- The volcano at Mount Karthala on Grand Comore has been unusually active over the last few years, causing great damage on Comoros' main island. Recent analyses show that a great part of the island's drinking water sources have been polluted by the volcano, leaving inhabitants in search of alternative water sources.
Grand Comore has no significant rivers or streams so a large portion of the population depends on rainwater gathered in large cisterns or tanks. After the recent eruptions of Mount Karthala, the residents' water became clogged with ashes. These volcanic ashes are partly poisonous, meaning that most of the gathered water is not safe for human consumption.
Tahir (14) still has a rasping cough from inhaling volcanic ash, as well as disturbing memories of the event. "I was scared but my father told me not to worry. He told me to go to bed but I could not sleep. I stayed up until morning and saw how yellow the sun was. Then I saw the ash falling from the sky like sand," he said.
Mount Karthala has erupted two times during the last year and a half, each time causing great evacuations of the farmers populating the soils of the volcano's slope. The volcano in fact is one of the world's most active and a totally dominating feature on the island of Grand Comore. During the last century, lava flows have even threatened the capital, Moroni, but ash eruptions have become more normal during the last years.
According to the UN's children fund (UNICEF), operating on the island, the pollution of drinking water is still a large problem. As a short-term solution, UNICEF recently had trucked in millions of litres of fresh drinking water for more than 150,000 people in need in more than 100 villages, the UN agency said today.
But the agency is also into long-term development aid programmes, whose main goal it is to make sure the invaluable cisterns will be protected from future eruptions. More than 1,500 cisterns have already been covered, ensuring a lasting supply of clean, safe water. "This cistern is covered with metal sheets provided by UNICEF. My neighbours are also coming here to fetch their drinking water," said local teacher, Ben Said.
According to a UNICEF statement, the villagers' health had "improved since the cisterns were covered. There are fewer cases of diarrhoea, especially amongst children. The number of malaria cases is also expected to drop, now that the water is protected from mosquitoes."
As part of the programme, the UN agency is currently working to educate people about the importance of staying healthy by protecting their water sources. UNICEF's Bernadette Nyiratunga said villagers were doing what they could to help one another. "The villagers helped in distributing all the materials and provided the labour. It makes us feel we did something that was really needed and which was really appreciated," Ms Nyiratunga said.
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