Ethiopia: To Continue Ethiopia's Growth, We Need Universal Access to Water

(File photo).
22 March 2019

On this World Water Day it is important to realise that, while Ethiopia’s economy is growing, to achieve true progress and eradicate poverty we need universal access to clean water.

Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa - second only to Nigeria - with over 100 million people in 2018. While access to clean water in Ethiopia increased from 17 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2015, a growing population has increased the demand for water and three in five people do not have access to clean water close to their home.

A Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity 2017 report indicates an average water supply coverage of 68 percent nationally in rural areas and 55 percent in urban areas, benefiting 51.8 million rural residents and 10.6 million urban residents. The targets set in Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan (II) for water supply are 85 percent for rural and 75 percent for urban areas. This calls for a lot more effort and investment over the coming years in Ethiopia.

The International Monetary Fund predicted that Ethiopia would be the fastest-growing economy in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018. Such progress comes with the need to manage competing demands for water, especially when combined with unpredictable weather patterns resulting from climate change.

It is evident that harnessing water for economic development at a macro level is a top priority for the government of Ethiopia, which can be further accelerated via the provision of drinking water in a sustainable and equitable manner.

Ethiopia is often called the water tower of Africa – because of the many rivers running through it and our large underground water reserves. Roughly 85 percent of Ethiopia’s surface water is found in the western basin, where only 40 percent of the population lives. The bulk of the population is concentrated in the highlands but water storage in these areas is lower. The difficulty of reaching scattered settlements around the country’s many plateaus and mountains, as well as a lack of investment in these hard to reach areas by the government is still leaving parts of the population without clean water to drink.

The decentralization of responsibilities for delivering water services from national to local government authorities has improved the situation, but more investment is needed in the structures and capacity needed to monitor, manage and regulate the water use by different sectors and service providers such as town water utilities. It is critical to sustain both economic and social development the right regulations and monitoring of water use in place.

Yet as the threat of water scarcity increases, as a consequence of erratic climate conditions, businesses also have a strong role to play. Corporations working in Ethiopia should track their water use from beginning to end of the supply chain and make sure they use water as efficiently as possible, minimising their impact on the environment. Access to water at work as well as at home makes for healthy and productive workers, allowing them grow financially and enabling them to provide a good future for their families.

The export of food and crops is an important source of income for Ethiopia. But production needs to be sustainable for the entire country to be able to reap the benefits. Industrial and agricultural use of water should go hand in hand with accelerating access to drinking water.

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