Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia: Road Comes, Water Goes, People Suffer

The bono water that comes only twice a week, for a short period, is the only alternative source of water for residents around Egziabeherab Church and Ras Agez.

Alemayehu Bikko, a father of three, used to make 30 Br to 40 Br a day carrying goods for people at the Megenagna taxi station. His income has more than doubled recently, to 90 Br, since he began carrying water for residents in Egziabherab and Rasagez, in the Bole District, whose water supply has been disrupted by road construction in the area.

Up to 15 times a day, Alemayehu travels two kilometres, carrying 20lt of water in a jerry can, for which he charges six Birr. But he is not entirely happy about it.

"Villagers are really facing the problem of a shortage of water," he said.

The Addis Abeba City Roads Authority (AACRA) is undertaking a three kilometre long road construction, from the Ministry of Mines to Gerji Mebrat Hail. Construction started five weeks ago and is expected to be completed by the end of the 2012/13 fiscal year.

The areas most affected by the project are; Ras Agez, Kes Sefer, Egziabeheab Church, Mahber (Association) houses, and several neighbourhoods around the Agricultural Research Institute.

Alemnesh Mekuria, a shop owner, complains that her water expense has gone up to 100 Br, for just seven jerry cans, which lasts only three days.

"I sometimes do not have enough money to feed the family," says Alemnesh.

There is a communal water supply (bono) in Egziabherab, where she lives. But Mulu Abebe, the bono's keeper, says that the water comes only one or two times, every four days, and usually after midnight.

"People do not go to sleep at night, waiting for the water to come," she says.

If people think that water will come during the day, Mulu says they drop whatever they are doing and rush to the bono.

Both Alemnesh and Mulu claim that no prior notice was given before the water supply was interrupted, and no one from the Addis Abeba Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) could tell them what had happened.

Weeks ago, the affected residents gathered and went to the AAWSA to enquire about why there was a lack of water, and to find out when the problem would be fixed, according to Mulu. Unfortunately their grievances were left unheard and they were told to report their problems individually, she says.

"We have no hope," she laments.

AAWSA admits how severe the water problem has been, for the past five weeks, in these areas, according to Etsegenet Tesfaye, head of communications at AAWSA. But those residents, whom Etsegent says are illegal settlers, contacted the Authority to get individual access to water, not for a resolution to the current problem.

"We do not accept such requests," she said.

However, the AAWSA also throws the reason for the water supply interruption back to the city's road authority, which has been undertaking a two million Birr road construction project since December. Despite that, Etsegenet says, the AAWSA is trying to supply water in shifts, until the water pipes are relocated and full supply is restored.

"There are many reasons for not delivering water efficiently to the residents [of Addis Abeba]. One of the reasons is the ineffective relationship with the city road authority, during the construction of the roads," she says. "Whenever there is a road construction, we should be communicated and given a specific area to relocate our pipes."

However, the city road authority does not accept what the AAWSA is claiming.

The people living around Ras Agez, Kes Sefer, Egziabeheab Church, Mahber (Association) houses, and several neighbourhoods around the Agricultural Research Institute, resides just one kilometre away from the Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority.

A project manager at AACRA says the plan of the road authority is always submitted to them, each year, so that they can see where and when the road construction is going to take place.

"After they are given the plan, it should be their job to relocate their property."

According to him, whenever there is road construction, the placement of basic public utilities, like; electricity, telephone lines, sewerage and water pipes, are well identified on each design, with directions on where to relocate them.

"We have no shortage of man power or financial problems; we can handle everything on time if we are given the area to relocate the pipes. It is a problem of communication," insists Etsegenet.

"A basic need must be given a priority," says a construction consultant. "Whatever miscommunication exists between them, water is a basic need for human beings and it should not be interrupted for a minute."

The expert says that the public should not suffer because of the inability of the involved bureaus to handle their paper work.

"Community consultation has to be a priority whenever there is a construction, especially when there is an interruption of utilities," says Hilawi Abreham, manager of Construction Management Team (CMT). "It sometime seems like a luxury in our country, but public interest has to be a priority."

Other problem areas in the city, include; Gerji, Ayer Tena and Gulele. The Authority is undertaking two water projects, at a cost of 830 million Br, to increase daily water supply by 70,000 cubic metres per day; up from the current 374,000 cubic metres.

"The water crisis is only going to end when we all work together with each other," Etsegenet said, speaking of public utilities.

Alternative pipes are being installed, according to Etsegenet, but the water is yet to run through them, and to the affected communities.

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