South-South Cooperation: Brazil shares models for universal access to water and sanitation services in urban Ethiopia

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Opening session of the two-day seminar in Brasilia, Ministry of Cities. ©UNICEF

Brasilia, 14 October 2014. – Within the framework of  the Brazil–UNICEF Trilateral South–South Cooperation Programme, the Government of Brazil hosted a high-level mission of the Government of Ethiopia between the 15th and the 20th of September. The objective of the mission was to get insights on how Brazil has advanced in providing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in urban areas, which has reduced child mortality significantly.

Ethiopia is currently urbanizing at a 6 per cent rate per annum and is predicted to become one of the most populous urban nations in Africa by 2050. Thus, the Ethiopian Government is expected to face complex challenges in terms of expanding access and improving quality of WASH services for its growing urban population, especially for the most vulnerable groups. Through the visit, Ethiopia is keen to learn from Brazil, a country that has faced rapid urbanization over the last 50 years.

The delegation was composed by high-level government officials from Ethiopia, including Dr. Kebede Worku, State Minister of Health, Mr. Kebede Gerba Gemosa, State Minister of Water and Energy, and Mr. Wanna Wake, General Director of the Water Resources Development Fund and Member of the Parliament. In addition the mission included representatives from the Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction; Oromia Water, Mines and Energy Bureau; Amhara Water Resources Development Bureau; Water Resources Development Fund; Tigray Water Resources Bureau;  Somali Water Resources Development Bureau and World  Vision Ethiopia as well as Samuel Godfrey, WASH Section Chief, and Michele Paba, Urban WASH Manager of UNICEF Ethiopia.

The Brazilian Ministry of External Relations, through the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation and the Brazilian Ministries responsible for the planning and implementation of the national WASH policy (namely, the Ministry of Cities, the Ministry of Health through the National Health Foundation, the Ministry of National Integration, the Ministry of Environment and the National Water Agency)  worked together with UNICEF to prepare the agenda for the visit, which included  high-level meetings and field visits, in order to provide  the Ethiopian Delegation with an overview of the water and sewage systems in Brazil at the national, state  and municipal levels.

The opening session of the two-day seminar, which took place in Brasilia from 15th to 16th September, was inaugurated by Senior officials of the Brazilian Government, the UNICEF representative in Brazil and DFID Brazil Country Office Manager. The session focused on exchanging ideas on how both the Ethiopian and Brazilian WASH sectors are structured.

After the seminar, field visits were conducted in Fortaleza (capital of the Northeastern State of Ceará) and surrounding municipalities, including Sobral and Santana, where the Ethiopian Delegation was  warmly greeted by the Mayors and the community, who opened their homes to show the delegation how the water and sewage systems are installed at the household level as well as how they benefit each citizen.

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Field visit to Storm Water Cisterns in a rural community of the Ceará State. @UNICEF

On the last day of the mission, the delegation visited the water treatment plant of the Water and Sewage Company of the State of Ceará (CAGECE), and met with its President, who explained the state’s strategy for providing services through public-private partnerships. This meeting was followed by a presentation and discussion with the State Regulatory Agency for these services.

The mission was accompanied by Mr. Marcelo Lelis, Project Manager of the National Secretariat of Environmental Sanitation of the Ministry of Cities, and Ms. Michelle Correia, Coordinator of Technical Cooperation of the National Health Foundation of the Ministry of Health, and in Fortaleza by the Superintendent of National Health Foundation, Mr. Regino Antônio de Pinho Filho, besides other technicians who were available to assist the delegation and answer technical questions at all times.

As concrete results, by the end of the mission, the representatives of the Ethiopian Government identified key areas in which technical assistance from the Government of Brazil would benefit Ethiopia, by sharing knowledge and building capacities of policy makers, managers  and technicians on how to develop WASH integrated policy, implement management models  and regulatory schemes for service provision, drawing on Brazilian models like the Integrated Rural Sanitation System  (SISAR) and the social tariffs.

