City of Scarcity

Residents of Addis Abeba live under a severe scarcity of water. Their complaints have been met by the deaf ears of officials. Even the latest response from Prime Minister Hailemariam was seemingly indifferent. Governors of the city, which is considered to be the political capital of Africa, ought to start thinking over new solutions.

In some parts of Addis Abeba, we see trucks loaded with bottled beer and water. In other areas, particularly in the northern part of the capital, people, including children, carry jerry cans of water alongside wheelbarrows loaded with containers for trading the most vital of liquids.

The least any government is expected to provide its citizens with is clean drinking water, anywhere and at any time. This should not be too much to ask in a country like ours, known as “the water tower of Africa” because of its immense water resources. But having more than adequate water is not necessarily the same as having equitable distribution of water to those who are in due need of it.

Scarcity of drinking water in the capital has prevailed for some time now. At first, the problem was observed around some areas in the northern part of the City. Various explanations, including elevation, power interruptions, road construction and new demands, used to be given. The Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority (AAWSA), on its part, has been exerting efforts to curb the acute problems by digging deep water wells in the Akaki area to augment the supply from the water reservoirs, such as Legeddadi, Dire and Gefersa.

At a water consumers meeting held at the Ministry of Water & Energy (MoWE), about three years ago, I raised this question, in the light of the fast growing urban population, and asked why the Sibilu and Gerbi water dams, which were started under Argaw Tiruneh (Eng.), have not yet been completed.

The Minister, Alemayehu Tegenu, said that there is no problem of underground water, as there are billions of cubic metres of the resource. He also said that the Gerbi Dam project is under consideration for tender. Time has gone by and the water shortage problem has even begun extending farther to the suburbs of the city.

A few years ago, drinking water was plenty in Burayou Town, some 18kms west of Addis Abeba. The few water points were satisfying the needs of the population residing there. These days, however, Burayou is facing the brunt of the water shortage. What is even stranger here is the fact that the shortage prevails where it should not.

A few weeks ago, the mayor of the town called a public meeting to lecture on what has been achieved during the past six months. By the looks of things, the assembly was just a curtain opener of a pre-election game.

But it turned out to be a chance for the people of Burayou to daringly speak their minds. The issue of water shortage was on the table.

As soon as the floor was opened for discussion, a bony male elder, who had sat far behind the stage, raised his hand to voice his complaints. He seemed to gather all his guts to speak out loud and clear, perhaps taking refuge in the words of what has been achieved so far.

He complained that Burayou, located at the water catchment area of the capital, is feeling thirsty while others get adequate supply from the same pool. The question can be summed up to convey the inequitable distribution of the available resource. That statement could have been a warning message to responsible officials who are able to see the danger of disintegration.

Among the host of question local media personnel posed to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne in a recent press conference, water scarcity was one. The journalist touched upon the other utilities, but almost pleaded his agony of having to carry jerry cans in search of drinking water before going to office.

The Prime Minister was very frank about it. He said that about 25pc of the city’s population do not get water, even if the area differs with time. By my reckoning, assuming that there are about four million people residing in Addis Abeba, about one million people somewhere suffer from the water shortage.

Globally speaking, water scarcity is a threat hovering over us all. International attention has been drawn on this critical issue and various resolutions have been reached to mitigate the environmental impacts on climate change.

Ethiopia is doing a plausible effort on soil conservation and reforestation. Some positive results have been achieved.

The last three years, in particular, have shown commendable results. Some green vegetation has been regenerating. Water springs have been revitalised and water tables are expected to replenish. But much remains to be done.

Alongside the efforts being exerted to retain the loss of water, it is vital to construct additional dams to conserve the surface water and make the distribution system functional and economical.

The dam projects need time and capital, which has to be planned strategically. The delivery can be affected by other factors, such as breakdowns due to construction works and seepage.

Water, being one of the basic needs for life, becomes an issue of human rights. One must be able to get clean water as soon and as often as one needs it. When the journalist raised the question of water scarcity in Addis Abeba in a pleading tone and shaky voice, he seemed to be worried about the mounting frustration of the affected dwellers and gave me the impression that he was almost personally begging the Prime Minister for special consideration.

Facts on the ground show that, albeit at different sectors of the city, there is a shortage of 25pc of water for some reason or other. That means that dwellers of those waterless areas will have to carry their water jerry cans in search of drinking water. As if to add salt to the wound, most of those water seekers are subjected to extra expenses for the water charge, as well as transportation.

The rise of urbanisation and expansions of the capital in particular aggravate the acute problem of water shortages. The high rising apartments require more water during construction and also our lifestyles have changed.

We consume more water for flushing our toilets, watering gardens or washing vehicles. All these growing demands affect the water supply.

With water delivery being of a paramount importance, planning ahead of time becomes a matter of experience, as it will protect our pockets from bleeding cash in an untimely manner. Indeed, that becomes an additional burden for many people who struggle to make ends meet and are barely able to survive.

There are, however, speculations that the state media will soon be flooded with water related news, such as the two deep water wells that could produce over 140,000 cubic metres of water daily to the dwellers of the metropolis, soon enough. The AAWSA willing, that is.


Published on March 2,2014 [ Vol 14 ,No 722]



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