The meaning of the phrase ‘Water is life’

By: 
Johanna Mitscherlich
Luli inside her small shop in a village in Somaliland

“Before, our children were constantly sick from the water, and our cattle weren’t getting enough,” said Luli. She leans casually on the wooden counter of her small shop while she talks, wrapped in a bright yellow cloth. On the shelves behind her are bottles of oils and spices; some sacks of rice and flour are stacked on the ground.

When war broke out in Somalia, Luli lived with her husband and their five children in Mogadishu, formerly called the ‘Pearl of East Africa’. As successful businessmen, they had several houses. However after the break out of war, some of their friends and family members were killed. Not long after, Luli and her family fled to Haro Shiikh, her native village in the province of Somaliland.

By the time they arrived the war had also reached their village and almost all were dead or had fled. Shortly after arriving in the village her husband also died. But Luli had to be strong; she worked hard, bred goats and eventually built ‘Luli’s shop’, a small kiosk which she still runs today. Setbacks and hardship were neverending: her goats and sheep died during droughts, and the children were sick from the filthy water. She says:

Nothing has influenced the course of my life more than war and water.

Listening to Luli, you can truly understand the meaning of the phrase ‘Water is life’. For Luli, fetching water used to be a burdensome daily task. Hours were spent walking to fetch water for her family and her animals. No clean water leads to disease and sometimes death.

We drove seven hours from the capital of Somaliland, Hargeisa, to reach Luli’s village. We drove through the parched, sandy landscape past cattle and countless potholes. In this region, 70% of people live off of the cattle trade, and like Luli, they and their animals are dependent on water.

A water tank in a village in Somalia
A water tank installed by CARE

To mitigate the effects of drought, CARE built a solar-powered water tank in Luli’s village two years ago.

Initially there was a catch: the solar pump had to be constantly repaired. However, the nearest car technicians were 600 kilometres away in Hargeisa and no-one in the village owned a car. But CARE staff member Hassan, who studied engineering, had a fantastic idea to solve the problem.

Hassan and colleagues at CARE in Somaliland joined the electricity of the village with the solar system to the water pump. Luli, whose shop is one of 20 houses in the village with electricity, no longer pays her electricity bills to a company, but to Ahmed. Ahmed is 22 years old and comes from the neighbouring village. He was trained by CARE technicians to service the solar-powered water pump. He says proudly:

I hold a great responsibility because without me, people have no water and no light.

The villagers can now charge their mobile phones using solar power, too. A charged battery is essential in Somalia, where little cash is used. Instead, people pay for goods through their mobile phones. Written on the wall of Luli’s shop is the number to which her customers can send their money.

I am impressed by my colleague Hassan’s creative idea and its implementation; by my colleagues’ determination to find long-term solutions in a country that has been shaped by decades of famine, instability and violence.

Luli with the water tank outside her shop
Luli with the water tank outside her shop

Many of the 2.8 million people in Somalia do not have access to clean water, but Luli’s village of Haro Shiikh now does. “I am glad that one of the tanks is standing in front of my kiosk. It is a good feeling to be responsible for the tank and share the water with everyone,” says Luli.

We always have safe water now and don’t have to worry about the health of our children.

Johanna Mitscherlich's picture

Johanna Mitscherlich is Media and Communications Officer for CARE Germany-Luxembourg.