17 February 2013

Ethiopia: Utility Matters


Just like the blood circulation system in the human body and the role played by the heart and kidneys, the role of water supply and sanitation services in the sustenance of human life cannot be over emphasised.

In as much as the heart pumps blood every second to the arteries and veins throughout the body, electrical power pumps water to its customers wherever they may be. This simply shows the indispensability of the symbiotic relationship between water supply and power.

Whenever there is an interruption of power in Addis Abeba, particularly where the water supply system functions with power, the supply of water is also affected. This provides users with a multitude of problems and the urge to voice their complaints in various forums.

To whom else could they address their various complaints than to someone who is responsible for both water and energy, such as Alemayehu Tegenu, the minister of Water & Energy?

Two weeks ago Alemayehu had convened all the officials in the hierarchy of the Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) as well as residents of Addis. The Minister spent only a few minutes introducing the objectives of the meeting and provided ample time to listen to the gathered public.

There was no better approach for assessing the real problems on the ground other than hearing the facts from the horse's mouth, as the British would put it. Indeed, one might add, that it is only the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches.

Various issues were raised. Some were problems that had been voiced time and again. They revolved around the scarcity of water and the troubles residents were compelled to undergo; spending time and money just to fetch one or two jerry cans of water.

One person explained that one of the happiest moments of his life was moving to new home in one of the newly built apartment buildings. It was his first time owning a house that had a private bathroom. But his delight was short-lived. He was gravely disappointed when one day the water supply system failed and he had nowhere to go when his delicate bowels could no longer hold their disposable contents.

Unfortunately, for residents located mostly in the southern part of the City, sustainable flow of electric power is vital for the availability of clean water. The water supply for this part of the capital comes uphill from the deep wells dug in the Kaliti underground water source, which require power. As if to exacerbate the problem, thousands of residential houses in multi-storey structures require water to flush their toilets if nothing else, and thus heavily rely on electrical power.

The northern half of the city gets its water supply from the reservoirs connected to surface water dams, like Legedadi or Gefersa, in addition to a couple of deep wells located in the Gullele Sub-city area. Officials have explained that the total daily production of all these resources has reached the 374cubic metre mark. This is close to 92pc of the production target.

The problem, however, does not only rest with water production that does not meet the city's daily demand. One participant, who claimed that he had been involved in the planning of utilities in what was once known as the Central Planning Commission, recalled that AAWSA had a strategic plan to construct two dams on Sibilu and Gerbi, rivers. located on the other side of the Entoto Mountain range. Being part of the Nile Basin, these catchment areas were supposed to ease off the water supply problems for the coming decades. The financial layout was only estimated in the millions then.

With the passage of time, the draft proposals and studies were shelved away for reasons beyond the comprehension of the participant, who expressed his alarm at the water scarcity the coming generation might face unless those projects were taken up as soon as possible. He also pointed out the inevitable impact of the explosive rate of urbanisation and the accruing demand for water and sanitation services.

The humble and affable minister tried to explain that there was no need to worry about resource depletion as studies indicate the there is ample underground water, as much as over 122 billion cubic metres; which is as reassuring as saying that the country has oil or natural gas underground. But the big question is, what is the good of talking about underground wealth unless it is explored and exploited in good time? The good time being before it is too late?

The sewerage and drainage system in the capital leaves little to be desired. A case in point is the sludge that has been flowing, for years, down the middle of the road at Addisu Gebeya.

Only a fraction of the waste water is drained by way of the sewerage lines to the Kaliti Treatment Plant. The rest has to be transported and dumped by trucks which are often non-operational.

Some participants also tried to take advantage of the opportunity of audience with the Minister and tried to air some of their problems related to cost of living and lack of transport. Alemayehu, in turn, raised some shortcomings on the part of customers like settling their bills on time or trying to bribe office workers to get extensions on their bill dates.

Nevertheless, city officials are trying to shape up the capital and leave a legacy of a green and beautiful city.

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