Ten years ago, HOPE International Development Agency (HIDA) put in place an ambitious program aimed at protecting drinking water sources in the southern Ethiopian district of Dirashe and providing the population with spring water supply systems.
As a result, more than 120,000 people in the district of Dirashe now have access to safe drinking water, compared with only 16,000 in 1998.
It is sometimes hard to imagine the extent to which safe drinking water and basic sanitary facilities remain out of reach for thousands of people in developing countries. When Canadians want a glass of water, they just turn on the faucet. Thirty seconds later, they have it.
Until recently, getting a glass of water in the district of Dirashe was a huge undertaking. In 1998, residents sometimes had to walk several hours to get to the nearest source of water. At present, these same villagers go to water points installed throughout their villages to fill their jugs. Getting water now takes but a few minutes.
For Kitodeh, a mother of 8, the project has changed everything: "To get water during the dry season, we had to dig in the bed of a river a long way off from the village. We had to walk two hours to get there and then two more, up a steep hill with 20 kilos of water, to get back. The trip was exhausting, and we had to use the water parsimoniously so as not to run out. The water was often polluted, since it was also where animals and people bathed."
HOPE International Development Agency (HIDA), working with local authorities, started the project by taking stock of the area's water sources to better protect them from contamination, then proceeded to locate communities where water systems would be installed.
"We established a water management committee in each targeted community and trained the members so that they would have the tools needed to manage the facilities and keep them sanitary. The members were also trained to collect modest user fees in anticipation of future repairs on the water system,"said Mr. Aklilu Mulat, HIDA's chief operating officer.
HIDA also established committees to promote good practices in hygiene and in maternal and reproductive health in their respective communities, while encouraging the installation of environmentally friendly sanitary services, including latrines. The members of these committees were provided with complete training as well.
"We also emphasized the importance of women's involvement in the planning and maintenance of the infrastructure,"said HIDA's Ethiopian director, Tibebu Bekele, "because the daily fetching of water has long been done by the women in the villages and to call attention the important role that women play in the community."
In 1999, with the support of CIDA, among others, HIDA installed a first safe drinking water system in the kebele [village] of Kolamashille. Today, 26 kebeles in district of Dirashe have access to safe drinking water.
With access to safe drinking water, the health of the population has improved considerably. Since ten years ago, there has been a decrease in water-borne diseases. The malaria, skin infection, and eye infection rates have fallen by 87 percent, 91 percent, and 94 percent respectively. Several of the communities where HIDA has worked now have clinics or medical centres, which would not be the case were it not for the installation of the community safe drinking water systems.
A major benefit of the project is how it is helping secure the future of children and youth - one of CIDA's priority themes. Indeed, access to clinics dramatically prevents the spread of disease and Maternal, Newborn and Child Health - a top priority for CIDA.
For the 120,000 people of Dirashe, less time and energy needed to collect water means more time and energy to focus on improving their livelihoods and to better support their family. Their lives have become a little easier.
Again with the help of CIDA, HIDA is preparing to repeat the Ethiopian experience in Sudan, where it will provide safe drinking water to some 4,000 people in eight of the country's communities.