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Ethiopia: Preventing Disease and Conflict with Clean Water


Although the media no longer talks about the severe drought that hit the Horn of Africa in 2011, parts of the population continue to suffer from its effects. Some areas in Ethiopia’s Somali Region, which received below-normal seasonal rain this year, will soon experience water shortages. In mid-October, Handicap International began constructing water storage tanks in southern Ethiopia to provide clean water and better sanitation to internally displaced people, including those with disabilities.

"Because of the drought, inter-clan conflicts have increased significantly in the region, where access to water has always been a cause of conflict," says Matteo Caprotti, Handicap International’s Ethiopia country director. "The violence has led to the displacement of thousands of individuals. In 2012, about 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) re-settled in Filtu district with nothing but a few personal belongings. Their dramatic situation is a result of competition with the host communities which, already very poor, now face an extra challenge.

"For the IDPs, actual water availability is between four to seven liters per day per person—15 liters per day is considered the minimum needed to survive. Moreover, the water is of low quality so it carries significant health risks. In the affected area, almost 25% of children have water-borne diseases such as respiratory and urinary infections. Also, women and girls have to travel for more than six hours a day to fetch water, which makes them very vulnerable to sexual violence.

“The provision of essential services for IDP’s, such as water and sanitation, will therefore not only save lives, but also support an effective integration of those persons into local communities. This integration is vital, since the current tension may create new conflicts and aggravate the already fragile situation.”

Currently, Handicap International is building three birkas—underground water storage tanks which stocks rain water during the rainy season for use during the dry season.

“Each birka can provide water to 1,500 persons for at least 50 days and will subsequently save lives by reducing the disease burden,” says Caprotti. “Three malfunctioning birkas will also be repaired. Our staff will also train health workers and educate mothers about hygiene to prevent the outbreak of disease. A total of 2,000 hygiene kits will be distributed.

"We put a particular emphasis on people with disabilities, since it’s even more difficult to access water if you have reduced mobility. One out of five latrines will be made accessible and the water distribution service will guarantee access to elderly and disabled people."

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