Water and Sanitation Programmes in Ethiopia

As one of  Africa’s fastest growing economies, Ethiopia is increasingly seen as a country of great hope, but growth is characterised by rapid urbanisation. Ethiopia’s cities will triple in size and grow to a population of 42.3million people by 2037, with the vast majority of new inhabitants living tightly packed in Ethiopia’s city slums. Cities like Addis Ababa are not prepared for the pressure.

An estimated 73% of Ethiopians don’t have access to safe drinking water, and 90% don’t have access to sanitation facilities. As a result, illness and diseases caused by poor sanitation and contaminated water supplies are common. 

Over the last 25 years Habitat for Humanity has provided access to decent housing, as well as Water and Sanitation to 54,000 families in 19 communities and have trained 13,000 families in proper hygiene practices.

Addis Ababa

For us, sharing a toilet with hundreds of people is a far cry from reality. But in Addis Ababa, where more than 80% of the city’s 2.74 million residents live in slum areas, this is normality.

In these areas, large communities share make-shift kitchens and toilets, which are extremely unhygienic and dangerous to be around. Already structurally unsafe and made worse by daily use, these communal facilities contribute to the spread of diseases and other health problems. 

Abrehat Solomon is one of the thousands of beneficiaries we’ve supported in Ethiopia.  Her house was barely standing, made from decaying wood and sheets of corrugated metal, her home was exposed to all weather conditions and diseases.

Like most families in Addis Ababa, Abrehat cooked her meals on a wood burning stove, a practice which has proven to be extremely detrimental to health and well-being because it leads to excessive smoke inhalation, and permanent damage to the lungs and respiratory system.

But there is no alternative. This is the cramped space in which the family must cook, live and sleep.

What’s more, the shared toilet is situated right outside their front door, so there really is no escaping this uncomfortable life.

Residents of the Addis Abba slums have faced constant problems with toilets and sanitation their whole lives. As a result, many have had constant bouts been of disease and illness, such as diarrhoea and cholera.

As we know, having access to basic sanitation and clean water are simple needs, but they are often overlooked. However, the outbreak of coronavirus has been a critical reminder of their utmost importance.

 “We need the same things that everyone else in the world needs.” – Talegegn

It is for these reasons that we have spent the last 25 years working with families in the slums around Addis Ababa to construct new kitchens and toilet spaces that are safe and healthy. This is part of our larger Water and Sanitation initiative, which aims to alleviate extreme poverty in Ethiopia for thousands of people by helping them meet their most basic needs.

Abrehat was thrilled by the news we were going to help her build a new life :

“For me, my family and neighbourhood – this will be a big change… we all believe that these new facilities will bring us a new healthier life.” 

We believe these improved facilities will totally transform many slum dwellers’ lives, including Talegegn’s another resident, who told us:

“We can now see the sunrise and are opening our eyes. All the adults, children, everyone is really excited. We cannot explain the joy.”

Initially, our goal for the Water and Sanitation project was to meet the needs of 50 families in the slums of Addis Ababa. But due to the success of these partnerships and the immediate positive impact they had on the communities, the project has been expanded to a new goal of meeting the simple needs of more than 120,000 individuals.

Sadly, there are still millions of people across the globe who feel trapped in the poverty cycle. Families believe they can do no better as there seems to be no money, no choice, no get out.

Success stories like this one bring us and those families hope. They prove that if we can work together, especially now, we will get closer to meeting everyone’s needs.

Woreda 8

Woreda 8 is one of Addis Ababa’s oldest neighbourhoods with more than 40,000 inhabitants. The neighbourhood has grown without a community development plan.  Houses are built on available land, often in areas that are unsafe, such as unstable land alongside river. Every time it rained, the roof leaked, and when the river flooded, her home’s foundation got weaker and water collected on the floor. She didn’t have the money to repair her home or move to a new place.

Working together, the local government and Habitat Ethiopia have formed a Community Committee to identify the needs of the heavily congested area where residents live in houses built of mud and sheet metal.

