Working together to transform communities across Ethiopia with clean water - by Rageh Omaar

5 November 2020
Tiru and her daughter at their house in Derkewa, Ethiopia. October 2020.
WaterAid/ Genaye Eshetu

This year has been unsettling. Protecting ourselves and our families against COVID-19 has created much anxiety. But imagine living through this crisis without clean water to even wash your hands.

As part of the BBC Radio 4 Appeal, I'm helping WaterAid share stories of communities across Ethiopia and the effect our changing climate is having on people's lives. 

Working as a foreign correspondent and having close family in the Horn of Africa, I’ve seen first-hand and personally how dirty water can trap people in poverty, especially women and girls who have to spend hours each day walking to their only source of water. Globally, dirty water causes diseases that kill around 800 children every day.

That's why from 8 November, I'll be presenting a BBC Radio 4 Appeal on behalf of WaterAid, telling audiences how WaterAid is helping bring clean water to communities across the world.

Rageh Omaar
Foreign correspondent and broadcaster Rageh Omaar

Water is the building block of all human life, without water there is no development.

One of our biggest threats is climate change. Floods are becoming more common. Droughts are becoming more severe, and the water sources people do have are becoming polluted.

When 25-year-old Tiru was growing up in Derekwa, Ethiopia, water was always a worry. She said water was always a worry growing up. Every morning she spent nearly two hours collecting dirty water from a spring, carrying a heavy jerry can through mud where friends had slipped and broken bones. The dirty water made her sick and she often missed school. As weather patterns changed, dry seasons lasted longer and the spring started to dry up.

WaterAid worked with local experts and Tiru’s village to drill for water, using solar power to pump the water to taps, and store treated water in an underground tank, so now there’s always enough.

WaterAid trained Tiru to maintain and manage one of the water points. Her three-year-old daughter Mahalet will never have to worry about dirty water.

Tiru pouring water into a glass with her daughter at their house in Derkewa, Ethiopia. October 2020.
WaterAid/ Genaye Eshetu
Tiru with her daughter at their house in Derkewa, Ethiopia.

Many people in Tiru’s village use the water to grow food, women have the time to work and earn a living and children can now go to school. The whole community thrives knowing clean water will always be on tap.

For 82-year-old Alene, life for his and his family is transformed. 

He said: "I sometimes fetch water for our garden and grow vegetables. This really helps our lives. I used to fetch water in a long distance but there was a shortage of water. We had to wait in a long queue to fetch water from the spring. We used to get a lot of water from the spring but gradually the water decreased and unless we dug out the water, we couldn't get it. Now we have easy access, we always have enough water to drink, we can plant our vegetables and keep ourselves clean."

A man from Derekwa fills up a jug of clean running water
82-year-old Alene from Derekwa can now collect clean, running water close to his home.

Thanks to people like you, WaterAid has brought clean water to more than 27 million people. But 1 in 10 people are still living without clean water, and now it’s needed more than ever.  So we must keep going.

This winter, WaterAid has plans to bring clean water to 50,000 people in Ethiopia, and thousands more around the world – so that they can enjoy clean water, forever, no matter the weather.

And the UK government will match all public donations up to £2 million for this appeal until the 4 February 2021, meaning money raised will go twice as far. 

The money raised by the UK public will help families like Hawa’s in Frat, western Ethiopia. Hawa and her daughters spend hours each day walking the rocky path to collect dirty water from the river 2km from their village.

Hawa (right) with her daughter Kadija (left) collecting water from the River Lah in Frat, Ethiopia.
WaterAid/ Joey Lawrence
Hawa with her daughter Kadija collecting water from the River Lah in Frat, Ethiopia.

They are afraid to go alone or at night as thieves are known to hide there. The changing climate is making life harder; with hotter summers and unexpected storms destroying crops, their only source of income. 

Match funding from the UK government will be used to bring sustainable water, toilet and hygiene facilities to communities in Berbere, one of the poorest and most climate-vulnerable areas in Ethiopia where a lack of these basics is putting lives and livelihoods at risk.

The project will include constructing flood-resistant community water points and accessible water and sanitation facilities in schools and health centres, as well as training communities to manage the facilities.

As our climate changes, we must ensure the people of Ethiopia can rely on clean water, today and every day.

Listen out for the BBC Radio 4 broadcast on 8 November at 07:54 and 21:25 and again on 12 November at 15:27, or catch the broadcast after on the BBC website. 

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