Ethiopians Gain Greater Access to Safe Water

Sofiya Muse Omer now has access to clean, reliable water close to her home and a private latrine.
Sofiya Muse Omer now has access to clean, reliable water close to her home and a private latrine.
Sophia Jones-Mwangi, International Rescue Committee
Boreholes and latrines bring better water, sanitation, health
“It’s a new world and the happiest day of my life…[to] have a latrine near my home."

For many people in rural areas of Ethiopia, access to sufficient water and adequate sanitation remains out of reach. Pastoralist communities in Ethiopia have some of the lowest water and sanitation coverage rates in the world, a situation exacerbated by climate change and population growth.

USAID interventions in areas of chronic and emergency water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) needs and subsequent investments in sustainable access to safe water represent a success in moving families from relief to development programming.

For Sofiya Muse Omer, who lives in the Waji community of Ethiopia’s Somali Region, a severe physical disability adds to the difficulty in accessing clean water. During the dry season, residents of Waji walk 12 kilometers to the nearest borehole to collect water. Sofiya cannot travel such distances, thus placing an added burden on her family to bring back extra water for her needs.

During the rainy season, Sofiya and the rest of her village collect water from closer traditional water catchments, called birkads, and ponds. However, these open water sources are easily contaminated, putting the health of the community, and especially vulnerable groups, at risk.

USAID, through its Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Transformation for Enhanced Resilience activity, is working to improve the situation for Sofiya and many others in the Somali, Oromia and Afar regions of Ethiopia. Implemented by the International Rescue Committee in partnership with CARE, the activity provides safe water access for rural, drought-prone communities by rehabilitating existing water systems and constructing new boreholes. One of these new boreholes is in Waji, which will make Sofiya’s burdens a little lighter this year.

USAID also emphasizes sanitation and hygiene education by training local environmental health agents to promote good hygiene and provide tools for communities to construct their own latrines. This has meant an incredible improvement in Sofiya’s life. As in many remote villages in Ethiopia, there were no latrines in Waji prior to USAID assistance and residents practiced open defecation.

Because of her disability, Sofiya crawled long distances in search of shrubs that would provide privacy. “When I came back, my knees were bleeding,” she explained.

Through community-led hygiene promotion, including house-to-house visits and community discussions led by program-trained environmental health agents, Sofiya, and the community at large, are able to better understand the importance of safe sanitation and hygiene practices.

In April 2013, Sofiya's household was one of the first in Waji to construct a latrine. “It’s a new world and the happiest day of my life… [to] have a latrine near my home," she said. "This project seems to have come for me!”

Today, in 2014, Waji is working to end the practice of open defecation. Already 95 of the 350 households in the community now have their own latrines.

In areas affected by natural disasters, which often require emergency assistance, USAID provides more sustainable solutions that leave behind long-lasting impacts. By drilling boreholes that can provide reliable water throughout the year, establishing and training local water management committees to take ownership of their own water facilities, and training environmental health agents to promote hygiene and sanitation in their communities, USAID goes beyond immediate relief interventions to enable communities to become more resilient in the long term.

Sofiya is but one of 164,000 Ethiopians who will benefit from the three-year USAID activity that began in 2011, better equipped to face the future with access to clean water.

USAID Water Activities in Ethiopia