18 August 2018

Ethiopia: Water Shortage Hits Capital Again

Photo: Ethiopian Herald
Construction in Addis Ababa.
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With the recurrent water shortages, Addis Abeba city residents are battling it out to survive without clean water for days. The shortage affects businesses, health centers and residential homes. The authority has started rationing water but residents claim they are not informed of the rationing system. Even if the authority has a handful of projects in the pipeline, experts suggest restructuring and a long-term plan to address the water shortage problem, WRITES BEHAILU AYELE, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

For Addis Abeba residents such as Desta Kebede, a mother of two in her late 20s and living in Laphto Condominium off Mauritius Street, water shortages have become too common.

But it has not become any less frustrating to deal with. Just a week ago, they did not get a drop of water running in their taps for five consecutive days.

"We are battling water scarcity," Desta said, who is employed as a nurse.

Every time she and her family reach critical levels, Desta has to travel three kilometres to her parent's house around Saris off Verona Street to get water.

"The stored water can only be used for cleaning purposes," Desta said. "We use bottled water for drinking."

Six bottles of water sets her back 60 Br.

"It only lasts us a week," she said.

Residents are also turning to drums of water sold by vendors. 20 litres are sold for 15 Br on the informal market and its cleanliness is not guaranteed.

Water shortages are not problems in isolated places like LaphtoCondominium. But residents in Saris, complain that it has become the norm for them to get water only once a week.

The City Administration has taken note and says that there is an effort to address the myriad bottlenecks in the system. The most difficult among them being the large demand for water in the capital.

"We can't meet demand," said Estifanos Bisrat, Addis Abeba Water & Sewerage Authority's communications director.

The authority currently supplies 525,000 cubic meters of water per day, satisfying just 60pc of demand.

"Added to this is the recurrent power outages in the capital. They have made our services inefficient," Estifanos said.

The authority is currently trying to deliver water to residents in shifts from the main sources in Legedadi, Gefersa and Aqaqi and 170 groundwater wells. Residents complain though that they are never informed of such shifts.

Legedadi Dam& Treatment Plant, located on the Aqaqi River east of Addis Abeba, has a capacity of producing 174,000 cubic meters of water a day while the GefersaDam located north-west of the city produces 30,000 cubic meters. The remaining comes from wellfields.

"Residents might lose water for weeks if there is no electric power at the sub-pumping stations even if it is their shift," Estifanos said.

The Authority employs generators to power the pumping stations during blackouts. The diesel fuel used to run the generators reached 350,000 litres during the last fiscal year.

The generators are capable of running for eight hours straight but only succeed in helping the authority meet less than a third of the daily water demand.

Addis Abeba hosts 30pc of the country's urban population, estimated at over four million, according to UN-Habitat, United Nations Human Settlements Programme. With a population growth rate of 3.8pc, this figure is expected to rise to five million by 2030.

The City Administration's inability to meet the demand for clean water has opened business opportunities for water vendors, such as 20-year old Tesfaneh Getu.

He carries around yellow jerrycans that can be filled with 10 liters of water. He charges his customers 15 to 25 Br for each container depending on the distance he has to travel to deliver the cans.

"I deliver up to 20 jerrycans on weekdays when water scarcity is high," he told Fortune before getting a call for a customer in need of his services.

Other businesses have not been so lucky.

"The water may not come for three or four days of the week," said Betty Sileshi, a 28-year-old mother that runs a hair salon around Semen Mazegaja on Senegal Street.

On weekdays, she would have an average of 10 customers a day paying 20 to 50 Br. When the water goes out, she is forced to close her operations.

Local administrative offices are not spared.

"We didn't get any water for the last 20 days," says Tenaw Mengistu, human resources support processes coordinator at the Wereda 04 Health Centre in Qirqos district.

The health centre has purchased 20,000 liters of bulk water in the past three weeks, costing 3,600 Br.

"The shortage has created severe problems in our day-to-day operations, especially for obstetrics and gynaecology services," he added.

Water shortages are not new to the city that has been grappling with the problem for several years. Although unable to meet demand, the City Administration has tried to make improvements, such as an ongoing two billion Birr project to expand the water infrastructure.

The culprits have been more than a shortage of water supply and electricity outages. There is also the lack of appropriate maintenance on existing equipment.

"We lose 17pc of the water before it reaches the taps annually," Estifanos says.

Experts agree that most of the Authority's complaints are valid yet disagree that the population expansion theory of the city does not hold water.

"It can't be denied that recurrent electric outages and the authority's capacity are major problems, but water scarcity at existing residential areas is not reasonable," says Jemal Mohammed, a civil engineer with 15 years of consultancy experience in water supply and sanitation.

Water coverage in Addis Abeba has reached almost universal levels.

"A tap is only as good as the water it provides, and despite the increased coverage in the water services network, the supply has increasingly become unreliable," reads a report of UN-Habitat entitled, "The State of Addis Abeba 2017."

But the authority is hopeful for the future. It is trying to complete phase two of the LegedadiWater Supply Project, which will generate 86,000 cubic meters of water per day and the North-South Ayata Fenta project, which has the capacity of producing 68,000 cubic meters per day.

"We have been unable to run these projects because of inflation and the shortage of foreign exchange," Estifanos said.

Gerbi dams are also parts of the plan, which can generate 73,000 cubic meters a day.

"With help from the National Bank of Ethiopia, the projects will resume by September," he added.

The authority has also put in place a plan to replace an average of 40Km of pipes annually.

"The water might not be clean for a number of days after the pipes have been replaced," Estifanos warned.

The new administration of the city, headed by Deputy Mayor Takele Uma, has also come up with plans of its own to improve the capacity of the city organs that deal with water distribution.

"We do understand that there is a lot of problem in water," he said. "We will formulate a new restructuring and a reorganisation."

Experts suggest that a robust roadmap should be drawn up to solve the city's water crises.

"The authority should think beyond its firefighting strategy," Jemal said. "Rather, it needs to develop a roadmap that can stretch half a century."

Water scarcity has become a phenomenon in different parts of Africa. Different cities have tried to come up with various ways of coping with it.

A prominent case is that of Cape Town, a city in South Africa that has four million residents, which has "Day Zero," a day when the government will turn off the taps for most homes and businesses in the city to conserve the remaining supplies. Reusing shower waters and limiting toilet flushing are some of the measures that help the South African city from running dry.

Nairobi, capital of Kenya, is another city that is burdened with water shortages. It fulfils just over 66pc of the city's 760 million litres of water demand. The city administration rations water.

The 132-year-old city, Addis Abeba, built its first water plant at the foot of Entotoin 1938 and, after six years, Gefersa Dam was completed. Gefersa remains the city's largest reservoir of water.

On the national level, 42pc of the population does not have access to potable water, while properly managed water reaches only 10pc of the total population, according to a joint World Health Organisation and United Nation's Children Fund report.

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