When women no longer have to walk for water

Fatima lives in the community of Aramis in north-eastern Ethiopia

Fatima, aged 35, has 8 children. She lives in Aramis, a pastoral community in the remote, semi-desert region of Afar in Ethiopia.

The people here don’t have access to water.

There is a broken hand pump in their village, but even when it was working the water was too salty to drink, and could only be used for washing clothes. 

To collect water, the women have a four-hour return trip to the nearest river. They have to take their young children with them; babies have to be carried. On the return journey they will carry a 20 litre jerry can on their back – unless they have a baby, in which case, as well as carrying the baby, they carry 10 litres on their back, and a 5 litre can in each hand.

A woman carrying water in Ethiopia
Fatima carrying water back to the village

Women have so much to do, we have so much responsibility.

It’s a woman’s role to collect water – along with collecting firewood, cooking, cleaning, and looking after children. They collect water before breakfast so when they return they are tired and hungry, and still have to complete their other chores.

All the boys and many of the girls are registered for school but they aren’t going because there is no water at the school.

For communities like this, everything depends on access to water.

If people – particularly women – have better access to water, that’s the springboard for improvements in many other areas of life – from health (families are healthier) and education (children can go to school) to women’s economic empowerment (freed from having to spend the day collecting water, women have time to take on income-generating activities).

Take the example of Ferehenu, another community in the Afar region, where CARE has been implementing a water project with UK Aid Match funding.

A community meeting under a tree in Ferehenu, Ethiopia
The community in Ferehenu, Ethiopia, gather for a meeting

People in Ferehenu used to rely on a hand pump to draw up water from underground. These hand pumps are physically demanding to use – meaning they couldn’t be used by children, elderly people, or pregnant women – and they also broke a lot. 

When the pump wasn’t working, women had to find water at local rivers where the water carries pollution and disease. When this wasn’t possible they had to dig a hole in the sand and wait many hours for the water to come – to seep into and begin to fill the hole. This meant water collection might take up to 8 hours.

Small hole dug into dry riverbed in Ethiopia
The start of the process: a hole is dug in the dry riverbed (pictures from the riverbed used by people in Aramis village)
Hole filling with water in dry riverbed in Ethiopia
The finished hole starts to fill with water
People collecting water from hole in riverbed in Ethiopia
Women and children collect the water from the water-hole

CARE’s project has created a brand new water system. A solar-powered pump has replaced the hand pump. Pipes will connect the pump to a water tank which will feed two water points. The water tank holds 25,000 litres – which will mean the community will have access to water 24 hours a day.

Solar panels and water pump in Ferehenu, Ethiopia
Solar panels and the rig for drilling a borehole and installing a water pump in Ferehenu
Pipe being laid to water tank in Ferehenu, Ethiopia
Pipes being laid to carry water from the pump to the water tank
Water tank in Ferehenu, Ethiopia
The water tank that will provide water to the community of Ferehenu

Asawka, one of the women in the community whose daily life will be transformed by the new water system, told us:

To compare the hand pump to the solar powered pump is like comparing night to day.

But who looks after the water system and makes sure it continues to work? The answer is: a water management committee, made up of members of the community. A monthly fee is agreed by the community and paid by all households – the community decide if they want to pay per household or per jerry can. The committee then uses the funds to manage the running and upkeep of the water system. As Medina, who is chair of the water committee, explains:

We have the benefit of finance – a bank account with money for maintenance as people pay for water. The water committee members know their roles and responsibilities.

The technical knowledge to maintain the system is the biggest challenge – which is why the project is also training 13 people across the region with the technical expertise to maintain the systems.

But what does improved access to water really mean?

Three girls standing outside homes in Bilu, Ethiopia
Abahina, Hesna and Medna outside homes in Bilu

Just ask Abahina, Hesna and Medna. They live in Bilu, another community where the CARE project has installed a new water system. This is what they told us:

Before the water source was here we had a hand pump but it was often broken so we had to travel to the river. We would do this before we went to school and it would take about 3 hours.

“We would get up about 5am and sometimes we would arrive back late so would have to miss school. We would run to school to try and get there in time but if we were more than 20 minutes late we would get hit with a stick and sent home.”

If we had collected water we would be really tired at school and it would be hard. Now we don’t have to worry as we can get water at 3pm after school finishes and we find it much easier to focus as we aren’t as tired.

A man in Bilu, Ethiopia
Awaldo, a community leader in Bilu

Awaldo, from Bilu, explains how the water project is helping to bring the community together, and offering new opportunities for the future:

The benefits are not just directly from the water supply.

“Before, communities were dispersed due to lack of facilities, whereas now they are coming together. There are currently 160 households [approx. 800 people] with more arriving due to the water access.”

Before, the community was being held back. I hope the future holds better livelihoods.  

A woman filling jerry cans in Bilu, Ethiopia
A woman collects water from the water point in Bilu; the solar panels and a water tank can be seen in the background

So far under this project:

  • 1,000 households (5,000 people) have been given filtration systems to filter water from rivers
  • construction of 6 water schemes is underway
  • 3 reservoirs and 2 solar panels are complete

Walk In Her Shoes

Do you want to help create this sort of change? Then why not Walk In Her Shoes this year?

Walk 10K steps a day for a week from 16-22 April

Register for just £5 and get your friends to sponsor you – with the funds you raise going towards projects to help women and girls reach their full potential.

And what’s more, as part of our Help Her Live, Learn and Earn campaign, all the funds you raise will be doubled by the UK government, with the UK Aid Match funds going towards a new project in drought-affected northern Tanzania that will help farmers (70% of them women) to grow more food, using less water. So it’s never been a better time to Walk In Her Shoes.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.