EU’s Satellite images provide life saving water to drought affected communities in Ethiopia

By Samuel Godfrey

An ongoing UNICEF supported borehole drill in Musle Kebele of Kore Woreda.
An ongoing UNICEF supported borehole drill in Musle Kebele of Kore Woreda. The borehole drilling site was identified through combined remote sensing technology with conventional methodologies (hydrogeology and geophysics). © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

Ethiopia is in the middle of an El Nino induced drought which has left 5.8 million people across the country without access to adequate water. More than 220 districts of Ethiopia are facing water related emergencies that arise due to either a lack of availability or quality of water.

As the WASH cluster lead, UNICEF supports the Government of Ethiopia and other partners in the rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of new water supply systems, provision of water purification and treatment chemicals, scaling up of water trucking activities, and provision of sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools. In addition, UNICEF is exploring innovative ways to use satellites to detect deep groundwater for large scale, multiple-village water supply systems. As part of the overall drought emergency response, UNICEF supports programmes in child protection, education, health and nutrition.

Groundwater, compared to rivers/lakes or other surface water, supplies 80 percent of all drinking water in Ethiopia. Water from the groundwater aquifers supports emergency water supply, urban water supply and livestock watering. With limited rains, many of these shallow groundwater wells have run dry and these communities rely on expensive commercial trucks to haul in water.

The more sustainable groundwater is located at extremely deep depths. In some cases, more than 300 metres below the ground which is the equivalent in height of the Empire State Building. To locate water that deep and then to drill and extract it is a major challenge.

Satellite image of Afar Elidar woreda Potential drilling sites
Satellite image of Afar Elidar woreda potential drilling sites

To tackle this problem, the European Union and UNICEF have selected 9 of the worst affected districts across Ethiopia to use ‘satellite’ technology to locate groundwater. The EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) are providing their expertise by availing ‘no cost’ satellite images which depict the physical and topographical characteristics of the districts from satellites 100s of KM in the sky. These are then combined by UNICEF hydrogeology experts to locate appropriate sites for the drilling of essential deepwells for drought affected communities.

Results to date are extremely encouraging that it should be expanded to a larger scale of the country. On a recent visit to a well sited using this technique in Afar, the UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake said “This approach is very cost-effective, compared to delivering water by truck. Indeed, every permanent well costs the equivalent of only three deliveries of water by truck.”

Mr. Lake added “This is only the beginning. With our partners in the European Union and the Government of Ethiopia we are expanding this effort through out the country, distributing water to villages, schools, health centres and cattle troughs.”

UNICEF would like to express its thanks to the European Union Delegation and the EU-JRC, for their establishment of a remote sensing partnership with UNICEF and providing the un-reserved support so far, which we believe to be strengthen and extended further in the future.

Innovative approaches like these are already showing results for boys and girls in the hard to reach areas of Ethiopia.

Dr. Samuel Godfrey is Chief of WASH for UNICEF Ethiopia, and has a PhD and MSc in Civil Engineering and Water and Waste Engineering.

Ethiopia-Brazil South-South collaboration in urban sanitation technology transfer

By Samuel Godfrey

Wukro Town, situated in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, received two Brazilian experts in the area of sanitary sewerage from 12 to 23 October 2015. The two officials from the Water and Sewerage Company of the State of Ceará (CAGECE), Fabiano Lira and Marcondes Ribeiro Lima, travelled to Ethiopia as part of the Trilateral South-South Cooperation initiative between Brazil, Ethiopia and UNICEF.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2015  
Mr. Fabiano Lira and Mr. Marcondes Lima meet Ethiopian State Minister of Water, Mr. Kebede Gerba © UNICEF Ethiopia/2015  


In the early 2015, a 2-year tripartite South-South collaboration has been developed between the Governments of Ethiopia and Brazil with the assistance of UNICEF Brazil and UNICEF Ethiopia. The theme is ‘urban sanitation and urban water’ and aims at strengthening Ethiopia’s water supply and sanitary sewerage services, directly benefitting Ethiopian institutions and, in the long term, the country’s urban population.

