Ethiopia

Ethiopia: 'We have been reborn because of this water'

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by John Rivera

CRS and our partner saved Ajabiya Yusuf hours of walking each day when we built a water system for her community.

In the small village of Kufanzic, nestled on the side of a hill in the Kersa Woreda area of eastern Ethiopia, life has - for generations - revolved around the daily chore of walking long distances to find water, fill a 5-gallon jerry can and carry it back home.

"We walked starting early in the morning," says Ajabiya Yusuf, a 28-year-old mother of five. "We returned in the evening. Many mothers suffered to walk such a long distance to carry water."

The alternative water source was much closer, at the bottom of the hill. But it was a brackish, algae-covered pond that was contaminated with human waste. In addition, it's a seasonal pond, lasting only four months after the rainy season.

The villagers' predicament is typical. Approximately 85 percent of Ethiopia's 70 million people live in rural areas. And of these, less than 20 percent have access to safe water.

But recently, a local water system constructed by the Hararghe Catholic Secretariat, a partner of Catholic Relief Services, was extended to the village. The community can now use a newly constructed water point with four spigots to fill their jerry cans with clean, clear water.

'We Are Responsible'

Before CRS' intervention in Kufanzic, this brackish pond was the community's only source of water.

The people of Kufanzic have organized to help maintain this precious resource. Villagers formed a water committee to draw up a set of bylaws governing the use of the facility and collect user fees to maintain it. And the water point has a watchful guardian - Alia Abadir - who enforces the community's rules. She supervises the water point and shoos away children who might be tempted to play there.

"We don't want them to break anything," she says. "If anything breaks, we are responsible for repairing it."

The water system is part of a comprehensive CRS strategy for providing rural communities with access to water for domestic uses - drinking, cooking and washing - as well as productive purposes such as watering crops and livestock, and activities that help people make a living. In most cases, the only available source is groundwater, which led CRS to invest in several expensive drilling rigs that were then donated to the Ethiopian Catholic Church.

In 2005, one of these rigs drilled a 210-foot-deep borehole, which is the source of water for Kersa Woreda's system. A fuel-powered generator runs a pump, which pushes the water up a hill to a reservoir. The water then flows downhill to a series of water points in the area.

The system, which was built with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, has already been extended several times. When complete, it will serve 5,400 households (about 27,000 people) in the immediate area. In addition, more than 8,000 people come from outside these communities to access the water. "We take a progressive, step-by-step approach," says Bekele Abaire of CRS Ethiopia. "When we get money from a [donor] source, we extend the system."

A Unified Solution

Villagers retrieving water from a system with four spigots.

CRS and our partners take an integrated approach to providing adequate supplies of safe water. We link construction of water sources to sanitation and hygiene promotion. This means clean water stays clean, and ensures the maximum positive effect on people's lives. Providing safe water is only beneficial if the water stays free from contaminating bacteria after being drawn from a tap. Therefore, water projects are combined with sanitation efforts, such as constructing pit latrines and providing stations for people to wash their hands and clothes and take showers.

Another part of the strategy for projects like these is watershed management, which includes fighting erosion and ensuring the groundwater supply isn't depleted. Terracing and planting the hillsides slows down rushing rainwater, allowing it to seep into the ground and recharge the groundwater. "By doing this watershed management, we improve the quality and quantity of water," says Bekele.

For the people of Kufanzic, the water system has changed their lives. "The whole activity of the community was fetching water," says Alia, the water point coordinator. "Many children dropped out of school because they had to carry water. We had to send them to get water instead of sending them to school."

"This has relieved a great burden on the community," she continues. "We can say we have been reborn because of this water."

John Rivera is a senior writer with CRS' media communications department. He recently traveled to Ethiopia and Uganda to observe CRS programs. He works at CRS headquarters in Baltimore.