Water scarcity warning in Ethiopia

Posted: 17 February 2003

Two recent reports highlight the importance of getting to grips with the growing demand for water in Ethiopia, where drought and famine have created a major crisis.

In the first of these reports, a German charity warns that unless Ethiopia's rapid population growth is checked in time, water scarcity will become a serious long-term problem within 20 years.

According to the German Foundation for World Population (DSW), the current drought in Ethiopia that has exposed over 12 million Ethiopians to the risk of starvation, was also attributable to the food crisis in the country stemming from water-related problems.

"If we do not help those poverty stricken and arid countries such as Ethiopia, to curb the growth rate of their ever-expanding populations, our efforts to avoid future famines will be made all the more difficult," DSW director Hans Fleisch warned.

The DSW statement noted that per capita cubic metres of freshwater supplies in Ethiopia had sunk to a critical level of around 1,700, which was expected to decrease even further to 1,000 cubic metres within the next 20 years.

"Without sufficient supplies of water, there will be no further chance of development, and the chances of survival are also bleak," Fleisch said. He pointed out that it was essential to slow the rate of population growth through family planning "if the dangers of drought and famine are to be confronted, let alone overcome."

The Ethiopian population had doubled to over 67 million within a space of just 25 years, and is expected to grow by a further 50 million in the next 25 years, the statement said, quoting UN projections. According to these projections, Ethiopia's population will to grow to some 170 million by 2050, though that will very much depend on longer-term trends which will be heavily influenced by efforts to improve family incomes, education and health services, including good quality reproductive health services.

New wells

In the meantime efforts are being made to increase Ethiopia's water supplies. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that it has handed over a drilling rig in the remote Benishangul-Gumuz region to boost child health by improving access to clean water in one of the most water-scarce parts of the country.

The rig - which was handed over to the regional government - is capable of drilling 80 shallow wells a year and is designed to provide clean, safe water for villagers. UNICEF's Ethiopia representative David Bassiouni said that access to clean water was a vital for improving the lives of impoverished families.

"Access to clean water has an impact not only on the water and sanitation of local villages but also improves the quality of health and nutrition in the region as a whole," he noted.

Bassiouni also said that access to clean water boosts school attendance by children who normally have to travel in search of water for their family. Benishangul-Gumuz has one of the lowest water supply coverage rates in the country, at just 30 per cent. The drill will boost water supply by eight per cent a year. The rig can drill shallow wells around 40 to 60 metres deep and each well takes around three to four days to drill.

The Norwegian Government donated the rig and equipment, valued at around US $588,000, to UNICEF as part of a programme to deliver basic services to local districts.