Water Scarcity & Security: Ethiopia’s Water Crisis

A consistent condition of water scarcity—lack of access to clean water—has a devastating effect on the lives of Ethiopians. Only 61% of the population has access to safe water. Every 20 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease, and diarrhea remains the second leading cause of death for children under the age of five.

“The needs of the poor of Ethiopia are great. However, it is clear that no other intervention will have a greater impact than a well-designed water, sanitation and health project.”

-Rotary International

Even with an adequate water supply, the majority of Ethiopians are already considered poor by world standards. But without water, the level of poverty sinks to one of absolute poverty, which the UN describes as a severe deprivation of basic human needs. Destitution.

Causes of the Water Shortage

Even with an adequate water supply, the majority of Ethiopians are already considered poor by world standards.
  • Famine and drought. Aside from the major famine in the mid 1980s, there have been a number of other droughts, nationally or regionally, over the years. The current famine of 2015/2106 may be the worst of the last half-century. The amount of rainfall during the rainy seasons has continued to decline over the years, making matters even worse.
  • Lack of water development projects. Ethiopia has been referred to as the “water tower” of Africa. It has many major rivers, including the Nile, and the greatest water reserves on the continent. The problem therefore is not one of supply, but of access. There has simply been a lack of development of irrigation systems, dams, and other projects to access the available water. Hand-dug wells are the norm but, in drought conditions, the wells must be dug deeper. And with continual droughts, the groundwater that fed these wells has completely dried up.

Effects of Water Scarcity

Most of Ethiopia’s population lives in rural areas and their livelihoods depend on agriculture, which relies on sources of groundwater. But these become depleted during droughts, forcing people, mostly women and children, to walk for miles to access the nearest supply of water. The water crisis also depletes the amount of pastureland that is so vital to maintaining what is often the only source of food—livestock.

  • Without water, there is no food—no crops or livestock.
  • Without clean water, there is disease.
  • Without easy access to water, many children are unable to go to school, develop careers, and contribute to their society or to the world. Instead, their first priority is finding water.
  • Without clean water and food, there is nothing but illness, starvation, and ultimately death. Death of millions, simply because of a lack of something so basic, many of us take it for granted.

Our Water Security Solutions

Water development solutions have always been the starting point for our work in Ethiopian rural communities. Until there is access to clean water, other development projects aren’t possible. Read more about our water access and supply solutions here.

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