The challenges for urban water supply in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has plenty of water resources but the available water is not distributed evenly across the country and the amount varies with seasons and years. The challenge in any situation is to maintain a year-round supply that is adequate to meet people’s needs. To ensure that supply meets demand the source of the water must be carefully chosen, taking into account present and future demand for water, and the costs. The cost of water supplies is heavily influenced by the distance of reliable water sources from towns. The challenge for many towns is finding nearby water sources.

Planning for present and future demand has to consider population growth. The demand for water is increasing in cities and towns due to an ever-growing population and the migration of people from rural areas to towns in search of jobs and a better life. There are also increasing demands from industrial and commercial development. The quantity of water required for domestic use depends not only on the number of people but also on their habits and culture, and on how accessible the water is. On average, Ethiopians in urban areas use only about 15 litres of water a day for their needs (MoH, 2001; Ali and Terfa, 2012).

How much water do we really need?

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From Section 1.2.1 you will recall that, according to the WHO, each of us needs 30–40 litres of water a day for all domestic purposes.

Why is there such a difference between the WHO estimate and the daily water consumption per person in Ethiopian towns? The shortfall is perhaps due to the shortage of private water taps, which means that people have to collect water from public taps. If people have a piped water supply in their home they are likely to wash and bathe more frequently, and some may have water-using appliances like washing machines. As water supply systems improve and access increases, the consumption of water will increase also. It is therefore important for water supply planners to consider the expected changes in society and in living standards. Planning of water supply projects should also consider the water requirements of schools, hospitals and other health facilities, churches and mosques, hotels, public washrooms, and other community facilities.

The government of Ethiopia has set targets of 100% coverage of safe water supply in urban areas and 98% coverage in rural areas. These targets originated from the Universal Access Plan of 2005 and the Growth and Transformation Plan of 2010, and have been adopted by the One WASH National Programme (OWNP), which is being implemented with major funding from government and international donors (FDRE, 2013). The planning criteria for water supply coverage in the OWNP are:

  • rural water supply: 15 litres/person/day, within 1.5 km radius
  • urban water supply: 20 litres/person/day, within 0.5 km radius (FDRE, 2013).

As you can see, these figures are still below the WHO recommendation and are more than current usage, indicating the scale of the challenge ahead. The targets for Ethiopia are that 4.4 million urban inhabitants and 26.6 million rural inhabitants, nearly 30,000 schools, and more than 7500 health posts/centres will gain access to safe drinking water (FDRE, 2013). Progress towards meeting these targets is described in Study Session 3.

At the beginning of this study session you read that water supply must be accessible and affordable. It is important that affordability extends to all sectors of society, including vulnerable people. Vulnerable groups include low-income households and households with many young children, older people, disabled people and people with long-term illness such as HIV/AIDS. Equitable access to water supply for all these groups should also be taken into consideration, especially when considering the cost of water as these vulnerable people usually have low income.

There are still many challenges ahead but the following changes will all contribute to future success:

  • an increase in funds for the expansion of water supply services to satisfy the demand of growing populations, particularly in small towns
  • a reduction in bureaucracy to facilitate the spending of funds that are committed (currently only around 60% of budgeted finances are actually spent)
  • a reduction in the turnover of personnel, and an increase in human resource capacity and expertise at different levels
  • better coordination between the different stakeholders (for instance, there is lack of coordination between the water sector, telecommunication department and the road authority; because of this, water pipes are frequently damaged during activities such as laying down telephone and internet lines, and during road construction)
  • the presence of more experts to monitor sector performance at all levels
  • better information management systems, giving early warning of requirements.

Last modified: Friday, 29 July 2016, 10:35 AM