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Testing the water in Sierra Leone

A graduate in agricultural engineering and in water management, Habib ur Rehman (right) worked across the Government and NGOs in his home country and in Kenya before coming to Sierra Leone. He says his inspiration to become a UNV volunteer was not only to get recognition for his skills and to learn more, but to be part of "the UN family and serve humanity". (UNV/P. Sen)A graduate in agricultural engineering and in water management, Habib ur Rehman (right) worked across the Government and NGOs in his home country and in Kenya before coming to Sierra Leone. He says his inspiration to become a UNV volunteer was not only to get recognition for his skills and to learn more, but to be part of "the UN family and serve humanity". (UNV/P. Sen)UNV volunteer Habib ur Rehman (centre, with clipboard) doesn't only work in Freetown but also on a Community Empowerment and Development Project, which oversees 30 more schemes to construct water tanks, roads, schools and health facilities in nine districts of Sierra Leone, such as here in Koribondo. (UNV)UNV volunteer Habib ur Rehman (centre, with clipboard) doesn't only work in Freetown but also on a Community Empowerment and Development Project, which oversees 30 more schemes to construct water tanks, roads, schools and health facilities in nine districts of Sierra Leone, such as here in Koribondo. (UNV)Anders Raaf (right) also has other roles, such as in the Sustainable Waste Management Project in the cities of Bo and Makeni, training councillors and traditional leaders in modern techniques and procuring equipment to improve sanitation. "In one hour, the machines can do what manpower takes two weeks to do," he says. (UNV/P. Sen)Anders Raaf (right) also has other roles, such as in the Sustainable Waste Management Project in the cities of Bo and Makeni, training councillors and traditional leaders in modern techniques and procuring equipment to improve sanitation. "In one hour, the machines can do what manpower takes two weeks to do," he says. (UNV/P. Sen)"As a UNV volunteer, you play an important part in the work of United Nations and work on extremely interesting projects," says Anders Raaf, who has a military background and is also a freelance photographer. "When I was living in South Africa," he concludes, "I couldn't sit around and observe the void between rich and poor – I finished my degree and came to Sierra Leone to work as Peacebuilding Fund Project Coordinating Officer. It was the best choice I've ever made, and I want to continue this kind of work for the rest of my professional career." (UNV/P. Sen) "As a UNV volunteer, you play an important part in the work of United Nations and work on extremely interesting projects," says Anders Raaf, who has a military background and is also a freelance photographer. "When I was living in South Africa," he concludes, "I couldn't sit around and observe the void between rich and poor – I finished my degree and came to Sierra Leone to work as Peacebuilding Fund Project Coordinating Officer. It was the best choice I've ever made, and I want to continue this kind of work for the rest of my professional career." (UNV/P. Sen)
13 April 2010

Freetown, Sierra Leone: Anders Raaf has been suffering from dysentery. Habib ur Rehman can't take a bath as often as he would like. These UNV volunteers know how difficult Sierra Leone's water and sanitation problem is – and they are among the people tasked to fix it.

"It's ironic, considering Sierra Leone has one of the world's largest rainfalls per year," says Anders. He explains that despite the five metres of annual rain, there's no system for harvesting that water in the six-month dry season.

Anders Raaf is a Swedish national working as a Peacebuilding Fund Project Coordinating Officer and Habib ur Rehman, from Pakistan, is a Water and Sanitation Engineer. Both are assigned to UNDP's efforts to help the Sierra Leone Armed Forces improve their water supply and learn how to build and maintain systems.

The west of Freetown gets little water from the Government infrastructure, which is potentially destabilizing for the military. Disgruntled soldiers were one of the key elements that sparked the conflict here, and so the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund allocated $2 million in 2008 to a pilot project created to improve conditions for them.

Habib, UNDP's only water engineer in the country, adds that managing water is an even bigger problem in a city that has 200 times more people than it should due to migrations caused by the war.

The pair work in three military barracks, where living conditions for large families can be very confined. On a daily basis, they support the Ministry of Defence in designing and implementing the water project and ensuring there's control and transparency over payments and procurements.

Habib's engineering knowledge and Anders's project management expertise are thus critical in improving the capacity of local consultants and companies to build the infrastructure on budget and on time.

They hold weekly meetings with Ministries to "move things forward" and help the military itself take ownership over part of the project – thus also building their capacity to construct similar systems across Sierra Leone. "This wasn't originally included in the project, so we're very happy to have helped this happen," notes Anders.

"It needs a lot of creativity," comments Anders. "In some ways it's a national security issue." But both he and Habib are confident that soon enough the water will start flowing.
UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)