Pumps, wells replace hot, dusty trek to haul water

By Steve Greene

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How do families in rural Ethiopia get water? Women and children spend several hours each day hauling water for drinking and cooking back to their families over dusty, often rugged, tracks. Sometimes a donkey carries the load, but in many cases there are no donkeys. The women strap a full water jug to their backs and carry it for miles across a semi-arid landscape under a hot sun.

Dhara Botara, a mother of eight in the remote community of Gura in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region, used to spend more than three hours each day walking to fetch water, sometimes accompanied by some of her children. The surface water she collected was often dirty and sometimes contaminated with parasites, which sickened her children.

Today, Dhara gets clean water twice a day from a new pump located just minutes from her home. In the morning and again in the afternoon, she visits the pump to haul back one or two five-gallon water containers. The water, from an aquifer 200 feet deep, comes out pure and cool.

In addition, she and her family now have access to a private bathing shed and a concrete washstand where they can wash their clothes and dishes.

The water project is one of three developed in the past year by the Oromo Self-Reliance Association with support from Oxfam America. Oxfam’s $42,000 contribution also underwrote the cost of the wells, pumps, bathing sheds, and laundry stations in two other communities besides Gura—Qamaxo and Alanqa—some 50 miles southwest of Addis Ababa. Altogether, some 1,800 people are benefiting from the water projects, which were inaugurated recently in separate ceremonies in the three communities.

"Clean water is just part of the equation," says Abera Tola, Oxfam America's regional director for the Horn of Africa. "Women now have more time to spend with their families, children can spend more time in school—the whole community benefits from these projects."

So popular are the water projects that neighboring communities have sent delegations to local authorities asking for the installation of similar facilities for their use.

Dhara and other beneficiaries in Gura pay 1 birr (about 12 cents) a month toward the upkeep of the washstand and pump, which is surrounded by a fence and open for six hours a day. But it’s clear from the smile on her face that the change it has brought to women in the community has been priceless.