Water for advancement
A huge smile lights up Aberu Hirpa’s face as she drinks clean water from a new village spring.
For the eight-year-old, the few drops offer a revolutionary change to her life.
However, they are also symbolic of a new era for Ethiopia and the plan to bring urbanization to the countryside.
Aberu lives just outside Babich, one of 8,000 new towns the government hopes to create to cater for the population boom.
As well as improved schools, roads and health facilities, the town in Oromia Regional State is benefiting from a new water project.
Before, the 12,300 town residents had to wait for hours in a line for water from the single 50-year-old spring.
Women and children in the surrounding hills had to walk for up to five hours a day to fill their heavy jerrycans with polluted water from rivers and puddles.
Cholera, dysentery and other waterborne illness were rife and death not uncommon in the region.
Now, however, the charity Water Aid has nearly completed its ambitious three-year-project which will bring almost 20 liters of fresh water into the area per second.
Water engineer Afework Tadesse said: “Water is life. To live a healthy and good life you need water. Without access to water, times are very difficult.
“Without a good supply, people are not healthy because of the diseases they get from dirty water. They waste a lot of time walking to get or waiting for water and very often this causes children to miss school.
“Ethiopia has enough water for our population and we have the technology to deliver water to people. We just need to deliver it and manage it better.”
Currently, the population of Ethiopia is well over 100 million and is growing at a rate of one person every 12 seconds. It is currently the 14th most populous country in the world and the second in Africa, behind Nigeria.
Ethiopia has a population growth rate of 3.02 percent per year. According to the UN, if it follows its current rate of growth, the population will double in the next generation, hitting 210 million by 2060.
The population of Addis Ababa is expected to double to over eight million in the next decade and an additional half a million homes are now needed.
Efforts to expand the capital resulted in widespread protests following concerns the masterplan expansion was a threat to Oromo farmers.
Therefore, the nation has now adopted a rural to urban transformation plan with the hope of transforming any town with more than 2,000 people.
One hour from Ambo, Babich is one such town benefiting from this urbanization. Over the last few years, the population has hit 12,300 and with an annual growth rate of 4.6 percent it is likely to double in about 16 years.
Before Water Aid came, the only source of water was one spring made by an NGO five decades ago.
As part of the 42million birr Toke-Kutaye Woreda and Babich Town WASH project, Water Aid has made a series of springs and wells to collect groundwater for the area.
The town is served by water from a 123-meter deep well and six springs. The water is fed through a series of underground pipes and ends up at a reservoir in Babich, which holds 300,000 liters.
This water goes to the Health Centre, toilets at six schools and all the homes in the town. There is also a public toilet and shower block, which will collect human waste. When this organic matter breaks down during anaerobic digestion, it produces biogas. This will be used as fuel to cook and power a new restaurant.
On the outskirts of town, a further 400 households in the rural areas are helped. They have six new springs and, by the time the project is completed next month, the water will flow to 20 collection points in the hills and fields.
In total the project uses around 40km of underground pipes, providing 19.4 liters of water per second and with enough spare capacity for the town to double.
Aberu is one of the lucky children who is now using the fresh water at one of the rural collection points. Instead of walking for hours, she just has a ten-minute walk from home to the nearest filling station.
After she has filled her two small jerrycans, she carries them up a hill and back home through the teff fields to her parents and seven older siblings.
She said: “I fetch water two or three times a day and I would sometimes miss school because I was late for class. The water also wasn’t clean. I have never been ill from drinking water but some of my brothers have been.”
Her neighbors echoed the problem of poor quality water. Angatu Degefa, 57, said members of her family were regularly ill.
“Thanks to God for this project. Now waterborne diseases are not affecting my children and grandchildren.
“We have seen and faced a lot of challenges because the water was not clean. Sometimes we had to drink from puddles or the water had fungus. We got sick. The children had amoeba, cholera, giardia – they were sick all the time.
“Before my children had to fetch water but now they have more time to go to school and study. They will have a better life because of this.”
A recent study by Water Aid found that only half of healthcare facilities in low and middle-income countries have access to piped water. Around 33 percent do not have good toilets while 39 percent do not have facilities for washing hands with soap.
Every minute, a newborn dies from infections caused by a lack of safe water and an unclean environment.
The Health Center is Babich has piped water and a back-up supply and is rapidly becoming a leading center in the area. It treats around 600 patients per month and delivers an average of 424 babies each year.
When word of the Water Aid project first emerged, people and businesses began moving to Babich.
Ethiopia’s new towns and growing population need good water.
In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation were essential to the realization of all human rights.
Unlike other African nations, Ethiopia actually has both the water capacity and the technology. However many more projects like this are needed to ensure “rural urbanization” is a success.
Afework said: “Once you have water, you have an advanced life.”
Ed.’s Note: Jane Wharton is a volunteer at The Reporter.
Contributed by Jane Wharton