As pointed out by His Excellency Ato Kebede Gerba, State Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Ethiopia, “Brazil is a learning center for urban water and sanitation.”

Dr. Samuel Godfrey from UNICEF Ethiopia further noted that “Brazil offers a good learning ground for African nations such as Ethiopia, as its recent developments are understandable and obtainable in Africa’s emerging economies.”

Water and Energy Nexus: Workshop discusses the linkages of water and energy on World Water Day (WWD 2014)

By Demissew Bizuwerk

State Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy H. E Ato Kebede Gerba delivering a keynote speech on World Water Day at Desalegn Hotel Addis Ababa.
State Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy H. E Ato Kebede Gerba delivering a keynote speech on World Water Day. The Sate Minister highlighted that the Government of Ethiopia is facilitating the development of policies and crosscutting frameworks that bring ministries and sectors, leading the way to interlinked energy security and sustainable water use. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

In commemoration of World Water Day (WWD) 2014, a workshop discussed the linkages of water and energy on 21 March 2014 at Desalegn Hotel Addis Ababa. Participants from the Ministry of Water Irrigation and Energy, UNICEF, Hilton Foundation, and other stakeholders also drew attention on addressing inequities, for people who live in slums and impoverished rural areas and survive with little access to sufficient food, safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, and energy services.

State Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy H. E Ato Kebede Gerba said, “The Government of Ethiopia aims to facilitate the development of policies and crosscutting frameworks that bring together ministries and sectors, leading the way to inter-linked energy security and sustainable water use in a green economy”. He also noted that Ethiopia is working hard towards achieving its Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) for water and irrigation sector. According to the GTP plan, a household in the rural area, has to have a supply of about 15 liters of safe water per person per day in 1.5 km radius.

Dr Samuel Godfrey’s presentation of the 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR)
Dr Samuel Godfrey’s presentation of the 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR) stressed that those who lack access to improved water sources and sanitation are often the same people who also lack access to energy. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

UNICEF Ethiopia Chief of Water and Environmental Sanitation, Dr Samuel Godfrey, presents the highlights of the UN flagship report on water: 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR). The report provides a detailed analysis of the complex inter-linkages between water and energy in the context of sustainable development.  According to the report, more than 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity, and nearly 2.6 billion use solid fuels (mainly biomass) for cooking. In addition, those who lack access to improved water sources and sanitation are often the same people who also lack access to energy.

The 2014 WWD celebration has the objective of raising awareness on the relationship between water and energy. Moreover, improving water and sanitation as well as conservation and proper use of water is vital for life.

WWD has been observed globally since 1993 and in Ethiopia since 1994. The UN General Assembly in 1992 declared March 22 as “World Day for Water” following its environmental and development conference held in Rio de Janeiro, also known as the Rio declaration on Environment and Development.

Safe water and sanitation services for South Sudanese mothers and children

By Demissew Bizuwerk

Fetching safe drinking water in Tirgol town
South Sudanese asylum seekers fetching safe drinking water in Tergol town, Gambella region of Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

TERGOL, AKOBO WOREDA (GAMBELLA REGION), 15 March, 2014- As the searing heat of the afternoon sun begins to ease, a group of women carrying jerry cans and plastic buckets start to descend into a small compound where they have access to clean water from two water points. The small compound is one of two sites where UNICEF has installed two emergency water treatment facilities (EMWAT kits) through its implementing partner, ZOA International, in Tergol town, in the Akobo district of the Gambella region, western Ethiopia.

Tergol is a small town by the Akobo River that marks the border between Ethiopia and South Sudan. Tergol has been under the spotlight since mid-December last year after thousands of South Sudanese asylum seekers crossed over into the town after being displaced by conflict in Africa’s youngest nation.