“Some houses are just not appropriate for humans.”

recalls Community Coordinator Tegene Gemuchu:

“When I see  such living conditions, I immediately contact Habitat for Humanity.”

Admas Stefanos, a 45-year old mother of four, has lived in Woreda 8 for over 30 years without a toilet.  She and her children used to walk to a nearby river, dig a hole and hope no one saw them.

“We would go to the river because the water can wash away our dirt,” she explains. “There were no toilets in the area.”

 “There are few basic services,” says Woreda 8 administrator, Desalegn Debele. 

“The government is trying its best but half of the people in Woreda 8 do not have clean Water and Sanitation facilities.  This leads to a variety of illnesses related to poor hygiene.”  

Habitat for Humanity helped more than 5,000 people in the area through:

  • construction of 30 communal toilet blocks
  • construction of 59 water points
  • construction of 28 communal kitchens
  • renovation and repair of 22 homes
  • hygiene awareness trainings.

Furthermore, through this project, new job opportunities were created in the area. “So many people, particularly the young, have been trained and now have jobs because of Habitat,” says Desalegn.

“So the impact and benefits are much greater than just building a new house.”

Shalla District

The water crisis in Ethiopia is felt most acutely by women since they are responsible for water collection in 80% of households. It takes their time away from work, school and caring for family.

Damme Tesho, who lives in Shalla district in Ethiopia, is a mother of three children. She collects water for crops like maize, potato, and haricot-bean and to feed and water a few animals owned by the family. During dry season, Damme used to collect water from a nearby region in Halaba district travelling more than six hours to fetch water, which was not even clean. During rainy seasons, they collected water from ponds or road catchments near their village. To make the water drinkable, Damme and her family filtered it through the fibres of their own clothes

“It was not healthy, and our children were suffering from diarrhoea. We felt insecure drinking that water.”

says Damme.

Yet life has changed for better for Damme and almost 1000 families in Sinkile Guri, Kobo laman and Ore-Shibibo kebeles of Shalla district since they started using filter devices distributed by Habitat for Humanity Ethiopia. Families were trained on the benefits, utilization, handling and cleaning of the filter devices that, if properly used and managed, can serve them for 20 years.

Habitat for Humanity has been implementing Water and Sanitation projects in the Arsi Negelle and Shalla districts since January 2017. The projects focus mainly on the communities that suffer from severe droughts. Habitat is currently constructing:

  • 100 cubic meters water reservoir
  • 16 public water points
  • 40 kilometres pipeline installation

These water solutions will create access to safe drinking water for more than 14,700 people.

“I am very happy. The filtered water is very safe. Look at this water. It is better than tap water and even equivalent to bottled water, which is free from disease causing microbes.”- Damme Tesho

Without a doubt, the communities in Shalla District are much more prepared now to protect themselves from infectious diseases.

Finote Selam

15 year old Atsede Chalachew lives with her parents and two siblings in Bakel Village in Finote Selam, Western Ethiopia. Like the other women in her village she used to spend up to four hours a day fetching water.

Through Habitat’s Water and Sanitation programme in her village, water is now available just minutes away from her home and she says she has, in her words, “a lot more time to study.”

Finote Selam in the Amhara region of western Ethiopia doesn’t have enough drinkable water with only 66% of its total need being met. That all changed in Finote Selam with the implementation of a water reservoir project with 8 communal water points. The reservoir project will serve both the low-income families, who do not have access to drinkable water, and the entire town. More than 400 families will now have increased access to water. A further 100 families from five cooperatives and an additional estimated 262 families will have access within a year.

The availability of drinkable water will also reduce water-born diseases like cholera and bilharzia. Habitat for Humanity will also provide training to improve hygiene practices throughout the community. 

“Habitat isn’t just about building a physical structure but about building a healthy home”

said Habitat for Humanity Ethiopia´s National Director Desiree Bartosiak. “That is why access to water is so very important and why we embarked on this project.  Our Water, Sanitation, Hygiene program has served thousands of families across Ethiopia and we hope to reach even more in the future.”

Our collective action can save lives.

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