In 1960, less than 50 per cent of Brazilians lived in urban areas. By 2012, more than 85 per cent of Brazilians lived in urban areas. Africa is urbanizing at a similar rate, with Ethiopia having one of Africa’s quickest urbanization rates. According to the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency, the urban population is projected to nearly triple from 15.2 million in 2012 to 42.3 million in 2037.

During their visit, the Brazilian officials provided key technical expertise in the development and finalization of the technical project to provide a pilot sewage network in a condominium of Wukro Town, as well as in the identification of a management system for the sewage network. Most of the condominium blocks in Ethiopia are not provided with treatment systems for the waste water produced by residents, whom are systematically exposed to severe risks related to the contaminated environment. The project will therefore contribute to the promotion of better health and quality of life for the residents of the town, with opportunities for expansion.

During the mission, Scoping and technical work was conducted in the field, where key data was gathered for the preparation of the project. The delegates, delighted by the warm hospitality of the people from Wukro, not too different from the semi-arid state of Ceará, presented the drafted project both to the residents of the condominium, requested to play a key role in the management of the proposed facility, local authorities and to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2015  
Brazilian officials, UNICEF staff and Ethiopian officials discuss strategies in Wukro ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015  

The project proposal was received positively by the Ethiopian Government and local population, signalling a productive first step in the cooperation agreement signed by both countries and facilitated by UNICEF Ethiopia and Brazil Country Offices. The next steps in the cooperation plan will be the building and implementation of the project in Wukro Town, alongside training of institutional partners and eventual expansion into other regions of the country.

Water for agriculture: managing the land and rains in the Ethiopian highlands

21 July 2015

By Andrew Dansie, DPhil Researcher at Oxford University who joined the REACH diagnostic field visit to Ethiopia, June-July 2015.

A seemingly never-ending line of activity crosses the wall of the Gum Selassa dam to the village of Adi Gudem. It is Saturday and women, men and children are ferrying goods, mainly in the form of livestock, to market. Those that have made the longer journey from the east, climbing up from much drier rift valley of the Afar region, are easily spotted with camels in tow.

Adi Gudem is situated 40km south of Mekele in the Tigray region of the northern Ethiopian highlands at an elevation of 2,100m. The Gum Selassa dam is a micro dam built in the mid-nineties with a 12m high earthen dam wall and a reservoir of around 45 hectares when full. Built to provide water for agriculture, two main channels serve approximately 300 irrigators downstream.

Micro dams such as Gum Selassa are being built in Ethiopia to reduce the variability of water availability for agriculture, but are facing severely reduced life expectancy due to sediment filling up the dams, leaving less and less water storage capacity every year. Vast agricultural land use has long replaced native vegetation in the region, which combined with short duration but high intensity rainfall, contributes to the sedimentation problem.

Overlooking the Aba Gerima Learning Watershed with broadened agricultural diversity and terracing reducing sediment flow to Lake Tana. © A. Dansie At the Gum Selassa dam, there is no respite for the camels as they pass by. The reservoir is dry, containing only accumulated sediment which supports a burst of green vegetation, contrasting with the rich brown of the freshly-tilled fields in the surrounds. A number of crops are grown in these fields but the largest by far is teff, a native grain and the staple food of Ethiopia. The grain is ground and fermented then cooked as flat, spongy ‘pancakes’ called injera. Slightly sour in taste but nutritionally high in value and packed with iron, injera forms the base of every Ethiopian meal.