According to UNHCR, close to 66,000 asylum seekers crossed into Ethiopia by the beginning of March 2014. Akobo has received 34 per cent of this number, which is the second largest arrival rate after Pagak where 33,000 South Sudanese civilians displaced by conflict have entered. These asylum seekers are in a critical situation and need immediate humanitarian assistance including the provision of clean drinking water and sanitation services.

In Tergol, the host community has entirely depended on the Akobo River for its water needs as there has never been a facility to provide safe drinking water. However, this situation has been recently improved. With UNICEF’s support, EMWAT kits have been built and are now supplying clean drinking water to the Tergol community as well as to the thousands of South Sudanese asylum seekers. Water from the nearby river is purified and supplied by the first reservoir built by the emergency kit, the purified water is then transferred into a second reservoir where it is chemically treated before it is reticulated to the water access points. Each EMWAT kit has a capacity for providing 20,000 litres of clean water and the kits can be re-filled every two hours depending on the rate of demand.

Safe water for mothers and children

Nyathak Minyjang (with black dress), one of South Sudanese asylum seekers, comes to the water point at least three times a day.
Nyathak Minyjang (with black dress) comes to the water point at least three times a day. She fetches water for cooking, bathing and drinking. The emergency water treatment facility which is built with the support of UNICEF provide clean drinking water to South Sudanese asylum seekers and the host community in Tergol ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwork.

While the women gather around the water points, they talk to each other as clean water fills their buckets and jerry cans. The women then help one another to balance the vessels on top of their heads.

When it is Nyathak Minyjang’s turn, a 25-year-old mother of four, she places her plastic bucket under the tap and holds the hose down to pour in the clean water. Prior to the response, Nyathak had lived on the South Sudan side of Akobo before coming to Tergol with her four children. Her only previous access to water was a river. She never imagined that she would have access to clean drinking water from a tap. “We used to drink water from a river. My children would regularly get sick and I would get sick too”, she says. “The quality of the water here is very nice.” Nyathak comes to the water point at least three times a day.  She fetches water for cooking, bathing and drinking. Most importantly, she applies the lessons she learnt about personal hygiene from community hygiene promoters. She is also keen to keep her children clean.

Nyarout Gazwech, a 21-year-old mother of two boys, is also very happy about the supply of clean water. She came from the South Sudan city of Malakal a month and a half ago, leaving her two brothers and her mother behind when the conflict intensified.  During her long trek to Tergol, she and her children had no option but to drink unsafe water. “My children were having diarrhoea after drinking the river water.  Here we have clean water and my boys will not get diarrhoea again,” she says.

Comprehensive WASH approach

UNICEF in partnership with UNHCR, the Government Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), the Gambella Region Water Bureau, and its implementing partner ZOA supports the provision of safe water to the host community and asylum seekers in Tergol. UNICEF’s response has followed its Water Sanitation Hygiene (WASH) strategy by increasing equitable and sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation services, as well as promoting improved hygiene in Tergol.

“We are providing clean water to the asylum seekers and to the host community. Furthermore, we teach them about safe hygiene practices such as the importance of hand washing and using latrines,” says Nigussie Yisma of ZOA who is coordinating the WASH interventions in Tergol.

Apart from Tergol, UNICEF also supports WASH interventions at the entry point in Pagag and in the Lietchor refugee camp. One EMWAT kit has been installed at the Pagag entry point and is providing clean drinking water to the asylum seekers and the host community.  Similarly, five shallow water wells have been drilled in the Lietchor refugee camp to increase access to a sustainable source of clean water for the refugees.  Moreover, water purification chemicals and emergency sanitation facilities are being distributed while hygiene promoters continue teaching the community and asylum seekers about safe personal and environmental hygiene practices.

Local capacity building

A women in Tergol town, Akobo Woreda, carries water to her home.
South Sudanese asylum seeker in Tergol town, Akobo Woreda, carries water back from a water point built with the support of UNICEF ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Bizuwerk

When the emergency response was launched in January 2014, community hygiene promoters were trained and they taught the community and asylum seekers about the benefits of safe hygiene practices. Furthermore, 40 communal latrines have been built in close proximity to the host community as well as where asylum seekers are staying.

