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Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink

Surrounded by sea but short of clean drinking water

Beautiful but thirsty landscape Beautiful but thirsty landscape
  • Markus Makur, Manggarai Timur
  • Indonesia
  • August 25, 2011
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Every morning at 5:30, Yohanes Jelulu picks up his 20-liter jerrycan, gets on his motorbike and heads for the Wae Bobo river.

It's the nearest source of fresh, clean water and the 36-year-old teacher has been making the trip for the last six years. “I have to drive three kilometers, from Tanggo Hamlet to the river,” he says.

This is Manggarai Timur, a district of Flores Island in southeast Indonesia. Home to the legendary Komodo dragon, it is an area of immense natural beauty, surrounded by sparkling seas. Yet water is in chronically short supply. Yohanes Jelulu’s daily journey to fetch his day’s needs is typical.  Most people in the district go to the river every morning to take a bath, wash clothes and carry water home.

At the nearby Wae Laku river, groups of boys and girls can be seen by the roadside in the afternoons. Once they have filled their jerrycans, they wait to hitch a lift back to their village of Sita from the passing construction trucks.

Just three years ago, local government spent an astonishing four billion  rupiah (about US$471 million) on a project to pipe water 40 kms from the Wae Mau River to Borong, the district capital. But the scheme did not extend to the Wae Bobo or Wae Laku rivers; the 20,000 local people still have to fetch water for themselves.

Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng, which serves the area, recalls a recent jamboree, organized by the deanery of  Borong. “More than 3,500 young people came for a week and they too had to go to Wae Bobo and Wae Laku to get water for their daily needs.”

“It’s a struggle every day,” adds Father Benediktus Jaya of St. Gregory’s  Church.

Wilibrodus Nurdin, deputy head of the district’s House of Representatives, says “there are many springs in the nearby mountains. But the question is, why should we still face difficulty getting clean water?”

Until that question is answered, the children of Sita will have to keep hitching lifts and Yohanes Jelulu will have to keep getting on his bike.

Related reports:

Church channels clean water for mosque, villagers
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