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The diplomatic city struggling to quench its thirst

The diplomatic city struggling to quench its thirst

They say population is a blessing as well as a curse; well in recent time Ethiopia looks to be feeling the pressure of population explosion approaching the big 100 million. Public services like electricity and water are at the forefront of this population pressure narrative Ethiopia. Although, Ethiopians are quite familiar with power rationing, last week the Addis Ababa City Administration announced its plan to ration water, writes Yonas Abiye.

Around dawn, on Wednesday morning, Amelework, 31, was busy collecting underground water from a small spring she discovered inside one of the newest condominium compounds in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Surprisingly, the crack she found is located off the newly paved cobblestone road inside the Yeka Abado Condominium Site and for the time being that is the sole source of water for Amelework. This is not sheer coincidence, however.  The residential compound is built on the bank of a small river that separates Addis Ababa and the Oromia Regional State cutting the bordering town of Legetafo into two in the western horizon of the capital.

With the current severe scarcity of water that has gripped the city she says that she has no other alternative except fetching this water at least for cleaning purposes.

Amelework is one of the thousands of women in Addis Ababa who struggle on a daily basis to find water for survival and run routine life. For long, water scarcity and shortage has been a common challenge that the capital to deal with. In fact, it looks that the city administration has finally given in to this challenges and moved to declare water rationing among city dwellers.

True to form, this is the worst water crisis that the city has seen in the past decades. In past couple of weeks, there is no neighborhood in the city that is not feeling the thirst.

For instance, around Kara area, in the eastern outskirts of the city, it is hard to spot children and women without their yellow jerry cans weighting around 15 to 20kg when filled with water.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, The Reporter visited Kotebe, Kara and even the town of Legetafo, located outside of Addis Ababa, only to confirm the severity of the water shortage. Around 4:30 before dawn, an old woman, Hassenet, walked for ten minutes from her house in Kara to Legetafo carrying the three empty yellow jerry cans where she sought to buy water from individuals who are scheduled to receive water that day or from communally-owned tap water, commonly called bonos.

Coming from the opposite direction, Firdawok, another young man also in search of water, had nothing but bad news for Amelework. Although the two never meet, Firdawok quickly deduced that Amelework is out in a similar quest. “There is no water there either,” he told her as strides past her to the other direction.

Amelework looked to be crushed when she learned the fact that where she is heading to has no hope since the water source there has also dried up. Yifrashowa Tsegaye, a man in his sixties, lives near the bank of the Taffo River. He is member of a committee that manages the communal tap water (bono) that according him was built by the community. Yifrashowa says that the bono was built three years ago to serve 95 households in the nearby village but these days it caters for more than 150 households due to the shortage. Nevertheless, since the past three or four months, the bono is feeling the pressure. Now, the taps hardly pour enough water, Yifrashowa says.

“In spite of the rising number of people who comes to collect the water, the well is not giving service on a daily basis. Sometimes, we have no water from six to ten days,” Yifrashowa told The Reporter. He also explains that the community-managed water well serves not only to the members but also to the other residents both living in the neighborhood and those coming from as far as the villages in the Oromia Regional State.

Tigst Abate, mother of a one-year-old, says that she had waited for three years to have water lines extend to her house. Even after years, her hope of getting the supply is still fresh despite her knowledge of water scarcity all over Addis Ababa.

“While delivering my baby last year I faced a severe water shortage. Still the problem remains unsolved. In fact, it is getting worse instead,” she says. Now, she relies on the water supply that her husband brings home. The problem extends deep into the suburbs. The Reporter met Hanamariam Alemneh, a resident of the suburbia in Legetafo, while preparing to drive off to her work located in center of the city. Suddenly she goes around the back of her Toyota and threw in three yellow jerry cans in the trunk of her car.

She had to transport water back to her home on a daily basis to meet the water needs of her family. “Had it not been for the car, I could have been in trouble since there will be no way that the water supply around the area would be adequate. In fact, she says that she also helps out her neighbors with water supply.   