“We have been taught about personal hygiene and the importance of hand washing before cooking and after using the toilet,” says Nyathak “They [hygiene promoters] also told us this can prevent our children from getting diarrhoea.”

In order to keep the facilities running smoothly, local water technicians have been trained on the management and maintenance of the water facilities to safeguard smooth operation. The water technicians are responsible for regularly monitoring the water levels and the quality of the drinking water.

Water purification chemicals and accessories are also readily available to the community.

Clean and safe drinking water is essential for life and is also bringing renewed hope for people like Nyathak and Nyarout after being displaced by the conflict in South Sudan.

Ethiopia celebrates Global Handwashing Day

By Demissew Bizuwork

Global Handwashing Day celebrated at Menilik II Preparatory School, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Global Handwashing Day 2013 was celebrated in Ethiopia on 1st November 2013 under the theme “More than just a day-The power is in your hands”

Global Handwashing Day 2013 was celebrated in Ethiopia on 1st November 2013 under the theme “More than just a day-The power is in your hands”. The event was colourfully marked in Menelik II Primary School where officials from the Federal Ministry of Health, UNICEF, partner organizations, religious leader`s, and the school community all came together putting the emphasis on the importance of Handwashing with soap at critical times.

Washing Hands with soap can reduce the risk Diarrhoea by up to 45%
Washing Hands with soap can reduce the risk Diarrhoea by up to 45%

Though Handwashing is a simple practice, global facts indicate that an estimated 1,400 children under five die every day from diarrhoeal diseases caused by a lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene. In Ethiopia, diarrhoea accounts for 14 per cent of child deaths or an average of 106 children every day. Diarrhoea is also the second largest cause of under-five mortality both globally and in Ethiopia

Led by the renowned artist Sileshi Demissie, who is also hygiene and environmental activist, the school kids performed very enticing songs and drama on Handwashing. Officials and students alike were also involved in the easy to do task of Handwashing demonstration so that the behavior would be practiced regularly by the school children.

Ethiopia aims to ensure access to basic sanitation for all citizens by 2015, with 80 per cent of communities declared open defecation free, and that 77 per cent of the population practice Handwashing at critical times. Deputy Representative of UNICEF Ethiopia Ms Patrizia Di Giovanni on her message stressed that UNICEF is supporting the Federal Ministry of Health to develop National Handwashing Communication Guidelines. The guidelines will help mobilize mass interest among communities, especially children and youth, in making Handwashing with soap or ash a national social norm.

See pictures from the event here

News coverage by Ethiopian Television

Speech by Patrizia Di Giovanni, UNICEF Deputy Representative to Ethiopia, on the day

Hold your breath… Water and Sanitation is about to go big in Ethiopia

Ethiopia needs more than 18,000 water professionals and technicians to implement the world’s largest sector-wide WASH Programme. Learn why you should be one of them!

By Dr. Samuel Godfrey, UNICEF Ethiopia Chief of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)


Wubalem Asmamaw, 17, makes the short 20min journey to fetch water for her family in Machakel district, Amhara region, northern Ethiopia (©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ose)

Meet Wubalem Asmamaw, a 17-year old girl who lives in Machakel district of the Amhara region in Northern Ethiopia. Five years ago and like millions of girls her age or younger up and down the country, Wubalem used to spend more than three hours a day travelling to and from a nearby dirty river just to fetch water for her family. She would often run late or even miss her classes at the nearby elementary school not only to spend the day looking for water, but also to stay home and care for ill parents, siblings, and/or neighbors.  Her parents, who make a living from subsistence farming in the lush teff and wheat growing fields of West Gojjam, spent their hard-earned income on buying medicine.

