How our changing climate is affecting people in Ethiopia who already struggle to access clean water

20 March 2020
WaterAid/ Frehiwot Gebrewold

World Water Day is an opportunity for us to all take stock on the state of the world’s water. Now more than ever, having good hygiene and clean water are crucial to protect our health, our safety and our livelihoods and are a first line of defence against illnesses like COVID-19.

But climate change is making access to clean water even harder. 1 in 10 people still don’t have access to a reliable source of water, and climate change is making the struggle even harder. Never before have we witnessed so many extreme weather events so frequently. Severe droughts, powerful storms, devastating floods and cyclones have damaged water sources and people’s livelihoods.

Often, it’s the poorest who are the worst affected, despite doing the least to contribute to climate change.  Our Voices from the Field Officer, Freihwot met some of the people most affected by our changing climate in Ethiopia.

As a Voices from the Field Officer for WaterAid, it’s my job to help the people in the communities we work in to share their stories. One of the things I love about my job is getting out of the city’s chaos and getting some fresh air. I’ve travelled my beautiful country, Ethiopia, for over ten years, and it’s only recently that the weather seems to have changed and caused problems in rural areas which lack infrastructure, electricity and access to clean water.

Having a consistent weather pattern is very important for Ethiopia as agriculture is the mainstay of the country’s economy. Agriculture contributes 40% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), more than 80% of the total exports, and 80% of all employment. Many of the farmers in the country are dependent on rainwater.

The weather, especially rain patterns, have become more and more unpredictable.

During my recent visit to Mercha Borabur in the Amhara Region I had a chance to meet with Admas, a 73 year old farmer. Admas and his family depend on produce from their farmland. Unfortunately, this was a bad year for his crop.

Unseasonal rain destroyed his red pepper crop which he was relying on selling. Seeing Admas’s plight was not easy.

Admas said: “It is very difficult to fight with nature. The rain destroyed what I have planted. Sadly, I couldn’t do anything to protect and save it. We didn’t know the weather was going to change so suddenly.”

Admas shows us a damaged branch of red pepper plant, destroyed by the unprecedented rain.
WaterAid/ Frehiwot Gebrewold
Admas shows us a damaged branch of red pepper plant, destroyed by the unprecedented rain.

Wubete, a mother of four from Jabi Tehnan District also suffered at the result of unprecedented rainfall.

Wubete said: “It rains when it’s not supposed to and destroys our crops. When we expect the rain, it doesn’t come, and our water source has dried up.”

Wubete Demele, 43, holding a teff plant that she has harvested from her farmland in Gorad village, Mircha Borabur Kebele, Jabi Tehnan District, East Gojjam Zone, Amhara Region, Ethiopia, December 2019.
WaterAid/ Frehiwot Gebrewold
Wubete shows us a teff plant which is damaged from too much rainfall.

As well as her farming duties, Wubete needs to collect water for her family.

“We don’t have a water tap near our house, we have a hand dug well. Since there is limited water for the entire community, we are only allowed to fetch water from there twice a week. The water is getting scarce and that’s why we have to take turns to fetch water. Even though it is not clean, it’s the only water source we have for drinking.

"We are sick most of the time and whenever we go to the health centre, they tell us that it’s because of waterborne diseases.

It rains when it is not supposed to and destroys our crops. When we expect the rain, it doesn’t come, and our water source has dried up. It is really confusing and frustrating.”

I also met Abeba, a young mother who collects two jerry cans of water a day while carrying her son on her back. Even for me, it was difficult to walk to the river on my own, let alone carrying a 20 litre jerry can and a baby at the same time, under a burning hot sun.

Abeba Amogne, 23, holding her baby Sitotaw on her lap and playing with him by the door of her house, Ergeb Kebero Meda, Jabi Tehnan District, West Gojjam Zone, Amhara Regional State, Ethiopia, December 2019.
WaterAid/ Frehiwot Gebrewold
Abeba with her 9 month old son.

Even after all these years of meeting people in my country, I was astounded to see how she manages to do this everyday, all for a limited amount of water to do all the chores with.

Abeba Amogne, 23, carrying a jerrycan full of water over her shoulder whilst carrying her baby Sitotaw on her back. Abeba has to wash her baby in dirty river water because the water levels in the local hand-dug well have decreased so much that she can ...
WaterAid/ Frehiwot Gebrewold
Abeba carries a jerrycan full of water over her shoulder whilst carrying her 9 month old baby on her back.

I saw first hand how climate change particularly affects the lives of women and girls my country. Women here are responsible for fetching water. Whenever the water is scarce, they are forced to walk for hours to get water from rivers and other sources. Making sure that the water is being used effectively is also another headache for the women in particular.

Girls miss school because they need to help their mothers to collect water, and when they are on their periods they can’t wash because there is not enough water. 

Until we provide sustainable clean water services, people’s livelihoods will not be protected and women and girls will be severely disadvantaged in society.

Our changing climate is making life even harder for those who struggle to find clean water. It’s the poorest who suffer most, yet they are the ones receiving the least global investment into building resilience to climate change. Read our report: On the frontline, to see the current state of the world’s water and the countries worst affected.