Clean Water: A Step towards Healthier
Communities in Ethiopia

By Alemayehu Seifeselassie

Bekelech-s children play and smile as they operate the new Gravity Water Supply System constructed by IOM

Bulehora - For many people, accessing clean water is as simple as walking to the tap and turning the knob. Yet for the thousands of people living in Kercha district in Ethiopia, some 410 kilometers from the capital Addis Ababa, it is never that easy. Following the breakdown of their water pumps two years ago, people in this community have been collecting water from unimproved sources.

With no other means of collecting safe water, people have been gathering water from a dirty pond, the same source used by domestic animals. This has posed a serious health risk to the community, that of waterborne diseases.  

With the outbreak of COVID-19, the lack of clean and safe water sources and hygiene facilities poses an even greater health risk for communities. Ethiopia has confirmed more than 730 COVID-19 cases thus far.

Hand waterpump Rehablitation at Kercha District

IOM is strengthening its support to vulnerable communities in Ethiopia, ensuring they have access to clean water and improved hygiene services in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Since the emergence of the disease, the Organization has also provided hygiene promotion trainings to 113 community hygiene promoters and reached more than 1,000 people. IOM has also continued the distribution of soap to sites in East Hararge.

The rehabilitation of the water pumps which were carried out by IOM before the spread of COVID-19 has come as a welcome relief for the people of Kercha. It has been six months since the water pumps were brought back to life, yet the community’s sense of relief and joy remains fresh. Children now happily bring their scuffed-up jerry cans and wait for their turn for clean water at the pump.

Water reservoir construction at Kercha District

This water source is one of the main sources of protection as clean water is essential for implementing COVID-19 basic prevention measures, such as proper and frequent handwashing. 

Ture, 65, was born and raised in Boretu Hirba town in Kercha district. He explained how happy the community is now that they can access clean water.

“Things were very difficult. The water was dirty; our family was getting sick from drinking unsafe water and people had to take long trips just to fetch water,” said Ture.

Water reservoir construction at Kercha District 2

“It was upsetting to find the water in the pond muddied by people washing clothes, or by children playing in it, making it unhealthy to drink,” added 60-year-old Shitaye.

“If we were lucky, we found the water less contaminated and used filters made of cloth to sift out the dirt while filling up our jerry cans, before the one and a half hour walk uphill,” she said.

IOM rehabilitated the water pumps located on a higher plateau in Kercha district after consultations with the community and the regional administration.

“We are glad that this pump is working again,” Ture explains. He, however, expresses concern over the high number of people who depend on the pump as their only source of clean water, suggesting the need for more pumps.

Representatives from the community have since been trained on how to use and take care of the pump.

Water for all in Kercha

Additionally, IOM is also constructing a large-scale water system in Kercha district.

Now nearing completion, this project includes a capping of a three-eye spring, collection chamber, water reservoir, water supply pipes and several tap stands for easy access to water for the community.

This project will significantly increase access to safe water in the community, ultimately reducing the risk of communicable diseases as well as the spread of COVID-19.

After consulting the community on their needs in 2019, IOM Ethiopia commenced work on increasing the water supply. Ayele Tadesse, the Kercha District Water Expert, says that the water from the spring will be a game changer for the town.

“The water yield was around 1.5 liters per second, which was simply not enough for the community of over 5,000 individuals”. He explained how the increase yield of 2.4 liters per second significantly improved the water supply.

Water Reservoir underconstruction at Kercha District

Reviving a health post to its full glory

In remote districts such as Kercha, the availability of health posts to the community is critical.

IOM has begun to rehabilitate seven health post in the district. It is also building latrine facilities in six schools. With robust rainwater drainage, concrete sidewalks and plastered walls, the renovated health posts at Kercha will serve some 300 people in the community for years to come.

“The walls of the health post had collapsed, it had stopped to function, and the latrines were no longer accessible,” Hirba Hituke, the Kercha District Health Post Manager explains.

“In addition to the health post, we have a large water tank where community members come to wash their clothes, so there are other benefits the community is now enjoying,” He added.

Handwashing for Health

As part of IOM’s effort to help prevent the spread of diseases and to generally encourage healthy communities, the Organization provides soap and teaches communities techniques for effective handwashing.

“In providing these awareness-raising sessions, as well as the soap distributions, we are helping the community to understand simple ways they can protect themselves from diseases,” explains Hana Abebe, IOM Ethiopia’s WASH Project Assistant at Bulehora. “In 2019 we provided 50,000 bars of soaps and hygiene training sessions to over 600,000 individuals,” she adds. 

In the face of COVID-19 emergency, water facilities that provide at-risk communities with clean water and sanitary hygiene services are making a life-saving impact by keeping hundreds of thousands of people safe and healthy.

The project was made possible through the financial contributions from ECHO, OFDA and JSB.