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Ethiopia: Water trucking in Afar

I’m in Guya village, north eastern Ethiopia, Afar region, where we’ve just arrived with a water truck to provide the local school and community with enough drinking water for the next month.

A young boy presses the different buttons on my camera to try to change the photos and scroll through the images of his home, friends and family I’ve just taken. Not quite knowing the purpose of the action, he presses at random, nearly deleting my album.

The camera safely back in my hands I can’t help but notice the trail left behind by his fingers on the screen. My eyes follow up his arm and to his face, which is smeared with dust and patterned with sweat marks that have run down his cheeks and forehead whilst playing. I realise that he’s not washed today, perhaps not yesterday, maybe not even the day before. But that’s not the concern here right now.

Over by the water tanker, a hose runs from the truck to the underground container chugging away as it empties thousands of litres of water into it. A woman is standing there, older than the rest, large yellow jerry can in hand, waiting patiently. Expectant.

Six hour trip for water

Previously she had to collect water from a pond some 15km away; a six hour round trip by foot. She cares for ten children, and could only give them a litre of the tanned coloured water to drink each day as it’s all she can carry. Her name is Zahara and like the others who live here she knows that there is not enough water for washing, just for drinking .

The region has experienced poor rainfall over the last few years, and this year has been no better. Rainwater harvesting sources have not been sufficiently replenished, with 143,000 people in the Afar region now at risk of acute water shortage. Local schools have been closing as they can’t support their pupils without water.

Today, the first of ten trucks arrived, which will deliver water to the school and community of Guya, but after that?

After that the money runs out and unless we can raise further funds Zahara will have to return to collecting her water from the far away pond. If the rains fail again this year, the drought will continue. “Sometimes I beg water from the military camp”, Zahara tells me; if she’s lucky, she receives help from her elderly husband who’s suffering from cataracts in his eyes.

The long term

We are responding to this immediate need by trucking water to four woredas (districts), supporting over 12,000 people. But to continue to meet the needs we desperately need more funds.

We know trucking in water is only a short term solution. Which is why we are also rehabilitating existing resources , providing new wells and working closely with the local government to provide a sustainable solution to this on-going crisis.

Tom Wilson is a Humanitarian WASH Trainee currently responding to the drought in Afar, Ethiopia

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