Helping Ethiopians put health in their own hands

Helping Ethiopians put health in their own hands

Oct 15, 2019

In southern Ethiopia, rain is a rarity this time of year. Normally, the rainy season ends after Meskel, an annual Ethiopian Orthodox holiday that occurs in the fall. But this year, storms and mud remain ubiquitous in the rural communities of the Yirgachefe woreda, in the country’s Gedeo Zone. 

Despite the abnormal weather, however, there is an unfortunate irony to life in the highlands: access to clean drinking water remains scarce. Even a 20-litre “jerry can” of potable water is a luxury that not everyone can afford.

For locals, the dearth of potable water is one of the most pressing social- and health-related challenges. But distribution pipelines linking district water centers to remote villages are costly to install. Moreover, water delivery is difficult during the rainy season, as it is almost impossible to reach remote villages that lack even the most basic of services, like electricity.

To combat these deficiencies, People in Need (PIN) has built dozens of new water sources in villages across the Gedeo Zone. Using piped- and rain-water harvesting systems, clean water is now delivered via wells and protected springs, bringing safe hydration to thousands.

One of these wells is installed at a school in Domarso village, a small community not far from the coffee capital of Yirgachefe. At first glance, the well looks like little more than a stubby concrete structure tucked behind a fence. But even the children know how important this place is for their health. Every morning, school kids, some still clutching well-worn and muddied textbooks, crowd around the spigot for a drink of water or to wash their hands.

Children in Domarso recognize the importance of clean water, in part because they attend PIN-organized WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) clubs, where they learn to wash hands before eating or after using the toilet. Kids learn why contaminated water is bad for their health, how to store drinking water at home and how to keep the area around their community’s water source clean.

PIN’s water works in Ethiopia have been financed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. In addition to the construction of wells, PIN also partners with local authorities to establish village water committees and school WASH clubs to teach people how to operate and protect their drinking-water sources. One of the main goals of these efforts is to create a sense of ownership over clean water.

In this work, PIN applies a “service delivery approach” to help strengthen the managerial, financial, administrative and legal underpinnings of drinking-water protection at the local, regional and national levels. PIN uses this approach in projects from Angola to Ukraine. In total, our work has increased access to safe water, improved sanitation and reduced the threat of water-borne diseases for thousands of people worldwide. 

Author: Jan Faltus, PIN Senior advisor for sustainable water services