I recently returned from Outerbate, a village high in the Atlas Mountains in central Morocco, where USAID broke ground on a new water supply system. In this Amazigh, or Berber village, the water supply system is more than 80 years old and serves only a handful of the village’s 300 homes.

I met Fatima Mazrou, a woman in her late 70s, who shared, “When we look for water, we sometimes get frozen and sick because the weather can go to below 10 degrees. It takes me at least one hour lining up to get water. Water and bread are critical to our survival.”

Increased access to water changes women and girls' lives in Morocco. Photo credit: USAID

Increased access to water changes women and girls’ lives in Morocco. Photo credit: USAID

I was surprised to see that women do most of the hard work of filling buckets to provide their families with water. The challenge is that the village’s 1,200 inhabitants must fill buckets and water containers at a common tap, and the task disproportionately falls to the village’s women and girls.

During the summer months, the tap frequently runs dry. Water-related health problems are common. In the winter, this arduous trek up the mountain in freezing weather and back to the village carrying heavy pails of water leads to health problems for women, including miscarriages.

The time and work involved collecting water also means reduced primary school attendance by the village’s girls. Kuba Hamou, a sheep herder, told me that ”having better access to water would eventually free women to pursue income-generating activities and help keep our daughters enrolled in school.”

Financed by USAID’s Development Grants Program, the Outerbate water system is being installed to address some of these challenges. Implemented by a local NGO, Al Kheir, the program will provide clean drinking water to every home in the village, ending the current practice of women and girls filling water containers at a common tap. With the introduction of the new system, girls’ attendance in schools should also increase and hundreds of families will have access to water and improved sanitation conditions in their homes, schools and public areas.

In addition, we have been able to work with Al Kheir in other life-improving ways. We helped the village set up a thriving artisan business selling locally produced honey and apple juice. And within Al Kheir, two young women are now on the association’s board of directors – the first time a woman or a youth has served in this capacity. Since this project began, Al Kheir has begun working with European and Japanese donors on other projects.

“None of this would have been possible without the engagement of USAID. We appreciate their support and its effects on our village,” said Haddou Maadid, Al Kheir’s president.

At the heart of USAID Forward is a belief that our results are always better when we partner directly with local institutions since they are empowered to take control of their future. In Outerbate, we are helping a village access safe water. By working directly with local partners, our assistance is amplified far beyond the water tap.