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Swiss restore water lifeline

Swiss experts help supply water for transit camps

(swissinfo.ch)

One of Switzerland's greatest contributions so far to the recovery of tsunami-hit Indonesia has been the gift of clean water.

In numerous towns and villages along the devastated coastline of the northern Sumatran province of Aceh, wells have been cleaned, new water sources found, and water purification systems restored.

Water specialists from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) were among the first foreign teams to arrive in the disaster zone.

Spokesman Jean-Philippe Jutzi described what they saw when they came to Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, on January 3, 2005.

Devastation

"The situation was awful. A third of the town had been obliterated. There were still two metres of floodwater in many places. Many houses were gone and the infrastructure had been destroyed."

In all, 130,000 people lost their lives here, 400 of them civil servants. There was no one left to provide water.

SHA water specialists worked with local groups along the heavily damaged west coast in the Meulaboh region to clean up 600 wells for drinking water and drill eight emergency wells to a depth of 100 metres.

Since the emergency phase, the non-governmental organisation, the Swiss Red Cross, together with the Swiss Catholic charity Caritas, and experts from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) have carried out many water restoration projects.

Water for homeless

At a water treatment plant at Siron in the district of Aceh Besar, trucks queue to fill up with crystal clear water destined for camps set up for the homeless.

A year after the tsunami, 60,000 people are still living in dilapidated tents and about 160,000 in wooden barracks, where large families squeeze into single rooms. The daily water supply is their lifeline.

SDC country director Hans Keller explained that the Siron plant predated the tsunami, but was not operational.

"There was no electricity supply, and some of the parts were missing. We brought all the materials here very quickly and got the plant up and running, so that we could supply about 40,000 people with drinking water."

Because of exposure to the sun, the water in the catch basins was overgrown with algae, resulting in high cleaning costs. The SRC built a roof and walls, which has greatly improved the situation.

Dirty water is pumped to the plant from the nearby river. Aluminium sulphate is added to separate impurities, and the relatively clean water is then treated with chlorine. The water still has to be boiled before consumption but Indonesians are accustomed to doing this.

Lampineung school

Children play volleyball in the playground of the Lampineung boarding school for 100 disadvantaged children, which is subsidised by the government of Banda Aceh.

Thanks to the Swiss Red Cross, the players will be able to cool down with fresh tap water after running around in this humid climate.

The NGO was asked to establish a new water supply by the Department of Social Welfare.

Before the tsunami, the school used an old concrete well, but the contents were undrinkable after seawater rising to two metres flooded the school. Swiss Red Cross construction delegate Werner Rytz explained, "It was not even clean enough to wash in, let alone drink."

It took the organisation two months to locate a new water source and to bore through the thick layers of rock concealing the liquid treasure. By the beginning of December 2005, a large overhead tank had been set up, supplying water to taps inside the school.

This SFr33,000 ($25,000)-project was entirely funded by Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo's parent company, and has had a big impact on the lives of the children living here.

Restoration of city water supply

The biggest challenge for the Swiss Red Cross in Banda Aceh is the renovation of the city's water purification plant at Lumbaro.

Even before the tsunami, the facility was in a poor state and vital parts were missing. The seaquake a year ago destroyed the bridges between the water tanks.

The plant has been restored to working order, providing 430 litres of water per second to about 300,000 inhabitants, but needs to be completely overhauled for supplies to be sustainable.

Hans Keller told swissinfo, "Over the next two years, we will replace all the pumps and the electrics, the whole control system, and patch up all the buildings."

Personnel problems

The Aceh waterworks, PDAM, lost countless staff members and specialists in the tsunami, so the teaching and integration of new staff is key to the Lumbaro plant's smooth functioning.

Training has already started in the quality control laboratories, but the main programme will not begin until 2006.

As we tour the plant, we see a group of builders replacing ceramic tiles in the empty water tanks. But in a back room indoors, others are playing dominoes.

Keller notes that the same group of men always seems to be taking a break each time he visits. "We need to instil a sense of loyalty towards the business. We can also link salaries to productivity."

He points out that, even after the facility is restored, the Swiss Red Cross plans to send specialists every year for the next five to six years to make sure that it is running smoothly.

"We will guide them until they are able to run the plant on their own."

swissinfo, Julie Hunt in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Key facts

The SDC has paid SFr1.5 million ($1.17 million) towards water projects in Banda Aceh.
The Swiss Red Cross (20%) and Swiss Solidarity (80%) have contributed SFr5 million.
The Swiss Red Cross is supervising the construction work.
All projects are undertaken at the request of local authorities and employ local staff.

end of infobox

In brief

One of Sumatra's most urgent problems in the wake of the December 26, 2004 tsunami was the restoration of water supplies.

The Swiss are continuing to restore flood-hit supply systems and drill new wells.

end of infobox


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