When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water
Felicia Chang visits one of Addis Ababa's largest slums to understand the value of water.
As I walked to work this morning, I passed a group of about 10 people sitting on the side of the street. Wrapped in mismatched clothing and pieces of cloth, these women, men and children lined the dusty sidewalk, which borders the trendy cafes and clothing stores in downtown Addis Ababa.
As I walked closer, I noticed a young woman, her face shiny with sweat from the beating sun lift a bottle of water, as black and muddy as sewage waste, to her lips. She took a few gulps and casually passed it to the little boy sitting next to her.
Some images strike a chord with you. This one did with me. Stepping into the nearest shop, I bought bottles of water for the group. I rushed outside, poured the blackened water from the woman’s bottle and tried to explain that it was not safe to drink.
Although I was glad that I could help at that moment, I knew that after those bottles of water ran out, the blackened water would be back again. You see, Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of access to water and adequate sanitation in the world. Water is a part of life that many of us take for granted.
Kechene's Sanitation Challenges
Benjamin Franklin once said “it is not until the well is dry that we learn the worth of water.” In Ethiopia, the World Health Organization reports that only 41% of households can access safe water and 21% can access sanitation facilities. Diarrhoeal disease alone accounts for almost half of the deaths of children under 5. 60-80% of diseases are related to the absence or poor quality of water.
In Kechene, one of the largest slums in Addis Ababa, home to about 50,000 of the city’s 4 million people, getting clean water is a daily challenge.
During my first field visit in Ethiopia, I found myself in the back of an AMREF vehicle, making my way across the city to Kechene. It is here that AMREF has been implementing a water and sanitation project since 2002. The project has adopted an integrated approach to reducing poverty and improving health for 35,000 people. The community is learning how to develop their livelihoods, lessen the impacts of HIV/AIDS and support the most vulnerable children. Most notably, the project is improving access to clean water and sanitation – the primary pathway to better health in Kechene.
Empowering Communities Towards Clean Water
AMREF is providing not only infrastructure like shared water points, latrines and showers, but also educational events led by community members themselves. Sanitation campaigns, health education sessions and advocacy activities develop an understanding among community members and young children in particular about how to protect themselves from water, sanitation and hygiene related diseases.
During my stay in Kechene, I met Yeshi. She is a member of the community who volunteers on AMREF’s WatSan Committee – a group trained by AMREF to manage and maintain the water sources.
“Today we are happy”, Yeshi said, “I can keep my children clean, I can wash our clothes and dishes. We have clean water to drink and we don’t get sick.” She is also a Hygiene Educator; teaching the community about personal hygiene, nutrition and how to use household solid wastes as fertilizer.
As a result of this training, community members started a vegetable garden initiative. Yeshi and two of her committee members led us proudly around the yards surrounding their homes, showing us green patches of thriving lettuce.
In Kechene, people continue on with their boundless generosity and spirit – working to make their community a better place. They have adopted the AMREF project as their own. Water and sanitation are vital in achieving better health for all. I was inspired watching the residents of Kechene work together to make this a reality.
Until next time,
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