February 16, 2010
Jonathan Rich blogs from Alaba, Ethiopia
Jonathan Rich from WaterAid in America writes about his first visit to a WaterAid program to witness the difference safe water brings to vulnerable communities.
Up bright and early this morning to the sound of the Muslim call to
prayer (Ethiopia has significant Muslim and Christian populations).
We’re in Alaba, in the Southern Region of Ethiopia, to look at WaterAid
projects in the area.
After a hot and dusty seven hour drive south of
the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, we arrived in Alaba just past
sundown for our roughly two day visit. Ironically, the first thing we
discovered is that Alaba has no water right now. Normally, in town,
A traditional unsafe water source in Alaba.
WaterAid / Caroline Irby
Later this morning we’ll likely visit a local
community which does not have access to safe water and effective
sanitation. The visit is expected to
give us a very clear sense for how difficult life can be without safe,
This afternoon our plan is to visit a
community who have benefited from water distribution points and a fluoride
treatment plant that WaterAid's local partner Water Action has helped them to build.
What choice do I have?
A pregnant lady in Alaba responded, when asked why she was collecting water from a dirty puddle.
We began our day by visiting the Halkoch Weshera School. The school teaches kids as young as seven all the way to 20 years old. It was an impressive looking school, with several new classrooms under construction. But the sanitation problems were immediately evident. The entire school uses one latrine, and it’s not a small student body. Teachers and faculty share the same toilet as well. However, there is hope as construction has begun on another pit latrine.
Our second stop of the day took us to a relatively small village near the town of Alaba. This village has no access to safe, clean water or sanitation. A visit like this one just goes to show that despite planning this visit in advance, the most eye opening aspects of our time there happened right in front of us, as we first entered the village.
It had rained quite heavily the night before (we are in one of two Ethiopian rainy seasons right now) which, as you might expect, created standing water in places which are normally quite dry.
As we entered the village in our trucks, we saw a woman washing her family’s clothes in the muddy water of a dirty ditch. Here we were, going to visit our first unserved community, and we literally hadn’t even entered the village yet when we ran right into a classic example of the problems caused by a lack of access to clean water. There was absolutely nothing clean about the ditch this woman was using to wash her clothes, but what choice does she have?
We got back in our trucks and drove all of another 20 feet or so when we came upon perhaps the best example of the problems caused by a lack of water. Two women, one with a small child on her back and the other pregnant, were crouched down collecting water from a large, and very dirty puddle.
They would run the bottom of their small pitchers over the surface of the water first, to clear away whatever might be floating on the top of the puddle, then fill the pitcher and dump the water in plastic jerry cans.
There was absolutely nothing clean about this water, and it couldn’t possibly be safe for them to cook with or drink. We stopped to speak with the pregnant woman, whose name is Keria Salo. When asked why she was collecting water from a dirty puddle, her answer was simple, “What choice do I have?”. Apparently, when there is not standing water like this puddle (which is most of the time), she has at least a four hour walk to the nearest water source.
Even then, when she reaches this water point, which is back in Alaba, in her words, she often faces “conflict”. She explained that the other women and men at this water point usually know she doesn’t live nearby, so they don’t want her sharing their water with them. Sometimes they relent and allow her to fill her jerry cans, but sometimes they do not and she’s forced to continue walking to find water elsewhere.
In case this wasn’t bad enough, she also confirmed for us that her children are sick quite often from drinking the dirty water.
By the time we were done speaking with the two women we’d been in the village for quite some time, so we thanked them for their time and made our way to a village which does have access to safe water and sanitation thanks to the work of WaterAid's local partner organization, Water Action.
The timing of our arrival was perfect, and women were just lining up at the water point to collect water as we pulled in. It was a simple, yet very nice water collection point. Essentially a cement square with two taps protruding from the front of it, with room on the ground around it for the large number of jerry cans waiting to be filled.
The cement structure was attached to a fluoride treatment system. This part of Alaba is actually in the Rift Valley, and the water in the Rift Valley is high in fluoride, thus the treatment system.
While many women carried their jerry cans slung over their back, people also came pulling their donkeys, with jerry cans slung over them, and even some with carts full of cans being pulled by still more donkeys.
In this village we spoke with a woman who was able to describe how her life was improved by access to safe water. We also were shown how the local WASH committee maintains the water point.
A WaterAid-funded water point in Alaba.
WaterAid / Caroline Irby
It really was great to see what a difference something as simple as clean water could make. People in the community were happy to describe how beneficial the water point had been to them, how much time it saved them and how nice it was to be able to cook and drink without fear of getting sick.
While our visit was brief, it was incredibly informative for me as it was my first time seeing WaterAid’s work on the ground. There is probably no better way to quickly become familiar with the issues surrounding access to safe water than to do what I did, which is first go to a community with no access to safe water, and then visit one that does have access.
To watch a pregnant woman, and one with a small baby on her back, collect water from a dirty puddle which they will then use for cooking, drinking and washing, really leaves an impression, to put it mildly.