FOR almost 60 years, Segundo Piamonte and his family would scour the mountains of Barangay Marfil, nestled in the interior of Rosario town in Agusan del Sur, looking for creeks to fetch water.

"This would entail three-to-four-kilometer hike, to and fro, both in the morning and afternoon, every day," saud 57-year-old Piamonte, one of the early settlers of Sitio Ugabon in Marfil, formerly called "Mabtay", from the Bisaya word "nangamatay".

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It was named as such after the creek, the source of food and water around where the community was built, dried up, killing all the fish and emitting foul odor across the village. The name was changed in 1958, combining the names of its first punong barangay and his wife, Felimon and Maria.

During rainy season, Piamonte said they would settle for murky waters from these creeks and drink rain water. But during summer, when most of these creeks dried up, they would buy drinking water at P5 per gallon from peddlers and gamble fetching water for washing and bathing from Schistosomiasis-infected Cabugan and Solibao rivers, the last ones to dry up.

"A number of residents, particularly children, got infected with Schistosomiasis during summer," Piamonte said.

The 66 families living in this sub-village were used to this cycle though the rest of the barangay have already access to potable water.

Schistosomiasis or snail fever is a debilitating chronic disease caused by a worm and affecting people living in swampy areas and mountainous terrains not having sanitation facilities and potable sources of water.

Symptoms of schistosomiasis at early stage are skin itchiness, fever, bloody stools, diarrhea, and dysenteric attacks but may result into enlarged liver and spleen, anemia, weight loss, and severe liver disease.

The Department of Health records show that around 2.5 million people are directly exposed to the disease but 12.5 million are estimated to be at high risk to Schistosomiasis infection in 190 municipalities and 20 cities within the 28 provinces in the country, including Agusan del Sur.

But Piamonte and 64 other families are hopeful that there would be less cases of Schistosomiasis this year compared to previous years even with the onslaught of the El Niño.

Early this month, a potable water system with two water reservoirs and communal faucets were installed in the sitio to serve residents in the area through the assistance of the GoP-UN ACT for Peace Programme with financial contribution from the barangay and municipal local government units.

"This is indeed a blessing to us. We don’t have to hike for hours just to fetch water. Our children will no longer be late in going to school or spend hours looking for water," Piamonte said.

During the recent project turnover program, Secretary Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on Mindanao and national programme director of ACT for Peace, observed the community's commitment to advance their peace and development.

"Marfil becomes a symbol of unity for peace, the reason why the Programme supports your community," Dureza added.

Marfil is among the 278 Peace and Development Communities (PDCs) assisted by the ACT for Peace as they undergo transformation processes from being conflict-affected areas toward progressive and self-relient barangays. Thirty-seven of these barangays are in Caraga region.

New Zealand, Australia, Spain and European Union provide support to the Programme that is managed by the United Nations Development Programme and implemented by the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) in partnership with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Regional Government.

New Zealand Ambassador Andrew Matheson, on the other hand, praised the residents for their "great sense of community and choosing to walk the path of peace."

"What the donors do is nothing unless embraced by the community and you're doing a fantastic job," he told the residents during the turnover ceremony attended by barangay leaders, municipal and provincial officials and other partners.

Aside from the water system, other projects supported by the Programme are the construction of a barangay health station, provision of medical equipment and rice trading enterprise. These projects were identified in the barangay development plan updated through a barangay assembly.