Clean water spurs change in Ethiopian village

Water is a precious commodity in these dry highlands of Ethiopia, as in many other parts of Africa. Women walk hours round trip to get it, carrying it home in heavy pottery jugs on their back. Usually, it is dirty, drawn from streams shared with cattle. Health specialists says that this, and poor personal hygiene, are leading causes of disease and death in Africa.

But here, in this isolated village, things are different. There is clean water flowing from spigots nonstop and villagers' hygienic habits are improving. There is even a public shower - something very unusual for a village.

The source of the water is a spring. A few years ago, the water just bubbled up in a practically useless marsh. With the help of Save the Children (US), the water has been directed through spigots, to the shower, and to a reservoir pool from which it flows to surrounding farms for irrigation. (Save the Children has also installed 32 hand pumps in other villages in the area).

The clean water project here is one of several efforts by Save the Children and the Ethiopian government to improve health of the villagers. There is also a small health ``post'' here for basic care, such as childbirth, and dispensing of some medicines. It is one of 45 such health posts Save the Children has helped set up in this area.

Debritu Belete, a Save the Children employee living in nearby Efeson, teaches villagers here personal hygiene, using the health post as a base. She first instructed eight villagers, who in turn have instructed 82 other villagers. ``It takes time to change their attitudes,'' said Ms. Belete. ``But I've seen some changes.'' People are building more latrines designed to reduce the presence of flies, dividing their own living space from the areas used by cattle, and venting the smoke in the huts to keep it from their eyes. Most important, clean water is now only minutes away.

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