10 July 2015

Water and community

“You always know when there is conflict in a village because there are two mosques [or churches] instead of one.”  As we stand next to a recently-constructed dam in the village of Shakha Piska, Birwa, a staff member for REACH (an Iraqi Kurdish NGO) added, “...Shakha Piska has two mosques.”

Like many small towns and villages throughout Iraqi Kurdistan, Shakha Piska has been hit hard over the past decades by a deadly combination of conflict, displacement, and water scarcity.  About 15 families live together and farm the arid land here.  Thanks to an MCC project with REACH, Shakha Piska now has a small dam that traps winter rains to help get the village through the rainless summer and enable them to increase their agricultural output so they can improve their diet and bolster their income.   

Kak Zerar and Kak Omar live in Shakha Piska and are responsible for the upkeep of the dam.

Water is drawn from a well just below the dam.  Before the dam was constructed, villages could draw about 1,500 liters every three days; now they draw about 3,000 liters every day.  On the shores of the dam, trees anchor the slopes of the hill, providing a glimpse of what this place could become and giving hope for the people of  Shakha Piska to stay on their land and remain together—a precious goal at a time of mass displacement in Iraq.     

This is the dam about halfway through the dry season in the first year (June 2015). 

Part of REACH’s development work includes helping communities to work together to address their shared needs. Rather than each family petitioning the government individually for water or electricity or a school in the village, REACH encourages communities to decide collectively on their most important shared needs and take action together.  This cultivation of grassroots democracy improves government responsiveness, fosters a sense of agency among communities that are often excluded, and helps productively transform conflict.  In Shakha Piska, the goal is for the community to share the responsibility for upkeep of the dam.  There will still be two mosques in Shakha Piska next year.  Hopefully, thanks to the work of REACH, taken over by the people of Shakha Piska, there will be new life and cooperation as well.

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