The same situation prevails in Lebu area in far southeastern part of the city and areas extending to Kolfe-Keranyo area, far to west of Addis Ababa. Despite relatively lower frequency of interruption in the supply of water, the problem looks to be identical even in the inner heartlands of the capital.

The authority disclosed last week how it will implement its strict plans to ration water among various Sub Cities and that has been effective since March 23, 2016, the authority will supply water to one location in the city every other day.  The reason was said to be dangerously low level of water reservoirs due to the devastating drought and failure of rains.

In a press conference, Etsegenet Tesfaye, head of Public Relations at Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA), said that the city’s main source of water, the Legedadi reservoir, has lost its one meter reserve, which according to the official, means that five million cubic meters of water, which could have served the capital for close to a  month.

“In order to use the remaining available water efficiently and reasonably, the authority is applying a rationing system when distributing water to the residents of the city,” Etsegenet said.

In that regard, supplies to the northern and the eastern areas of the city will be restricted to four days a week with immediate effect. The normal operating level of the reservoir dam is 38 million cubic meters, but the water levels are much below the normal level due to inadequate rain. Similarly, Tadesse Zegeye, head of Water Production, Purification and Distribution, said that due to the shortage of water in the reservoir, areas of the city that previously had 24-hour access to water supply are now restricted to four days a week.

Ethiopia is experiencing dry weather due to the El Niño phenomenon—a global weather pattern that causes dry conditions. The Legedadi Reservoir supplies one fourth of the city’s water demand. The reservoir was built 45 years ago with a storage capacity of 45 million cubic meters. However, due to sedimentation in the reservoir the capacity has now been reduced to 38 million cubic meters.

Addis Ababa's other main source of drinking water is the Gefersa Dam built during the Italian occupation and rehabilitated in 2009. In addition, wells and other dams complement the supply.

Potable water supply for Addis Ababa was initiated during the reign of Emperor Menelik II in the year 1895 particularly for the Palace, the Patriarchate and the Parliament; the system serviced by distributing the water through two pipes.

The water supply was realized by constructing a mini-dam (with earth and gravel packs) along the Kebena River in the foothills of the Entoto Mountain.

All the same, water scarcity may not be an isolated case for the capital because recurrent water shortage is worse among regional towns and rural areas. The problem outside of Addis Ababa is more critical. Despite the progress of potable water supply and sanitation coverage which makes up government’s narratives, the scarcity of such basic resource remains to be a debilitating challenge for the society.

As an economy that depends on agriculture, most development problems in Ethiopia are water-related: food insecurity, low economic development, recurrent droughts, disastrous floods, poor health conditions, and low energy production. According to available documents and research, the root cause of these problems is not the lack of adequate water resources, as Ethiopia has abundant water bodies; but rather the limited development of this country’s most important resources. 

“This is mainly due to the lack of institutional capacity for managing this precious resource and shortage of professionals trained in water resource management,” argues document authored by USAID.

However, despite the fact that water shortage has been a longstanding and drastic challenge to the nation, the current water crisis in the capital appears to be have the power to highlight the growing severity of the crises.

 It, indeed, is contradictory for Addis Ababa to be associated with such a large magnitude of water scarcity, since the city has been praised from within and outside for its recent booming in construction and massive infrastructure development such as the multi-billion dollar Light Railway Transit (LRT).

Hence, the image tarnishing toll that this crisis will take on the city is quite clear. The hard earned image that it has progressively acquired both as seat of continental political and economic organizations is sure to suffer in the wake of the water rationing measure. Surely, it is not capital-like to go back to the older ways of rationing basic resources, a resident opined.

What is of the utmost importance is how the city got to this predicament, any residents ask. On this line of argument, experts from water and related fields agree that Addis Ababa’s water crisis is related to weak management of the resource instead of resource limitation.

Tesfaye Alemseged, a PhD candidate on water management, is one of the experts who have a long experience in conducting research on water and working in various international organizations. “The problem in Addis Ababa is related to the planning and implementation of various development activities being undertaken which do not put under consideration of the available water resources the city has at its disposal” he said.

