Ethiopia’s Quest for Deeper Water (+Photos)
A woman fetches water in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. (Giordano Cossu)
The Epoch Times
Thursday, April 04, 2013
The dry season is at its peak in the Somali Region of Ethiopia, and due to scarcer rains, a new food and water emergency looms. With the 2011 famine in memory, the Ethiopian government, the people, and aid organizations search for water anywhere they can find it. Will these efforts be enough to fight
A woman sits in front of her home in the
Ethiopian village of Darwanaji, in the district of Awbarre near the
border with Somaliland, surrounded by the yellow water containers
ubiquitous in a society where water is always sought. (Giordano Cossu)
increasing insecurity due to climate change?
A man stands on the slope of a 13-foot-wide crater in the middle of a
dry, sandy riverbed. He throws a 1.3-gallon cask of muddy water up to
his friend at the surface with a gesture resembling that of a basketball
This is not a game, however, but part of the life-saving daily search
for water in the Horn of Africa (a peninsula that juts out into the
Smaller and larger watering holes like this one are a common sight in
the Somali Region of eastern Ethiopia. The region was classified once
again as being in a “food shortage crisis” last January, and in the
latest reports the area at risk has expanded further.
The vast region, half the size of France, is squeezed between
Somaliland and Djibouti to the north, Somalia to the east, and Kenya to
the south. It is home to more than 4 million people, 84 percent of whom
live a rural life based on subsistence farming.
Barely two years ago, famine and the subsequent search for food
caused massive displacements. Tied to the instability and insecurity of
neighboring Somalia, this gave rise to several IDP (Internally Displaced
People) and refugee camps in Ethiopia, many of which still exist. Out
of the 51 districts, which declared an emergency in 2011, 44 were in the
The man waiting at the surface of the crater catches the precious
container without spilling a drop. He empties it into a larger basin,
and thirsty goats cram in for their share of the murky liquid. Men and
women wait patiently to the side—only when the animals are finished will
they collect water for their own daily usage.
A third man is digging at the bottom of the hole about 25 feet below the riverbed surface, his feet in an inch of water.
The three men repeat the water extraction cycle a number of times,
until the hole is dry, then wait for water to slowly permeate through
the sand before filling up again.
Men extract water from a pit in Gogti, Somali Region, Ethiopia. (Giordano Cossu)
In few other regions of Africa does one see the dramatic effects of
climate change displayed as strikingly as in the Somali Region’s daily
A family needs at least 10.5 gallons a day for its basic needs, and
everyone is saying, “It’s worse than before,” or “The sun has become
cruel.” In the last 30 years, eight famines have been reported in
Ethiopia due to insufficient rains, four of which occurred in the last
This semi-arid land bears the traces of many seasonal wadis (dry
riverbeds that only fill in the rainy season) slicing through it during
the summer rains, but water is rapidly lost underground.
In the small village of Darwanaji, in the district of Awbarre near
the border with Somaliland, the local shallow well provides water for
only four hours a day. A local water committee controls access and
The local chief, Abib Abdi Moumim, tall and charismatic, is worried:
“Rains have been poorer in the past three years. We need a new and
deeper well, because this one will be dry before the new rains next
Several feet away, a veiled woman from the village sits in front of
her house. Next to her are the three containers she uses to fetching
water. These 5.3-gallon (20-liter) yellow containers are seen everywhere
in the Somali Region—symbols of the quest for a much-need resource.
But the quest gets tougher year after year.
A caravan of donkeys and camels travels in search of water in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. (Giordano Cossu)
“Climate change means increasing temperatures and more irregular
rains,” confirms Alebachew Adem, an Ethiopian researcher in the field of
geography at the University of Addis Ababa who recently joined CARE
International as a climate change adviser.
“As mostly natural grazing is employed for animal farming, the
population is totally subject to nature’s changes,” Adem says. His
research shows that the number of animals per household is now 25
percent of what it was in the 1980s, due to the effect of changing
It is not how much rain falls that matters, but for how long and how predictably, he says.
“The June big rains tend to start later than before, and whereas they
used to last until September, they now stop before the end of August,
causing crops to fail,” Adem says. The small rains in April have nearly
disappeared in recent years.
According to the Ethiopian National Meteorological Agency, and
confirmed by a 2008 United Nations Development Program study,
temperatures are projected to rise by 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees
Celsius) by 2050, further stressing water reserves, vegetation, and
animals. Rains are expected to be shorter and heavier, causing
additional soil erosion.
Nongovernmental organizations are tightly controlled
in Ethiopia, and many of them have been forced to leave the country in
recent years when they don’t comply with government stipulations. The
government has, however, come up with some initiatives, both
independently and in collaboration with the organizations.
In the quest for water, the government, aid organizations, and
communities often disagree on the best approach to sustainable water
Some organizations prefer deep wells, delving 500–600 feet to reach phreatic aquifers.
Lorenzo Vecchi, local coordinator in the Somali Region for the
Italian VIS organization, says deep is better than shallow: “With
climate change, shallow wells are useless in the long term; they are 15
times cheaper, but they dry out and we need to start again. A deep well,
when drilled in the right place, may last even 40 or 50 years.”
The cost of a deep well project can reach $230,000.
Oxfam opts for water catchment systems and the rehabilitation of shallow wells that have not been well maintained or have collapsed.
A woman fetches water in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. (Giordano Cossu)
Filippo Ortolani, emergency coordinator for Central and East Africa at Oxfam Spain, says deep-well water can have too much fluorine or salt in it.
“The risk to spend $110,000 for a [deep] well and not find good water is too high,” Ortolani says. “It happened to us in 2009 near Dolo Ado (far south in the Somali Region, near the border with Kenya). It is much safer to work on large rain catchment systems.”
Catchment systems do have some issues, however, in terms of hygiene.
Seeking to provide unified guidance, UNICEF has published guidelines for the benefit of local organizations, but divisions remain.
Consulting the Communities
Adem says, whatever the approach, “Livelihoods need to be empowered with finding the solution which is right for [the community members].”
In some cases, shallow wells were constructed without the consent of communities. The location of the wells affected traditional mobility routes, or attracted too much livestock to a single spot. The result was overgrazing and conflict between clans.
“Government and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] claim they involve local communities in the decisions, but this is only on paper,” Adem says. “For example, they build water structures in areas far from traditional shepherds’ routes. So people are not convinced that this program is for them.”As striking evidence of how social impact needs to be factored in,
local women once damaged the pipes of a new water hole near their
village. Fetching water far from home had an important bonding function,
as women could be together and away from the control of men. The well
had disrupted this.
Another source of the strife is the Ethiopian government’s
concessions to foreign companies, which buy up large tracts of fertile
land, according to a report by policy think tank The Oakland Institute.
“Indians and Chinese mostly produce biofuel [on Ethiopian land],
while Middle Eastern companies produce rice for export, rather than for
the local market. Our land is exploited for the benefit of others,” Adem
Fencing off large areas of communal land restricts the movement of
grazing animals and chokes access to primary water resources. Food
insecurity and displacement from farmland results.
So far, 10 percent of land in the region has been bought by foreign
companies. Clearly, investors prefer areas, which have some water
Among contrasting interests and changing policies, the poorest people
especially require immediate, lasting action to avoid an imminent state