The tilled fields mark the beginning of the wet season with farmers anticipating the first of the rains that come over a short two-month burst. The skies then remain largely dry until the same cycle is, assumedly, repeated the following year. The vast majority of farmers practice subsistence farming. Their small land plots produce enough for feeding themselves but not much, if any, surplus to be sold or stored for years of low yields or crop failure. Read more on the REACH website

27,000 People to benefit from Multiple Village Clean Water Supply Project in Tigray

Young girl fetchs water from a new water point built by the support of UNICEF
The Ebo clean water project benefits 27, 000 people in seven villages including 15, 000 school children with clean water in their school and households. Young girls now can attend school regularly without spending more time looking for water. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Bizuwerk

Ebo, Raya Azebo woreda, Tigray 11 February 2015: A multiple clean water supply scheme in Ebo, Raya Azebo woreda of the Tigray National Regional State goes operational today. The project will benefit 27,000 people in seven villages including 15,000 school children with clean water in their school and households.

The Ebo clean water project, with a total cost of 20 million Ethiopian Birr, is a unique project as it not only demonstrates how investments in long term sustainable water supplies can reduce the carbon emissions from water trucks, but also contributes to making Ethiopian towns and villages greener and healthier for women and children. The project shows how resilient water supply solutions can be implemented in areas where there is low average rainfall and difficult hydrological conditions. In addition, it is 70 per cent cheaper than water trucking which has been the practice previously in the villages.

The Regional Government of Tigray and the woreda Administration of Raya Azebo actively partnered with UNICEF Ethiopia to undertake a detailed technical groundwater assessment to locate deep groundwater which could be exploited for this water supply scheme. UNICEF also called on its large national and international expertise to provide high technical support and mobilised funds from UNICEF Germany to finance the construction of the entire water supply scheme.

Multiple clean water scheme inauguration
H.E Ato Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy and Ms. Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF Ethiopia Representative a.i. cut the ribbon inaugurating the Ebo multiple water supply scheme facilities. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Bizuwerk

Inaugurating the project, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, H.E Ato Alemayehu Tegenu said, “We went to every corner of the possible system to make the voice of water and sanitation heard. And to promote synergies between all those whose mandate mattered to water. Now, our country has made tremendous progress over the past decade in the water and sanitation sectors and lowered the incidence of water-borne diseases significantly. We now have the opportunity to witness such a breakthrough, made possible through the committed effort of the government, development partners, NGOs, the private sector and the community. Raya Azebo Multiple Village Clean Water Supply Project in Tigray region is one of the exemplary project, providing the community with reliable access to safe water.”

UNICEF Ethiopia Representative a.i. Ms. Anupma Rao Singh said, “UNICEF will increase its technical and financial support to the water supply and sanitation sector in the Tigray Region. We also reaffirm our commitment to finance another 3 multiple village water supply schemes similar to the Ebo scheme with the aim of alleviating the burden of water collection for tens of thousands of women and children in the Tigray region.”

Ethiopia has made substantial progress in improving access to water supply and sanitation coverage since 1990. The recent National WASH Inventory data helps to confirm that, with the 2015 prediction of 57 per cent water supply coverage, Ethiopia is well on track to meet the water target of halving the 86 per cent of the population without water. The completion of such cost effective schemes is an indication that the country is now heading into innovative approaches to address people especially the hard to reach areas who are without access to safe water services.

Trilateral South-South Partnership in Water Supply and Sanitation kicked off


South-South cooperation High Level Seminar on Urban WASH and River Basin Management.
Group photo of South-South Cooperation High Level Seminar participants on Urban WASH and River Basin Management, 20 January 2015, Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa.©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Ayene

ADDIS ABABA, 20 January 2015: Today, the Government of Ethiopia organized a high level event to launch a two year South-South cooperation programme between the Governments of Brazil and Ethiopia on water supply and sanitation in Addis Ababa.

Present on the occasion were H.E. Alemayehu Tegenu, Federal Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, H.E Kebede Gerba, State Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Ms. Meseret Yetube, Director of Primary Health Services and Health Extension Programme at the Federal Ministry of Health, H.E. Ms. Isabel Cristina de Azevedo Heyvaert, Ambassador of Brazil to Ethiopia, Ms. Angela Spilsbury, Senior Health Advisor of DFID, delegates from Brazilian Government and members of the media.

The high level mission from Brazil comprised of a nine- person delegation to introduce innovative approaches to accelerate the One WASH national programme and address the three pending challenges namely urban sanitation, urban water regulation and watershed management.

