Thursday, April 18, 2024
NewsAddis Ababa is running out of groundwater: study warns

Addis Ababa is running out of groundwater: study warns

Only seven of the capital’s woredas enjoy water supply 7 days a week

Drilling for groundwater is no longer feasible for Addis Ababa as the city’s wells are drying up, warns a new study presented this week. The engineering experts who presented the study at a UN conference in the capital this week caution that its water supply is at risk of drying up if the pumping of groundwater goes unchecked and unregulated.

Fekadu Moreda (PhD) and Tirusew Assefa (PhD) issued the warning during a conference on climate resilient infrastructure. Addis Ababa’s current freshwater demand is at 1.2 million cubic meters a day, while supply lags behind at only 40 percent of demand.

The study warns that the city’s ubiquitous water storage tanks and heavy levels of groundwater pumping are leading to an inability to maintain adequate residual levels and ensure water quality.

“The water tanks are a symptom of what is going on,” Fekadu said.

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Supply deficiencies have forced the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) to ration water for the last six years, at least officially. Data from the Authority reveals that only two woredas in Akaki-Kality, three in Arada, one in Yeka, and one in Bole enjoy a steady supply of water seven days a week.

The study presented at the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) conference affirms the data, and new polls indicate that most of the capital’s woredas have water flowing in their pipes only twice a week, while some go more than a week at a time without water.

“Things have gotten worse since this plan was put in place six years ago,” Fekadu said.

Tirusew notes that cities such as Tampa, Florida, in the US, previously relied heavily on groundwater, and lakes and springs in the vicinity dried up as a result of the unsustainable demand.

“The same thing is happening to Addis Ababa, except that nobody knows how much is being sucked out. However, all the pumps are taking [water] from the same source. Before you know it, uncoordinated and unregulated water use by many will start drying up lakes,” warned the expert.

The study claims that several 250 and 500 meter deep wells in Akaki-Kality dried up between 2017 and 2019. It cautions that groundwater quality will also soon be affected by the over-pumping.

Tirusew says the solution is diversifying into surface water and building reservoirs to store excess rainfall. The experts also urge city officials to pass laws to stop unregulated drilling and pumping before it is too late.

They say legislation is required to determine the jurisdictions and roles of the federal government, city administration, Shegger City, and Oromia regional government in water supply. The establishment of an entity charged with assessing and allocating water supply is a necessity, according to the study. The entity would also be in charge of determining roles in water supply. The experts say legislation is needed to determine the financial aspects of water supply and water supply infrastructure.

Reports indicate that many of the capital’s residents buy water from vendors who supply it in 20-liter jerry cans at a cost 23 times higher than rates charged by AAWSA.

“People are paying up to 20 percent of their salary for water supply each month. Water should neither be this expensive nor this unregulated,” Tirusew said.

The researchers and engineers in attendance at the conference agreed the current unsustainable demand and supply gaps make the city’s ambitions of full citywide water supply coverage by 2030 unattainable.

Demand has jumped to 1.2 million cubic meters a day in 2024 from 100,000 two years prior. Supply remains stagnant at under 600,000 cubic meters daily and is expected to stay that way until 2026. Experts foresee demand will be 160,000 cubic meters a day by 2030, with supply covering less than 60 percent.

Three water supply projects – Gerbi, Sibilu, and Aleltu – have been lagging behind for the past 25 years.

“These projects should have been built five years ago but we are still waiting for their completion,” said Fekadu.

The lack of foresight poses serious problems, observes Geremew Sahlu (Eng.), an expert at WASH.

“In any water supply project, the most natural process to follow is to plan at least twenty years ahead. The consultant is expected to provide plans for alternatives after the operational lifespan of a water supply dam ends. With that, the supply would continue to grow,” said Geremew.

However, he notes the process was not followed in Addis Ababa’s case, with a project commencing only as its predecessor reaches the tail end of its operational years.

“Gerbi was supposed to commence operations in 2000, so now we are paying the price. The other two [Siblu and Aleltu] as well as Jehda Meda are expected to come on line by 2030,” said the expert. “But, let me tell you as a water supply engineer, even if those dams become operational, it will not be enough.”

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