Potable Water for Villages in Southern EthiopiaPublished: Feb 15, 2021 Reading time: 5 minutes
In remote parts of southern Ethiopia, much of the population lacks access to life’s most critical resource: potable water. Streams, rivers, and reservoirs are the primary source of drinking water in these communities, but sources are often of poor quality and require extensive treatment before it is safe for consumption.
Although the situation is improving, many people in remote indigenous communities still lack access to safe drinking water. The limited availability of fresh water and high delivery costs to rural areas are some of the factors that keep communities from progressing.
Bekero is a small village located in Banqokotu, a rural kebele of Wonago district. On a typical day, men go out to work while women spend hours walking to fetch water from rivers and springs. On average, women in Bekero make the trip twice a day, carrying
up to 25 litres of water per day. Thus, the water they collect is the absolute minimum required for survival and is usually used only for drinking. Little, if any, is left for personal hygiene and cleaning the home.
Drinking unsafe water
In many cases, the distances that women must walk for clean water forces them to seek closer, often polluted water sources. This has caused the proliferation of waterborne diseases in the remote villages of southern Ethiopia, as access to potable water is key to controlling the transmission of these pathogens.
Community water supply systems are rare, and of the few that do exist, most are non-functioning. Hand pumps, hand dug wells, and boreholes often fail because of poor design, construction, and operation, as well as environmental factors, and communities usually lack the resources to fix them on their own.
Tessema Wayu is a 40-years-old member of Bekero village, where the water pump has been inactive for the last three years. Left with no other option, the community collects water from a stream an hour away. “My wife collects water from the stream twice a day, 12 litres each time,” Tessema says. “People wash their bodies and clothes in the same stream, so we don’t expect it to be clean, but we drink from this source anyway as we don’t have many options. Sometimes the local offices provide us with chlorine so we treat the water before consuming it, but because of shortages, we don’t always get it. Our children often get sick from water borne diseases, especially diarrhoea, and we have to seek medical care, which is not free.”
Nazreth Tesfaye, Tessema’s wife, concurs. “Women are normally the ones who bear the burden of fetching water for the house and we face many challenges,” she says. “The queue by the stream is very long, and people don’t respect the order. Sometimes it takes me half the day to bring back water to our home and this leaves me with little time to tend to my household chores."
Water committees to ensure well maintenance
In response to these conditions, People in Need (PIN), with financial support from the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and Czech Development Cooperation, has rehabilitated 10 shallow wells in the Gedeo and West Guji Zones. Some of these areas host internally displaced people, and they were selected for well rehabilitation based on parameters such as population density and the impacts of internal displacement on water supply. Bekero village was one of the sites chosen for well rehabilitation, giving families like Tessemas’s access to the requisite quantities of clean water.
Potable water and good hygiene practices are essential for the development of remote communities. Easier access to safe drinking water reduces the risks of waterborne diseases, improves sanitation and hygiene, and decreases the exposure of women to violence, leading to an improvement in the communities’ overall wellbeing. Notably, poor well performance is preventable if addressed in a timely manner. Ongoing well maintenance is always a sound investment.
To this end, a local committee has been formed in Bekero village to maintain the newly rehabilitated well and to create a sense of community ownership. PIN also provided trainings to increase the community’s understanding of the need for safe water.
Tessema, a member of the local water committee, says: “Now the well has been fixed and we are very happy. To ensure it doesn’t fail again, we have formed a strong water committee. The community can take two jerry cans of water for just one birr [about two cents], and we keep this money for regular check-ups and future repairs. It is open every day, and members of the water committee take turns to facilitate the collection process to avoid any misuse. At night, we lock it and don’t worry about people destroying it as it is also fenced with metal wires.”
Tesfaye adds: “Life is much easier now that we have a clean water source right outside our houses. I have more time to take care of our home and children. And the management of it is also good. Members of the water committee teach us about the importance of safe water, they explain how our jerry cans should always be clean and covered so that the water doesn’t get contaminated.”
PIN supports water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) improvements and emergency response activities across the Southern, Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region of Ethiopia. The work PIN does in WASH is possible thanks to generous financial support from European Union, Czech Development Cooperation, USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.