Access to safe, potable water has lately become a luxury in the capital. It is obvious that residents would be irked when subjected to frequent and tenacious interruptions in supply only to then find dirty water flowing through their taps. The chronic shortage has now festered and spread to businesses pushing them to the point of shutting down. The city administration, notorious for its failure to address issues like transportation and sewage, puts "rationing" as the short-term solution, reports SAMSON BERHANE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
For a hair salon located near Goro High School, declining service to customers, who would like to get their hair done on the weekends- when business is high- has recently become the norm.
The manager or the owner have no hidden agenda in turning down customers. Instead, the water shortage ailing the area has pushed them to take such drastic measures, sometimes forcing them to operate only half day.
“The water comes only during midnight,” said Getachew Bezah, owner of the four-year-old Salon. “Thus, our reserves usually deplete by Saturday and Sunday owing to a peak in customers on weekends.”
Water shortage and problems arising from it are not exclusive to the Salon.
Going through a week or even a month without water has become a routine that many areas are currently witnessing.
Lack of adequate water supply and the paucity of water has led many people to search for water in neighbouring areas. One can see people from all walks of life queueing up to purchase water.
Shortage of water has always been an issue for residents of Addis Abeba- whose population stands at 3.3 million and is projected by the city’s Administration to double in a decade.
For a city that contributes half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, the economic impact of such scarcity cannot be disregarded as it has an exigent effect on development, job creation and sustainability of businesses.
“The demand is growing at an alarming rate, while the supply has remained stagnant,” said Estifanos Fanos, public relations head of Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority (AAWSA). “Hence, the water is distributed to residents on a rotation basis.”
The Authority produces over 608,000 cubic metres of water a day from Legedadi and Gefersa rivers as well as groundwater. But, this does not mean all the pumped water is distributed to the residents.
The defective and worn out pipes in the distribution system cause significant losses in Addis’ water supply.
Only 50pc of this water reaches the taps of residents, a study conducted by UN-Habitat earlier this year reveals. The same study found that Addis Abeba’s tap water is a major public health concern that could result in the spread of water-borne diseases such as Cholera.
Worryingly, this has left families like Tsehay Kifle’s in a dubious situation whether to buy water from shops at a high cost or get unsafe water from contaminated rivers and wells.
In an area where she lives, Goro, residents usually notice dirty water flowing through their taps whenever water supply resumes after an interruption.
“It’s been long since we stopped drinking tap water,” said Tsehay, who has been living with her nine children in her residence situated around Goro Police Station, Bole district, since 2002. “We have to spend at least six Birr for every half litre of water we drink.”
This is tremendously higher than the tariff of AAWSA- which charges 1.75 Br for 7,990 its of water.
Residents living in other districts are also feeling the pinch, forced to resort to unhygienic sources due to the shortage.
Living in Lideta district, Mesfin Asayahgn, 32, is a driver who stays in a rented house near St. Lideta Mary Church. Working from 8:00 am until 8:00 pm, he arrives at home late and filling his small reservoirs during midnight is a daunting task for him.
“Since I arrive late in the evening, it is tiresome for me to wake up at midnight and fill the water container,” adds Mesfin, who earns 2,500 Br monthly. “My expenses are not limited to buying potable water, but I have to purchase bottled water to brush my teeth.”
The amount distributed to the city’s residents like Mesfin is estimated to be 40 its a day- almost three times lower than the goal set to be achieved by the city Administration, which is regularly criticised for failing to improve the transportation as well sewerage system.
Over the past two decades, it is certain that the capital has shown a significant improvement in water service coverage, reaching over 90pc. But, the supply has always been irregular with some areas having access for only three hours a day for less than three days a week.
Witnessing the increase in demand due to the rapid urbanisation of the capital, the Authority is undertaking massive infrastructural development projects aiming to meet the need for potable water. The city’s Administration allocates a budget of over five billion Birr for such schemes.
Presently, construction of Legedadi Phase II and Koye Feche water infrastructural development projects are underway with a target of producing additional 136 million litres of water for the capital’s residents.
Not only that, but there are over 14 water well projects under construction along the outskirts of Addis Abeba.
Almost 11 months ago, the Chinese Exim Bank lent a helping hand to curb the city’s water shortage by agreeing to loan 1.5 billion dollars to construct Gerbi Dam- which was planned to be built since the imperial regime. It will have a capacity of pumping 73 million litres of water a day.
Sirak Robele (PhD), an expert in water governance and policy, on his part, believes that water management should be given equal emphasis as infrastructural development.
“Supply is not the only problem, but the water management system needs to be overhauled as well,” said the expert.
Taking this into account, a study conducted by the Authority to develop a central monitoring system to reduce water loss from leakage and inefficiencies was finalised.
Until the completion of these projects, the persisting scarcity seems to be disconcerting for the owner of the Salon, Getachew, who seeks a short-term solution.
“My business is suffering,” said Getachew. “Unless it is solved promptly, chances that my customers will turn their backs on me are high.”
Estifanos replies: “The short-term solution is simple- rationing.”
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