With barely any rainfall during the year, Ethiopia usually does not even receive enough water for the daily needs of its people. Receiving less than 1,500 mm (approximately 59 inches) of rainfall annually, the dry season is especially difficult for the most vulnerable in the population – women, children and the sick.
Aromo women and their families enjoy clean water available at the clinic in the rural village of Oitu, Ethiopia. The clinic is still open and functional because it is supplied with water from the catchment system supported by the American Red Cross.
(Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/America Red Cross)
An American Red Cross delegation—including its Chairman Bonnie McElveen-Hunter—recently traveled to the small village of Oitu in southwestern Ethiopia, where the American Red Cross funds water projects. For this rural Ethiopian village, there is no access to drinking water, in spite of being located near a large lake. Murky, brown and full of sediment, the water is high in fluoride and salt concentration, which only increase as more water is drawn for local irrigation and greenhouses. Lack of clean water for adequate hygiene and cleaning also contributes to illness and the spread of disease.
Water projects are especially challenging in Oitu. Since the lake water is not suitable for drinking, a 250-meter (approximately 820 feet) hole needs to be drilled to reach water that is potable. With only 750 people in the village, sustaining a mechanized pump is hardly affordable.
In an effort to improve the water conditions in Oitu, the American Red Cross is working with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society to provide a potable water solution, aimed specifically at helping children at the local school and patients at the village health center. The Red Cross has built a 30,000-liter (7,925-gallon) rainfall catchment system to support the water and sanitation needs of the villagers in addition to teaching them how to filter water from the lake to make it potable.
“Ordinarily, children have to walk nearly two to seven kilometers to get water from the lake,” said water and sanitation engineer for the Ethiopian Red Cross Society Taddele Mezlekia, roughly equivalent to one to 4.3 miles. “The catchment provides children with half a liter of water per day so they can save time and attend school instead. This also keeps the school running.”
Health workers, too, can now stay at the clinic to deliver babies and help patients recover by offering clean water for their medication and personal hygiene.
The catchment, however, only has enough water to provide for the needs of the clinic and school children.
“Because the cistern is nearby, the clinic stays open,” said Muhammed Deda, Oromia regional secretary of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society. “Otherwise, the nearest access to clean water is more than two kilometers away.”
“We want our schools and clinics to remain open,” said Mezlekia, adding that the 30,000-litre catchment system provides clean water to the school and clinic but is not enough for the village during the first few months before the onset of the annual rains.
“Until we can work with the village to develop a sustainable pump, it would be better to continue and expand the American Red Cross-funded household water treatment and hygiene education programs,” said Mezlekia. “This way, people can learn proper ways to clean the water and make sure that it is free of micro organisms.”
Encouraged by the efforts of the American Red Cross in Oitu, Mezlekia emphasizes the need for increasing awareness. According to him, the solution to acute water shortage is not always a large water project. Optimistic about the future, Mezlekia said, “teaching people how to clean, filter and treat water – like the Red Cross does – is an effective solution as well.”
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