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Crocodile attacks on women and children as they collect water for their families have been reduced in a remote area of Tanzania – thanks to work done over 20 years ago by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide.
Nile crocodiles, which can grow up to 16ft long, would attack and sometimes kill as people from Ngelenge and surrounding villages in the south-west of the country in East Africa as they nervously filled water buckets in local rivers.
This area, in a district called Ludewa, is a hotspot for the feared predators, who lurk in the many streams that flow into nearby Lake Nyasa (also known as Lake Malawi) – which is the fourth largest fresh water lake in the world by volume.
“Many people have been attacked and even killed by crocodiles,” said John Shindika Mayeka, a senior aid worker in Tanzania, who used to manage development programmes for Dublin-based Concern.
“Villagers often travelled in groups for safety, but the danger of being snatched by a crocodile was always there. It was a major issue.
“People who came back with containers full of water then faced the possibility of getting water-borne diseases like cholera – which can be fatal if not treated. People were dying and they needed our help.”
John said he and other Concern staff once witnessed a crocodile attack and rushed its victim to the nearest hospital, which was in a region called Lugarawa, about 72km away.
“We put him in our truck and took him to the hospital,” said John, who is currently the Regional Chief Education Advisor with an education programme that assists the Tanzanian authorities.
“He was a villager, who was struck by the tail of a large crocodile that looked to be about 12 foot long.
“The man, who luckily survived the attack, was mowing sweet potatoes on land that became very swampy during a flood when it happened.”
These terrifying crocodile attacks, along with high levels of cholera and other water borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea, prompted staff with Concern to build four water wells in that village the late 1990s to provide clean and safer water sources.
The charity also hired local craftsmen to work with an engineer to build a bridge across a seasonal stream where people had been snatched or had near misses with the large reptiles while crossing to go about their daily routines.
This critical work was just one of many successful development projects undertaken by Concern between 1978 and 2016 when it concluded its work in Tanzania as the country saw strong economic growth.
Just four years later, the life-changing legacy of the charity is still praised by senior aid workers in Tanzania and the people who have benefited from its relief and development efforts.
“I spoke to people in Ngelenge and other small villages, who said their wells built by Concern are still in use, which means people drink cleaner water and don’t get so close to the streams where they would risk a crocodile attack,” said John.
“The bridges they built in those villages are still in use too and this had many benefits, but we did many other things across the country that have become part of Concern and Ireland’s legacy here.
“Four village primary schools were constructed and another three rehabilitated in one area alone, plus an irrigation scheme and a canal to distribute water into farmers’ fields.
“One man I spoke to recently about this told me, ‘Concern Worldwide changed our life. I have a house, wife and children I can support – and that’s thanks to a fishing group Concern set for me and other young people in the village.”
Concern’s Head of International Programmes, and one of Ireland’s most experienced aid workers, Anne O’Mahony, said a key ambition of Concern’s has always been to empower communities to spearhead their own development out of extreme poverty so that they can then leave and continue their work in other countries in desperate need of aid.
“The support and donations we get really do have impact,” said Anne, who is based in Dublin and oversees aid operations in 23 of the world’s poorest countries.
“We can see that today in Tanzania, which has made significant progress over the last few decades and has thankfully seen improvements in children’s health, education, livelihoods and food security.
“Concern helps people in any way that we can until there comes a time when we are no longer needed – and this is done thanks to our continued public support.
“It is heart-warming to know that wells and bridges we built, for example, are still benefiting local communities.
“Our vision is of a world free from poverty, fear and oppression - where everyone has access to the opportunities they need to live a long, healthy and creative life and we thank all our supporters for helping us as we carry out our work. “
In Concern’s final full year in Tanzania in 2015, it provided agricultural training to 28,360 people; planted 10,000 “kitchen gardens” to improve child nutrition and trained 316 community health workers.
This article was originally published in the Sunday World newspaper.
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