For those years at least, Wubalem lived a life of fear. Fear that the lush, but open fields on her way back from the river might unleash a thug who might abduct and force her to marriage at the age of 12. Fear that she would be thrown out of school for skipping classes. Fear that one of her parents or siblings might fall sick again from diarrhea and miss many days of work in the field. And most important of all, Wubalem feared that her dreams of finishing high school and then studying to become a doctor might end prematurely.

When I met Wubalem two months ago at a recently-rehabilitated water point in her village, there was no fear in her eyes. Thanks to a water point that was built by the support from the European Union and UNICEF, Wubalem’s commute to fetch water has been reduced to just 20 minutes.  Instead of pessimistic predictions about her future, Wubalem talks about the new things she learned in her biology classes and why no one in her family or her neighborhood has fallen ill from diarrhea in the last three years. Why? The water they now drink every day is not only safe, but is enough to wash hands before and after meals and keep the family toilet clean at all times. After scoring top grades in her class early this year, Wubalem is also already looking forward to the last two years of high school not with fear, but with the passion of a teenager who loves school!

Sounds like a fairytale, right? This story is what we in the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) sector work for and use to remind ourselves why we do what we do. Our job is not just about constructing and/or helping rehabilitate urban and rural water and sanitation facilities in every village and district, but also see millions of empowered young boys and girls ready to continue Ethiopia’s hopes of becoming a middle income country by 2030. We envision a country of many Wubalems- healthy, educated, and economically-empowered citizens ready to lift millions of their compatriots out of poverty.

This week, we take our current reality closer to our vision when Ethiopia launches the world’s largest Water and Sanitation (WASH) Sector Wide Approach (SWAP). Termed ONE WASH and supported by UNICEF, the international donor lead for WASH in Ethiopia; this huge undertaking terms ONE WASH National Programme (OWNP) brings together four national ministries- Water and Energy (MWE), Health (FMOH), Education (MOE), and Finance and Economic Development (MoFed) – in an innovative approach designed to meet Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation (GTP) and universal access ambitions.

But what does this really mean?

Like UNICEF, there are many development partners and stakeholders which work in WASH. From the smallest Civil Society Organization (CSO) which collects enough money to build a small hand pump to the largest multilateral and development partners like UNICEF, the World Bank, DFID, African Development Bank (ADB), Government of Finland, JICA, and the European Union which fund million-birr community water schemes, every organization works in WASH, but in their own different ways. They have different priorities, different monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, different reporting requirements, and varying amounts of funding and financial reporting systems.

With ONE WASH, this will be no more. As the experience of countries like Mozambique where I previous worked as Chief of WASH for UNICEF suggests, combining efforts accelerates efforts to meet both GTP and the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG 7) which is providing universal access to water and sanitation. It also helps reduce duplication of funding, efforts, and priorities. With ONE WASH, all stakeholders work together to produce one plan, all contributing to a consolidated WASH account at federal, and producing one report.

And it does not stop there!

Successfully implementing ONE WASH requires over 18,000 additional skilled personnel of all types across the country. More contractors, water technicians, drilling companies, and higher education programmes with larger intake are all needed in the next 5-10 years.  Based on my experience in other countries, I see the WASH sector personnel in Ethiopia becoming a bit like what is currently happening to X-ray technicians at the moment- there simply aren’t enough of them! And those who currently work as X-ray technicians are increasingly demanding higher wages and flexible working hours so that they can take on additional part-time work.

Ethiopia needs more contractors with well-trained and sufficient workforce of technicians, engineers, and office staff to meet its lofty water and sanitation goals. It needs more students in universities tackling subjects like Water Engineering, Water Technology, Sanitation Engineering, and others. Given the demand and forseeable shortage of professionals, I see these fields competing and perhaps winning the battle to attract talented students straight of high school. And this is not just about installing water schemes in remote parts of the country. This affects everyone from your small town favorite plumber to the ambitious school or hotel that uses solar energy to power its water pump.

Rest assured, the WASH sector is the place to be in Ethiopia for the next 5-10 years.