Dubai residents who have experienced situations where water is scarce tell their stories and how Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's campaign is a godsend to many.

Yousuf Juma witnessed serious water shortages in parts of Kenya. Antonie Robertson / The National
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // UAE Water Aid donations are now helping more than 3.4 million people, which equates to the number of people that die from water-related illness each year, according to World Health Organisation estimates.

With its latest charity initiative, the UAE is striving to improve the lives of five million people around the world who have poor access to water – one of the most basic of life’s needs.

Total donations to the campaign have already hit more than Dh87 million in a week after a donation of Dh1m by the Kanoo Group and an amount of Dh500,000 given by the youngest donor so far, 3-year-old Hind Mohammed bin Ghadeer, yesterday.

Yousuf Kirabiza Juma was a volunteer with the Red Cross, participating in the relief effort for parts of drought-stricken Kenya in 2008.

“In these areas, water is like treasure,” said the Dubai resident of five years. “We were driving by and these kids ran up to us holding out bowls made from fruit gourds. Naturally, we thought they were asking for money, so we tossed some change in the bowls, but we were shocked when they just threw it away and asked for water instead.”

The 37-year-old supermarket floor manager said that UAE Water Aid would truly change the lives of millions of people.

The relief effort took Mr Juma to Turkana, Samburu and Marakwet, counties of Kenya’s Rift Valley province. “You just can’t understand what it’s like until you see it for yourself,” he said.

“They live in mud huts, and they don’t have the water to build the house, so they use fresh cow dung. Children don’t go to school because it’s not a priority, they have to take care of the household. The boys wake up before dawn to drive the cattle to the nearest watering hole, which is not safe for human consumption.

“The girls have to walk four hours every morning to fetch water from the nearest borehole, and that borehole is not overflowing, it is just a muddy puddle and they have to scrape the water out with a gourd bowl.”

With resources spread so thin, violence is a common method of resolution. “The tribes in Turkana and Marakwet would raid each other for cattle, water and basic resources to survive,” said Mr Juma. “They are killing themselves for water, something we can easily assist with.

“The situation is so bad there that if you give them gold, they will throw it back at you – it has no value there; water is the real gold.

“Every village there is struggling with lack of water, malnutrition, illness. I would really appreciate it if the UAE Water Aid would reach those areas. It will stop the violence and save many innocent lives. Children can go to school and get a proper education and have a future.”

Pakistani father of six Umar Manan Reza Khan, 49, remembers having to walk to the closest spring as a young boy. “I had to wake up early in the morning and walk for a couple of hours through the mountains.

“It’s not like walking on a sidewalk, the terrain was really tough, especially on a young boy carrying jerrycans of water.

“We had to walk the equivalent of Safa Park to Dhiyafah road three or four times a day.”

Mr Khan grew up in Buner District, in northern Pakistan, where both power and water were tough to come by.

“Very few cars can get to where we are – there are no paved roads to get up those mountains – so it’s tough to get anything built unless it’s by hand and off the sweat of our backs,” said the chauffeur, who has lived in Dubai for 33 years.

“There is a lot of water there, but it’s all underground and tough to get to. The soil is not soft, it is all solid stone – drilling a well there costs a lot of money.”

Since then some wells have been drilled in the area and journeys to get water are not as far as before.

“Now it only takes an hour to get to a borehole, but you’re still walking down a mountain to get to water and then having to carry it back up,” Mr Khan said.

He added that having a boreholes that was closer would really improve the lives of people in the area.

For 22-year-old Ajbshe Jamal, who has lived in Dubai for four years and works as a maid, visiting her family in Hosaena, a town in southern Ethiopia, was a stark contrast to her life growing up in the capital Addis Ababa. “We have hundreds of extended family in Hoseana, where it rains for six months and then there is drought for the other six months. The summers are very hot and water is a two-hour walk to the nearest well,” she said.

“It is still that way today. Women and children have to walk for two hours carrying 50-litre jerrycans full of water, and you have to do this three or four times a day.

“I had to do that as well when we visited family; it was very harsh. I wasn’t used to living off the grid like that.

“Many people get ill from lack of water there, although thankfully I don’t think anyone dies.”

malkhan@thenational.ae