GONDAR, ETHIOPIA (JDC) – Azanaw Musaw Tegegne, an eighth grader, says that before JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) installed the fresh water tap in his village in Gondar, Ethiopia, most people drank water from a nearby stream. Like hundreds of villages around rural Ethiopia, Gondar’s Gabriel kebele (area similar to a neighborhood) had no access to potable water for drinking, bathing, or cooking during the region’s extended dry seasons and droughts.
Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. In rural parts of country, only 11 percent of the population has access to clean water while just 7 percent has access to adequate sanitation facilities. During the rainy season, the population’s water supply is procured from nearby springs, streams, and shallow wells. When the dry season comes, these water sources dry up, forcing villagers to collect water from sub-standard, often polluted, wells and streams.
The health hazards are enormous: 90 percent of all preventable diseases such as malaria, cholera, yellow fever, hepatitis, typhoid and diarrhea can be attributed to underdeveloped and ill-protected water supplies. Waterborne diseases claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians each year.
Limited access to safe drinking water not only results in poor health, but also causes serious developmental problems. Collecting water is back-breaking work that drains precious energy and restricts involvement in productive activities and community affairs for many women and children in every village. On average, rural villagers spend four to six hours per day collecting water from sources that can be as far as 10 kilometers from their homes.
Over the last 25 years, JDC has built dozens of potable water wells throughout Gondar and the surrounding countryside with guidance from the Ethiopian Water Works Construction Authority and the local government in Gondar. Funding for this effort has come from international NGOs, as well as private donors and foundations. The Ground Water Development program has produced hand dug wells, protected springs, taps, micro-dams, and latrines.
JDC originally built wells in areas that served large numbers of Jews (the Felas Mura population awaiting immigration to Israel) but also supplied water to the non-Jewish villagers. By 2008, as JDC constructed a dozen wells across Gondar through its International Development Program (JDC-IDP), new water projects served 100 percent non-Jewish populations.
As JDC-IDP’s larger goal is to provide assistance that will leave communities stronger and self-sustaining in the long run, each project engages and is facilitated by local village water committees, who solicit local manpower for some labor and materials used in the construction process. JDC-IDP also provides the villagers with training on the importance of drinking the clean water and encourages behavioral change to improve overall health. Whenever possible, in addition to building the wells, JDC-IDP constructs communal latrines to facilitate a safe, sanitary human waste disposal system (as open air toilets are widely known to contaminate the town’s clean drinking water). Community education and involvement contributes tremendously to the success and long-term sustainability of these projects.
With safe, fresh, local water sources for drinking, cooking and sanitation available in his village for the first time, Azanaw Musaw Tegegne no longer needs to travel great distances to collect water. Freed of this chore, he will now be able to finish eighth grade at the newly built JDC-IDP school in his hometown of Gabriel, Gondar—one of 10 schools JDC-IDP has built in the region in the past 18 months.
That last fact is important, as Ethiopia has an adult literacy rate of barely 36 percent. Azanaw will be one of the just 23 percent of teenage boys and 13 percent of teenage girls enrolled in secondary schools. (Only 55 percent of all boys and 47 percent of all girls are enrolled in primary schools; 38 percent will not reach the fifth grade.)
Committed to making a difference in the development of Ethiopia’s educational system and securing a future for some of the most vulnerable people on the globe, JDC-IDP has been repairing and building schools for some of the poorest Ethiopian children across the Northern Gondar region since 2000.
At a celebration in appreciation for JDC-IDP’s donation of a hand water pump to one local village, the Chairman of the Gondar City Council, Asmamaw Yosuf, said, “Really, you have reached at the [root] of the problem. The people have no words to appreciate your donation. [We have] seen the enthusiastic dances praising to your organization.”