24 March 2003

Ethiopia: Teenagers Tell World Forum of Water Crisis

Addis Ababa — Two teenagers spelt out the scale of the water crisis in drought-stricken Ethiopia at an international conference in Japan marking world water day on Saturday.

Tireza Satheesh and Zerihun Mammo told how they witnessed first hand the suffering of communities in Ethiopia who have almost no access to water.

Their plea at the third World Water Forum in Kyoto came as the UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Ethiopia's ministry of water resources joined forces to launch a 15-year water plan for the country.

Tireza, 16, from Addis Ababa, said she was able to see with her own eyes how a lack of water can devastate a community. Children were not able to go to school, she said. Many of them had to walk three to four hours from their home to collect water for their families. By the time they returned, they were too late for their classes.

Even when they did get water, she said, the children told her it was unsanitary and they often suffered from diarrhoea.

Currently some 2.1 million people are in critical need of water because of the severe drought currently gripping the country.

On Saturday, the Ethiopian government said that effective use of the country's water resources was "indispensable" in preventing future food crises.

"The task of reversing the recurrent drought-induced problems by ensuring sustainable food security and agricultural development requires a major transformation in water resource utilisation," the information ministry stated.

Ethiopia is currently in high-level talks with Egypt about effective use of the Blue Nile which runs through the country before joining the White Nile in Sudan.

Despite recurrent droughts, Ethiopia has the second largest water resource in Africa - but the size of the population and access have always posed major problems.

"Ethiopia has numerous lakes and rivers, but the population is always depending on rain," Tireza told IRIN before leaving for Japan. "We should not be only dependent on rainwater but should be able to use the water resources that we have effectively."

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