughts, and climate change means that the problem is set to get worse.
‘There isn’t enough water here for people or cattle,’ explains local priest Padre Pio, ‘and drought means that hunger is endemic.’
In Gambos county, where Padre Pio is based, most people are farmers or pastoralists – cattle herders who travel with their livestock to seasonal grazing pastures.
Water is a precious resource here. Fourteen communities in Padre Pio’s parish, comprising 600 families, depend on a single spring for water for drinking, irrigation and livestock.
Water conflict: the front line
Two years ago, that spring came under threat. The provincial government announced plans to take it over for a government project, mainly benefiting large private farms nearby. Government officials were among the landowners set to profit from the scheme.
Through his work with the Chiange Gambos Network, Christian Aid’s local partner organisation, Padre Pio supported his parishioners to co-ordinate their resistance. Initial efforts focused on legal challenges and local advocacy. But to no avail.
Finally, local residents decided to take direct action themselves, blocking the road to the spring with rocks and branches so that the landowners’ lorries could not pass.
Padre Pio and other community leaders worked hard to publicise their protest. After widespread media coverage, and related pressure from senior church figures, government officials backed down, announcing that they would source the water for their project elsewhere.
The spring is safe, for now, and 600 families still have a water supply.
Angola is an authoritarian country and dissent is uncommon, especially in rural areas. It’s very unusual for poor communities to take a stand against powerful officials, and win.
From low-tech taps to improvised roadblocks, Christian Aid projects help people to make best use of the resources they have in order to solve the problems they face.
In November 2018, Padre Pio was named Human Rights Defender of the Year for Southern Africa. He dedicated his award to Angola’s poorest citizens.
Padre Pio’s ongoing work with the Chiange Gambos Network is generously funded by Irish Aid. IECA's work in Kwanza Sul is generously funded by Christian Aid supporters and philanthropists.