According to Tesfaye, most activities including construction of condominium houses, industrial expansion projects and others are not properly planned; and that they should have been managed in proper cross-sectoral consideration.

“There is no integrated system. Everything is undertaken as an emergency; they always try to put out the fire. But they are weak when it comes to planning,” he added.

He further points out that mismanagement of the water resources is another problem that costs the city and its residents. As a practical case he raises the customary practices of wasting water for car washes and watering plants without any alternative for recycling. The tap water that is delivered to every household needs a huge sum of money, Tesfaye said.

“Communication gaps exist among various sectors. The knowledge that we have acquired on how to manage the water remains unutilized for many years. As a result we are not managing our resources in line with frontier technology and techniques,” Tesfaye argues further.

According to the city administration’s report, which was released last year, some 19 deep water-wells with the capacity to produce 70,000 cubic meters of water a day have been dug in Akaka area. In addition, expansion works at Legedadi water treatment center and Dire Dam were being carried out to upgrade their daily production volumes to 80,000 and 30,000 cubic meters, respectively.

The administration has also claimed that the city’s water supply and its distribution have been improved in the previous year after it was able to increase the city’s total production to over 260,000 cubic meters.

In addition, the federal government’s report on its part claims that the water and sanitation coverage of Ethiopia has surged greatly during the first Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP-I) period; according to the initial plan the government had planned to expand coverage from 68.5 percent (2010) to an overwhelming 98 percent.

Global institutions like Water.org support government’s claim reporting “Ethiopia is one of the few nations which had registered big progress in the past two or three years. Similarly, the World Bank on its part identifies Ethiopia as a highly “water stressed” zone. The Bank also advices the government to focus on expanding coverage of WASH services during GTP II.

According to data obtained from USAID, with regard to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target of expanding safe drinking water, Ethiopia has managed to attain some 57 percent, resulting in halving the number of people without access to safe water since 1990. Yet access to improved sanitation remains stubbornly low at only 28 percent nationwide; nevertheless, up from 3 percent in 1990.  Despite these strides, safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) coverage remains largely insufficient, reports indicate.

Inadequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation services and poor hygiene practices negatively impact health and nutrition; in turn diseases like diarrheal is one of the leading causes of under-five mortality in Ethiopia.

Agricultural activity is by far the largest consumer of water in Ethiopia. An estimated 93 percent of all water withdrawals in the country (surface water and groundwater) are for agricultural use, much higher than the global average of 70 percent.

The members of the public like Amelework and Hassanaet who feel the daily burn are calling on the government to address to the problem immediately.

While Ethiopia has relatively abundant water resources, it is considered ‘water stressed’ due to rapid population growth over the last decade. Estimates of renewable annual groundwater per year range from 13.5 to 28 billion cubic meters, of which only about 2.6 billion cubic meters are currently exploitable.

Ethiopia has 12 river basins with an annual runoff volume of 122 billion cubic meters of water and an estimated 2.6 to 6.5 billion cubic meters of ground water potential. This corresponds to an average of 1,575 cubic meters of physically available water per person per year, a relatively large volume by comparison. However, due to large spatial and temporal variations in rainfall and lack of storage, water is often not available where and when needed. Only about three percent of water resources are used in Ethiopia.

To the contrary, water supply services in Ethiopia are among the lowest in Africa, with an average consumption of only 15 liters per capita per day in urban areas, which is far below the World Health Organization standard of 45 liters per person per day, experts argue.

The water crisis is not as disastrous for few people. In fact, Jobbir, a local man who owns donkeys, which he employs to give transport services, says that the scarcity of water in recent times has been a blessing in disguise for him. Given the situation, Jobbir’s donkeys transport some 16 jerry cans at a time making him a total of 160 birr per trip. “This means as high as 1,600 birr in revenue every day,” he told The Reporter. This daily income looks to be even higher than those in the car rental business, according to those in the business.