In 1992, the United Nations General Assembly declared 22 March as International Water Day. It is celebrated every year to raise awareness about the importance of clean water resources. The situation with drinkable water in Ethiopia has improved in recent years but large challenges remain. According to the central government, less than 20 percent of the population had access to drinking water in 2000. By 2011, the number was 68.5 percent. The goal for 2015 was to have drinking water resources within 500 meters of all urban residents and within 1.5 kilometers of all rural residents. However, water access remains a challenge for many areas in Ethiopia.
In the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia, new water points have been built in recent years. “The big problem is maintaining these water points, that’s why we charge two birrs [5 Euro cents] for every ten liters of water,” explains the community leader. “However due to the lack of economic resources and education, there are still people collecting water in ponds where the water quality is not guaranteed and can, therefore, cause health problems.
As with anywhere in the world, water can have a deep influence on cultural patterns. Ethiopian women often have to walk long distances to get water for their families. Female children are often taken out of school to fulfill this daily task. In broader terms, a lack of clean water can hamper economic growth and reduce life expectancy through disease. “I began helping my mother with small containers of five and ten liters, but now that I am eleven I can help with jerry cans of twenty-five liters,” says a girl from the Amhara region. According to one woman from SNNPR, there are also social aspects: “The time for searching water is also an important moment of the day in that the women are all together and we can talk about our issues.”
On 28 July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized safe drinking water and basic sanitation as a fundamental human right. But it is not yet a right available to all – in particular, in areas more recently affected by climate change. In the Afar region, children often greet visitors with shouts of “Highland! Highland!” which refers to a popular brand of bottled water. “Or just give me your empty bottle so we can store water in it,” explains one child.
Photo article published in Radio Netherland Worldwide and other African media (2012)