Rehabilitation of Borehole Saves Thousands of Lives and Livestock during Drought

By Ayuko Matsuhashi

A signboard on the sight of rehabilitated borehole
A signboard on the sight of the rehabilitated borehole ©UNICEF/2017/Tsegaye

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[1] 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.

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Roda Ahmed, 35 years old and Rahma Ahmed, 30 years old collecting clean water from the on-site water point ©UNICEF/2017/Tsegaye

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.

Pastoralists come to Harshim town from neighbouring woredas and Somalia looking for water
Hundreds of livestock come from all over the Harshim woreda and drink water at the on-site trough ©UNICEF/2017/Tsegaye

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.

[1] traditional water harvesting pond

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.