By Ayuko Matsuhashi
HARSHIM, SOMALI, 19 January 2017 – “For three months, the borehole was not functional and people suffered a lot. There was little rain, so most of the birkas became empty. Additionally, water from birkas is usually contaminated so we suffered from diarrhoea,” Muse Hassan Ali, 45-years-old recalls the time that he and his neighbours did not have access to safe and sustainable water in his town. Birkas are underground water storage systems intended to collect rain water during the rainy season and store for use during the dry season. Birkas can also be used to store water transported by trucks during emergencies.
According to the Harshim woreda (district) administrator, Sied Abraham, this borehole in Harshim town is the only sustainable water source that survived the 2015 El-Niño drought. It was drilled by the Somali Regional Water Bureau (RWB) following a UNICEF groundwater mapping in 2009 to identify potential drilling sites. The depth of the borehole is 535 meters, one of the deepest in the Somali region. After this borehole became non-functional due to electromechanical failure last year, UNICEF, with generous financial contribution from European Commission’s humanitarian aid department (ECHO), supported the RWB to rehabilitate the borehole by replacing a submersible pump, generator and an electric cable.
An immediate rehabilitation of the only sustainable water source in the woreda was crucial not only for Harshim town, but a large part of the region. It typically benefits over 9,000 people in Harshim and neighbouring woredas as well as people who cross the border from Somalia. At the end of 2016, it also served people in far-reaching woredas when drought conditions worsened once again due to the negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). The RWB and partners began providing emergency water trucking, using this borehole as their source. Thus, its well-functioning affects a high number of direct and indirect beneficiaries across the region.
Roda Ahmed, 35 years old, is with her five children collecting water. “This is a source of life. Now I can cook and feed my children,” she says. Another woman from Harshim town also with five children, Rahma Ahmed, explains, “Since this borehole has been working, we stopped drinking water from birkas.”
In addition to people collecting water near the borehole, the on-site trough draws in many pastoralists and their livestock. It takes more than a day for Farah Aden, 60 years old, to walk to the Harshim borehole with his 10 camels. “We are grateful for this borehole. Water is always a great cost for livestock. The functionality of this borehole has impacted our life a lot.” Indeed, during drought periods such as this one, entire herds may be wiped out, as evidenced by dozens of dead carcasses along the roads across the region.
As he contemplates this grave issue in his region, Muse pauses before emphasizing, “Still, this is not enough. There is a great pressure on this borehole. The generator is working 22 hours every day.”
UNICEF and partners will continue efforts to support the Government of Ethiopia to increase water coverage and functional water schemes in the Somali region to save the lives of children, their families and their livestock and contribute to a better future for all.
 traditional water harvesting pond