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Drought-hit Ethiopia turns to underground water


By 2050, 70 million Ethiopians will be living in cities, while its population will approach 180 million, against the current population which is estimated at 100 million.

The huge population growth poses a major challenge in terms of hygiene and access to water.

Ethiopian authorities, in collaboration with UNICEF, are trying to anticipate future needs by expanding the construction of wells to pump groundwater and educating the younger generations about the importance of public health in terms of hygiene.

every day, every inhabitant receives from this source 50 liters. That means that for we in Wukro, we're safe now.

At 50 kilometers from Mekele, the capital of the northern region of Tigray Wukro and which is home to 43,000 residents, rises in the rocky mountains. Around Central Avenue, buildings emerge and small industries are implanted, one example among others of the increasing urbanization of the Ethiopian giant.

This urbanization “must absolutely be accompanied by access to water and improved hygiene,” says Tamene Gossa, a specialist in urban hygiene UNICEF, so that the new districts do not become slums.

In 2013, Ethiopia’s government launched the “One Wash” program, in which UNICEF has partnered to accelerate access to water and health in urban centers that are still under development.

At 18 kilometers from Wukro, a gravel path leads to Enda Abreha Atsbeha, where there is significant groundwater. This is just one of the three artesian wells of the area that was dug.

Since late 2015, clean water emerges from the deep well of 200 meters, which feeds downstream Wukro.

According to Tesfalem Hagdu, the deputy director of water resources bureau at Tigray, “every day, every inhabitant receives from this source 50 liters. That means that for we in Wukro, we’re safe now.”

So far, six wells supply the town but are now having to depend on seasonal rainfall.

Ethiopia is facing its worst drought in 50 years, according to the United Nations, and even if the Tigray has been relatively spared, water shortages there have been observed this year.

Parasitic Diseases

Around Wukro extends to the horizon a desert-like Arizona. The authorities are heavily planting acacia and eucalyptus shoots to limit erosion, and help water infiltrate the soil and feeding underground springs.

“By 2035, we will be able to provide access to water for the entire population. For Wukro, but also the five villages around. According to demographic change, every resident will have between 40 and 80 liters daily, “said Abdul Wassie, director of the technical department of the regional office of water resources.

But the city authorities have gone further than just providing access to water.

The primary school of Kessanet, at downtown Wukro, created two years ago his “Club Wash”: a college association, helped by their teachers, that is promoting basic hygiene.

“Before this program, viruses like the flu was spreading, but also parasitic diseases,” recalls Selamawit Tamerat, leader of the Wash Club and chemistry teacher. “Everything changed then the diseases have decreased,” adds Tamerat, highlighting the educational role played by students in their family.

This awareness phase has been accompanied by the construction of infrastructure sorely needed: last year, restrooms were finally built. And an intimate space dedicated to teens during menstruation, with sanitary napkins and anatomy books also availed.

According to the UN, the Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of the world population without sustainable access to safe drinking water was achieved five years earlier, in 2010.

But the goal of improving sanitation is yet to be attained.

According to UNICEF, 180,000 children under five in sub-Saharan Africa die each year – 500 a day – from diarrheal diseases due to poor access to water and inadequate sanitation.

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