His Excellency Alemaneyu Tegenu, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy and Chairman of the National WASH Steering Committee in Ethiopia began his keynote address by congratulating the Brazilian delegation who travelled a long journey from South America to attend the inception mission for the South-South cooperation programme. He also thanked the Government of Brazil for letting Ethiopian experts visit exemplary reality in their country within the urban WASH to learn from successful models for the development of Ethiopian towns.

H.E. Ms. Isabel Cristina de Azevedo Heyvaert, Ambassador of Brazil to Ethiopia on her part revealed, “This meeting is one of the main benchmarks of my five year term of office as an Ambassador given its strategic importance for the economy and social development. I really consider this to be chance to participate in a meaningful way of the improvement of the quality of life of people and especially women and children, the most vulnerable beings in the society.”

In September 2014, UNICEF Brazil and UNICEF Ethiopia with the financial support from DFID organized a high level delegation to Brazil led by the State Ministers of Health and Water, Irrigation and Energy. The objective of the mission was to get insights on how Brazil has advanced in providing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in urban areas given its rapid urbanization in the last 50 years, which reduced significantly child mortality. During this mission, the government delegates were impressed by the advances made in managing fecal, solid and liquid waste management in small and medium sized towns. Additionally, they learnt how effective regulation can ensure that low income families and marginalised households in urban areas are able to receive affordable water supply.

South-South cooperation High Level Seminar on Urban WASH and River Basin Management.
Ms. Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF representative a.i. to Ethiopia giving a keynote speech at the South-South Cooperation High Level Seminar on Urban WASH and River Basin Management, 20 January 2015, Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Ayene

Ms. Anupama Rao Singh, Acting UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia on her part said, “UNICEF is looking at different technology options, and with the support of the Brazilian experts, we intend to pilot small scale, condominium, sewerage systems which can better fit the needs of small and medium towns in the country. In addition, UNICEF is supporting the development of the Urban Sanitation and Hygiene policy for a more efficient and coordinated efforts in making Ethiopian towns greener and healthier for women and children and the population at large.”

Through the DFID financed One WASH plus programme, UNICEF has been requested by the Government of Ethiopia to lead the development of a national integrated urban sanitation strategy. The South-South collaboration with Brazil will provide expert inputs to enable the finalisation of this strategy.

Ms. Angela Spilsbury, Senior Health Advisor of DFID announced that the UK Government will provide 106 million euros over the next five years to the One WASH national programme out of which, 22 million will be given to UNICEF to address the needs of women and girls in relation to water and sanitation, enhancing the engagement of the private sector and linking water resources management to climate resilience.

“Ethiopia would like to emphasize on enhancing partnership and development such as this since a national strategy on integrated urban sanitation and hygiene is being developed and hopefully ratified very soon”, said Ms. Meseret Yetube, Director of Primary Health Services and Health Extension Programme at the Federal Ministry of Health. “In line with this, the exchange visit we have been doing will definitely benefit our countries not only in the WASH sector but also in other walks of life”, she added.

The delegation from Brazil will visit four regions of Ethiopia in three teams. The first team will visit Adama and Gonder in Oromia and Amhara regions respectively and will focus on the establishment of independent water regulation for urban settlements. The second team, led by Dr. Samuel Godfrey, Chief of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in UNICEF Ethiopia, will visit Tigray with the objective of establishing a “technology transfer” of condominium sewerage for high density population areas. And a third team will visit the Awash basin in the Afar Region to exchange ideas on water resources management. The output of this visit will be a two year collaboration on Water Supply and Sanitation sector between the Governments of Ethiopia and Brazil.

South-South cooperation is a term used by policymakers and academics to describe the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries, also known as countries of the global South. Over the past decade, Brazil´s South-South cooperation with Africa has been growing rapidly and this represents an exemplary initiative of trilateral agreement between the Governments of Brazil and Ethiopia with the support of UNICEF.