National Geographic : 2010 Apr
I tell them to use soap," Lemeta explains, "they usually tell me, 'Give me the money to buy it.'" Similar barriers must be overcome to keep a program going after the aid group leaves. WaterAid and other successful groups, such as Water.org, CARE, and A Glimmer of Hope, believe that charging user fees---usually a penny per jerry can or less---is key to sustaining a project. The village WASH committee holds the proceeds to pay for spare parts and repairs. But villagers think of water as a gi from God. Should we next pay to breathe air? Water and money have long been an uneasy mixture. Notoriously, in 1999 Bolivia granted a multinational consortium 40-year rights to provide water and sanitation services to the city of Cochabamba. e ensuing protests over high prices eventually drove out the company and brought global attention to the problems of water privatization. Multinational companies brought in to run public water systems for pro t have little incentive to hook up faraway rural house- holds or price water so it is a ordable to the poor. Yet someone has to pay for water. Although water springs from the earth, pipes and pumps, alas, do not. is is why even public utilities charge users for water. And water is o en most expensive to provide for those who can least a ord it---people in the remote, sparsely popu- lated, drought-stricken villages of the world. "The key question is, Who decides?" says Global Water Challenge's Faeth. "In Cochabamba nobody was talking to the very poorest. The process was not open to the public." A pump in a rural village, he says, is a di erent story. "At the local level there is a more direct connection between the people implementing the program and the people getting access to water." e Konso villagers, for instance, own and control their pumps. Elected committees set fees, which cover maintenance. No one seeks to recoup the installation costs or to make a pro t. Villagers told me that, a er a few weeks, they realized paying a penny per jerry can is actu- ally cheap, far less than what they were paying through the hours spent hauling water---and the time, money, and lives lost to disease. ' life be di erent if she never had to go to the river for water again? Deep in a gorge far from Foro, there is a well. It is 400 feet deep. During my visit it was noth- ing much to look at---aboveground it was only a concrete box with a jerry can inverted over it for protection, surrounded by a pyramid of bramble bushes. But here's what was to happen by March: A motorized pump would push the water up the mountain to a reservoir. en gravity would carry it back down to taps in local villages---including Foro. e village would have two community taps and a shower house for bathing. If all went well, Aylito Binayo would have a faucet with safe water just a three-minute stroll from her front door. When I ask her to imagine this easier life, she closes her eyes and reels o a long list of chores. She will go the elds to help her husband, col- lect grass for the goats, make food for her family, clean the compound. She will be with her sons, instead of leaving a grave little four-year-old in charge of his younger brothers for hours on end. "I don't know whether to believe it will work. We are on top of a mountain, and the water is down below," she says. "But if it works, I will be so happy, so very happy." I ask her about her hopes for her family, and her answer is heartbreaking in its modesty: to get through the new hunger brought on by the drought, to get through this new wave of dis- ease---to scramble back to the meager life she had known before. She doesn't dream. She has never dared think that someday life could change for the better---that there could arrive a metal spigot, out of the end of which gushed dignity. j Villagers think of water as a gi from God. But someone has to pay for it. Although water springs from the earth, pipes and pumps, alas, do not. And water is most expensive to provide for those least able to a ord it.