Water in Crisis - Ethiopia

Rebecca Shore (Guest Writer)

Similar to many African countries, parts of Ethiopia face water shortages, poor sanitation, and a lack of access to clean water sources. Ethiopia is located in Africa's Horn where drought and politics are two leading causes of water shortage. In a study conducted by Water.org they found that "42% of the population has access to a clean water supply" and only "11% of that number has access to adequate sanitation services". In rural areas of the country, these figures drop even lower, resulting in health problems in the villagers as well as their animals.

In the past twenty years, droughts have affected several areas of the country, leading to ponds, wells, streams and lakes drying up or becoming extremely shallow. Many people living outside of the cities collect water from these shallow water sources, which are often contaminated with human and animal waste, worms, or disease. During months and sometimes years of drought, disease runs rampant through small villages and towns. Frequently there is not enough water for people to bathe, leading to infections and sickness in children. Water borne illnesses, such as cholera or diarrhea, are the leading cause of death in children under five years old in Ethiopia.

In addition to illness, many Ethiopian children, especially girls, face problems with school. Statistically only 45% of kids attend primary school. The others are put to work collecting water each morning and helping their families earn money.

However, not all children face these dire circumstances. In an interview with an Ethiopian Israeli named Liat, she described her experiences as a child and young teenager growing up in one of Ethiopia's small villages as comfortable and joyful. Her and her family lived in Ethiopia until she was 15 and then they immigrated to Israel; now she is 23 years old and has yet to go back. While in Ethiopia, Liat would go every morning with her mother to collect water from the nearby stream. Unlike some Ethiopian families, no one in her family ever got sick from the water they were drinking. "We lived in a natural environment," said Liat, "we never thought about diseases in the water, we just lived off the land." Unlike eight years ago when Liat last lived in Ethiopia, many more families are now affected by the looming water shortages. Additionally, Liat lived without running water, electricity, a toilet or shower. The first time she saw these things and experienced an indoor bathroom was when she immigrated to Israel. Although Liat would never move back to Ethiopia, she wants to visit and experience her roots and see where her family came from.

Kali Shebi, an Ethiopian student at George Mason University, told a different yet similar story about living in Ethiopia. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Kali lived with her family in the capital, Addis Ababa, until she was 15. In the city, she had a very comfortable and comparable life to the one she lives today in Arlington, Virginia. She never had to worry about the cleanliness of the water she was drinking or if her family was going to have enough water for the day. Outside of the city though, Kali's grandmother lived more traditionally. "Each morning, Kali said, "my grandmother would go and collect water from the stream." Then her grandmother would boil the water to purify it, before using it for other uses besides drinking. In Kali's situation, she did not encounter many water scarcity issues, but she saw water collecting processes when she visited her grandmother outside of the city.

Another major concern in Ethiopia is how politics affect the locals. During Colonial times, the Nile River and its tributaries were split up between the nations surrounding it. However today, some Ethiopian farmers are finding themselves without access to water for irrigation because of the way the river was divided hundreds of years ago. As the rainy season becomes shorter due to global warming, the fields are becoming more sandy and dry, making it harder for Ethiopian farmers to survive. The situation in Somalia, which borders Ethiopia, is making water scarcity issues even more exacerbated because of the fighting in and around Somalia. Additionally, almost 66% of Africa's 60 river basins are shared by more than one country. As a result, as Africa faces more problems with water, there could potentially be more fighting over how those river basins should be divided.

Ethiopia is a nation full of beauty and culture. However it is being severely affected by water shortages. Fields are drying up and farmers are fighting over irrigation resources. Also, children in villages are losing out on education and instead are spending their days collecting water for their families. In the coming years, outside organizations will be of great need to help alleviate the country's water shortages.








Children often bear the burden of walking miles each day to find water in streams and ponds. Sickness and the time lost fetching it robs entire communities of their futures.

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