Safe water scarce in Gelan Idero

Gelan Idero Springs

Two of the springs from which the Gelan Idero community collects their drinking water.

It’s World Water Day on March 22nd, and this post highlights Gelan Idero’s long-standing challenges accessing clean, safe water.  The lack of easily-accessible and safe drinking water and the long distances and waits at to water sources, creates risks for women and girls especially, and continues to have a negative effect on children, women and men of the village.

Currently, Gelan Idero and surrounding villages (Tulu Gudo, Gende Tulu and Gende Waka) use water from nearby springs and from the Akaki River. Water from the springs is good for drinking but river water – polluted by farm run-off and household sources of contamination – is not.  River water can only be used for washing and household chores.

Ato Taye, an elder in the community, will be the first to tell you that in his village, the problem of water goes back many years.  Impressively sharp at age 70, Ato Taye explains that, because access to clean water for the community is difficult, children and women especially continue to suffer from water-borne diseases along with other kinds of illnesses.

“When our children and women are suffering, we have to spend a lot of money for medication,” he says. “Children drop out of school because of illnesses, and girls are forced to spend more time travelling farther distances to collect water from Akaki River, which is polluted.”

Occasionally people drink water from the river, knowing it is heavily polluted, simply because the source for spring-fed drinking water is extremely inconvenient.  The springs have a very low water charge, which means a many-hour wait for your turn to fetch water. There is one large spring that collects water in a pool, but it is located some two to three kilometers from the community. Only people with donkeys or those willing to carry water on their head collect water there.

“When girls go to fetch water, they are exposed to violence and abduction,” Ato Taye says. “This is a big worry for girls are recruited to help the family fetch water from the river.  And it prevents them from staying in school and studying,” he continues.

Regardless of where they choose to access the little water that is available, it is the women and older girls of the community who bear the greatest burden.  They must travel long distances to fetch water from the rivers and streams, and on their return, do their best to filter and purify the water using fine cotton cloths as strainers and by boiling it to make it safe for drinking.  “We still suffer from disease and struggle with keeping our personal hygiene optimal to prevent us from being exposed to skin and other diseases,” says Ato Taye.

The inadequate potable water supply and virtually non-existent sanitation results in many water-related illnesses in the community. Common illnesses such intestinal infections that cause diarrhea are directly linked to the poor quality of drinking water. These health-related challenges continue to put a strain on the health of the community, and especially its children.

The need for potable water is so great, that other water needs are often compromised.  For example, farm yields of the local crops teff (a small grain used to make the traditional Ethiopian flatbread, injera) and wheat are sub-optimal because Gelan Idero has no irrigation system to support better agricultural practices.

Gelan Idero community members have been talking with local government bodies to address the urgent need for access to safe water, along with lack of early childhood education facilities, the frequency of gender-based violence, and other issues.  With CFTC support, our local partner working in Gelan Idero,  Emmanuel Development Assistance (EDA), is facilitating these conversations, recognizing that it will take time – likely, years – to make progress, mobilize community members, and establish trust between the community and the various levels of government.  Only then can pressing challenges be brought forward and best solutions and action identified.