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Rain Harvesting to Improve Water Quality in Ethiopia

Water Quality in Ethiopia
Erratic rainfall negatively affects the water quality in Ethiopia and can cause famine and food shortage. In addition, war diverts resources that could be used for clean water projects.

Essential for survival, water is something most people can access very easily. The number of people in Ethiopia with access to clean water has doubled, from 29 percent in 2000 to 59 percent in 2015. Yet 41 percent of the population lacks adequate access to safe water.

Ethiopia has endured four severe droughts since 1974 and is currently facing the worst drought it has seen in 50 years. The water crisis can be attributed not only to severe drought but also to lack of government funding and infrastructure.

Best-selling author and YouTuber John Green went to Ethiopia with Bill Gates. “When I asked people about their greatest needs, almost all of them–from the Women’s Health Army volunteers to children–cited clean water first.”

Women spend hours every day carrying 50-pound cans filled with clean water for their families. Because of the distance that many women must travel to get clean water, families often utilize any water they have access to, regardless of its safety.

One method of improving water quality in Ethiopia is to implement rainwater harvesting techniques. Rainwater harvesting initiatives have helped those facing drought in India, China and Mexico and could be the answer to improving water quality in Ethiopia on a widespread basis. Rainwater harvesting helps people provide themselves with clean water from a reliable source that can last through even the driest seasons.

When asked about rainwater harvesting by the BBC, Dennis Garrity of the World Agroforestry Centre said, “Ethiopia, often regarded as a dry country, could collect enough for half a billion people…The time has come to realize the great potential for greatly enhancing drinking water supplies…by harvesting more of the rain when and where it falls.”

In a study assessing the impact of rainwater harvesting systems in the Abreha Weatsbeha watershed, the community utilized sustainable land management methods such as integrated soil and water conservation practices. Farmers learned to use conservation structures and vegetation in the upper part of watersheds to contribute to the amount of groundwater discharged in the lower part of the catchment.

The groundwater table is now only three meters beneath the surface, even in the driest season (it was previously 15 meters underground). Farmers now have their own shallow irrigation wells and the community has 388 hand-dug wells. The people in Abreha Weatsbeha call these groundwater ponds their “water bank.” Thanks to the “water banks” rainwater harvesting systems create, quality of life and water in Ethiopia can greatly improve.

Mary Barringer