Gripped by drought, Ethiopia drills for water

originally posted on April 18, 2016


WUKRO: With Ethiopia in the grip of its worst drought in decades, the government has appealed for aid to help the 100 million people living in Africa’s second most-populous nation.

But in the town of Wukro, surrounded by the rocky, arid mountains of the northern Tigray region, the government is investing in longer-term efforts to ensure a supply of fresh water that will go far beyond the immediate needs of aid.

With a mushrooming urban population expected to soar from 70 million today to 100 million by 2050, water needs are all set to grow. In a bid to anticipate this future need, the government is stepping up construction of wells to pump ground water in a project backed by both the United Nations and charities.

“Lack of water affects everything: food, health, education and children’s futures,” warned the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is working with the government to boost access to clean water and health in new, rapidly-growing towns.

“Urbanisation must be accompanied by access to water and improved hygiene,” said Tamene Gossa, an urban hygiene expert with UNICEF, warning that without it new districts risked becoming slums.

For Wukro, a town of around 43,000 people, new wells have been dug 18 kilometres away to tap into major groundwater supplies. Late last year, clean water emerged from a well 650 feet deep which now supplies the town.

“We supply 50 litres per day, per person, which means the population in Wukro is now… safe,” said Tesfalem Hagdu, Deputy Director of water resources for the Tigray region.

Floods and failed rains caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon have sparked a dramatic rise in the number of people going hungry in large parts of Africa, with southern Ethiopia an area of special concern.

Food insecurity is a sensitive issue in Ethiopia which has struggled to change its image, following the famine of 1984-85 after an extreme drought.

While northern Tigray has escaped the worst of today’s El Nino drought, it has still seen water shortages, and the area around Wukro is dry and dusty.

But there have been huge efforts to change the situation, with authorities planting acacia and eucalyptus tree seedlings in a bid to limit erosion, to help water infiltrate the soil and feed underground springs.

Water experts hope to be able to supply water to a wider region within the next two decades.

“The water coverage for 2035 will be 100 percent — not only for Wukro, but for five other villages around,” says Abdul Wassie, Technical Chief of the region’s water resources.

But the city has also gone further with hygiene-related programmes to increase awareness about sanitation issues.

Two years ago, a primary school in the town created a water and sanitation club to promote basic hygiene.

In a remote town like Wukro, where health services are limited, basic tasks such as washing hands regularly can make a big difference to cutting overall sickness.
“Before this programme, viruses spread as well as parasitic diseases,” said water club leader Selamawit Tamerat. “Since then, everything changed and sickness decreased,” Selamawit added, praising the educational impact the project has had on the wider community.

Along with raising awareness, construction of sorely-needed infrastructure has been taken up, such as building toilet blocks for schools.
Last year, Ethiopia celebrated halving the number of people without access to safe water since 1990, with 57 percent of the population now using safe drinking water.
But the challenges that still remain are huge.


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