A UN project to provide clean water for thousands of residents of Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, is scheduled to change its distribution system to enhance the project's efficiency, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Tuesday.
In a statement issued from Bangui, OCHA said since the project's inception in September, the public had been obtaining water from nine containers strategically placed in the most flood-affected areas of the city.
"These will now be withdrawn. By the end of the week, water will instead be freely available at the existing water kiosks, owned by SODECA [the national water company] and privately run," OCHA said.
OCHA humanitarian affairs officer, Souleymane Beye, was quoted as saying: "This will mean additional costs in paying the kiosks' managers, but huge transport expenses will be cut."
OCHA is supervising the project, which is managed by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) with support from the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP). It is being implemented in partnership with the Central African Red Cross Society.
The UNICEF officer in charge of the project, Mamadou Baldet, said the new distribution system would also eliminate huge logistic constraints, and would make it a lot easier for everyone, "including the most vulnerable, to access our water through channels they are far more familiar with".
The project was implemented following floods that devastated the CAR from 6 August, causing makeshift drainage systems and local latrines to spill and, thereby, contaminate most available sources of clean water.
According to the national Red Cross, OCHA said, nearly 20,000 people were affected in Bangui alone, and thousands more in the provinces.
OCHA said it assessed the situation soon after the floods that resulted in the implementation of the water distribution project, in coordination with the Government, the Red Cross Movement, and several non-governmental organizations.
It added that the UN Secretariat approved an emergency grant of nearly US $18,000 for the project.
Besides clean water, OCHA said, UN agencies had provided therapeutic high-nutrition biscuits, water purification tablets, jerricans, petrol lamps, and significant quantities of drugs for malaria prevention and treatment.
"In addition, stocks of medicines and health materials have been rushed to Bangui to react to medical emergencies that may arise, and the WHO is supporting the Government’s epidemic surveillance system," OCHA said.
It quoted the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Stan Nkwain, as saying: "This country is, admittedly, a neglected emergency. But we would like to reassure the government, community organisations, and civil society at large, that the welfare of the country's population, as well as its long-term development, are very high on the agenda of the [UN] Secretary-General".
According to OCHA, the new system would still make use of 125 volunteers from the Central African Red Cross, who reside in the devastated areas and conduct awareness campaigns for disease prevention.
These volunteers also distribute food from WFP to the flood-affected communities.
"This is important not only on an operational level, but also because it involves the grassroots in this massive show of solidarity, through a holistic approach," Beye said.
The head of mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Loukas Petridis, said: "This is an excellent exercise for the Central African Red Cross. After several years of structural difficulties, the new team has responded extremely well to this natural catastrophe."
The OCHA public information officer, Maurizio Giuliano, said: "Besides executing our mandate of providing immediate relief, we are endeavouring to strengthen local capacities with a view to national capacity building, a prerequisite for the success of development efforts."