After a 450 year wait, Halimea village has clean water on tap

Above: Manuel Soares, 60, has been waiting a lifetime for improved water access in his village. Now, water is available on tap. Photo: Luis de Araujo/CARE International in Timor-Leste

Manuel Soares has seen a lot in his 60 years, but his verdict on the new piped water source in his small village in Viqueque district, Timor-Leste, is simple: “it’s changed our lives”.

Lack of access to clean water had been Halimea village’s main problem since the start of the Portuguese era, exacerbating the risks of disease.

That changed in 2021 thanks to a project implemented by CARE International through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership’s Disaster READY program.

“During every rainy season, it was very difficult for us to collect water from the river so we had to rely on rainwater from November to June each year,” Mr Soares said.

“Now we have ready access to clean water for cooking, drinking and washing. It will help us improve our levels of sanitation and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.”

Above: Deliana Soares, 22, collects water from the new tap at Halimea’s community centre. Before, she and her husband would spend significant time collecting clean water. Photo: Luis de Araujo/CARE International in Timor-Leste

Another Halimea resident, Deliana Soares, 22, said it had been exhausting to ensure there was enough clean water to keep her family home running.

“For many years, I always felt the lack of clean water in my house. I would feel tired every day because my husband and I would have to collect water four times a day, using eight five-litre jerry cans,” she said.

“Sometimes my family would ignore good hygiene practices because there wasn’t enough water. Now I can access clean water easily, which means my family has been consuming clean water since August 2021, and I can feed my children with clean food as well.”

The water project was identified as a priority by the Halimea community, working with Viqueque municipality and the Suco (district) Disaster Management Committee, which paid for the work through its Small Scale Fund.

The scale might be small but the impact on the lives of the villagers is anything but. Not only has the project ensured the protection of the village’s water source through the use of a water tank, the water is now piped to taps at Halimea’s community centre, making it far more accessible for everyone.

Above: Halimea’s water tank under construction. Photo: Iria Cecilia Soares/CARE International in Timor-Leste

A recent assessment of Timor-Leste by the World Health Organisation identified clean water as a key factor in reducing the risk of spreading communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and dengue.

Since independence, the Government has been reconstructing health facilities, expanding community-based health services, and assigning many of the doctors and other healthcare workers trained with assistance from the Cuban Medical Brigade to rural areas.

But for all the progress made towards improving the health system, the reality is that 70 per cent of Timorese live in remote, dispersed villages like Halimea, where mountainous terrain or poor road conditions often make it difficult to travel to major cities and the specialist healthcare they offer.

Preventing illnesses in the first place is why creating a safe and secure water source for Halimea is so important.

For Mr Soares, the timing of this assistance is ideal, because the longstanding disease risks faced by the regions have been exacerbated recently by the spread of COVID-19.

“I am very happy and want to thank CARE International in Timor-Leste and AHP’s Disaster READY project, because lack of clean water has been the main problem we’ve faced for over 450 years,” he added.

“CARE visited our village and changed our lives.”

Story: Delfina de Jesus, CARE International in Timor-Leste