Water is the greatest necessity in life; however, consumption of contaminated water is one of the biggest killers in the world. Ethiopia, situated in horn of Africa, a region prone to droughts and subsequent famine, faces acute, recurrent water shortages, and poor sanitation.

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Women in Ethiopia carry water from a lake back to their homes. Time spent hauling water can be significant in areas where sources of domestic water supply are limited. Photo via waterencyclopedia.com

Water is the greatest necessity in life; however, consumption of contaminated water is one of the biggest killers in the world. Ethiopia, situated in horn of Africa, a region prone to droughts and subsequent famine, faces acute, recurrent water shortages, and poor sanitation. Besides the natural causes, water stress has been aggravated by politics, unsustainable policies, and conflict.

A study by Water.org estimates that 42% of the population has access to clean water and only 11% have access to proper sanitation services. Most of the people with access to clean water reside in urban areas, whereas rural populations continue to wallow in poor health that result from contaminated water, and in some regions of the country, an absolute lack of it. An estimated 250,000 children die from drinking unclean water every year in Ethiopia.

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The Ethiopian government in recent years has intensified efforts to increase access to clean water, but the progress has often been negated by emerging issues such as over-population in urban centers which have come as a result of rural-urban migration. Very many young people are flocking into towns and cities in search of employment and livelihoods thus putting more pressure on the already stretched supply of the precious resource. The government in 2012 initiated an ambitious Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) 2011-2015 that aimed at increasing drinking water coverage from 68.5% to 98.5%. This has not been achieved thus far despite donors having committed substantial funds to the sector. Effective spending of the donor money has been lacking in this regard.

The obliviousness of the locals (especially in the villages) is perhaps the most worrying. Granted, decades ago streams were flowing freely with safe water, but that’s not the case now. Pollution of varied kinds has rendered water from the previously clean natural sources unsafe and perilous. This however has not stopped the local people from using water from these sources, increasing the risks of diseases and other water-born complications. Some water springs have dried up rendering some communities helpless.

HOPE2020, an indigenous Ethiopian organization has made notable steps in rural Ethiopia with the solar powered Water, Health and Sanitation project. They have built water collection chambers on the springs and use solar energy to pump water uphill to distribution points where the locals find it easy to access. The water is treated before distribution because it is still contaminated. This project has gained popularity throughout the country and the organization is seeking to duplicate the success as far as they can. Despite the success of this initiative, reservations remain of its sustainability considering the ground water depletion and pollution.

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One of the most vital strategies to at least reduce the prevalence of water-borne health complications is public education of the population on water and sanitation. Other interventions such as reforestation and afforestation are equally important for areas that are experiencing signs of desertification due to land degradation. All these solutions hinge on how much people know about the extent of effects of their actions on the environment hence awareness creation.

Ethiopia’s population is predominantly rural therefore the level of success in increasing water supply in the rural areas will determine the overall success. Monitoring water supply in the rural areas however is a challenge with different conflicting statistics. It is necessary for the government to compound all the efforts and involve stakeholders in water projects, however small as well as in monitoring and evaluation of the progress.

The future looks bright for the population in Ethiopia should the current enthusiasm be maintained over the next couple of years. Despite glaring gaps in water supply in several rural parts of Ethiopia, many initiatives have come up and are taking shape. The major challenges remain in relation to sustaining these services.

By Daniel Wasonga – an environmental management coordinator at Hope 2020, an Ethiopian NGO in Addis Ababa under the African Union Youth Volunteer Corps program. This article was originally published on the International Political Forum.