A dirty stream stems from Ethiopia’s Awash River, a lifeline for locals and their main water source for bathing, washing, cooking, and drinking. Ethiopia is reeling from the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa in 40 years, and the northern Afar region is no exception.
Clean water is a luxury many cannot afford, said Semera resident Aisha Ali.
“My children suffer from skin diseases and are always ill because the water we use is not clean,” she said. “Some children even die because of this unsafe water.”
Khadijah Hamidah lives next to the river and said her children also suffer from illnesses and disease because of the dirty water.
“This is the only choice we have. All our children and families use this water,” she said.
But it’s not just villagers who are struggling with a lack of clean water.
Dubti General Hospital, the only functional medical center in Afar, is overwhelmed with patients.
Its acting head, Dr. Yusuf Muhammad, said the hospital also is suffering from the clean water shortage.
“Sometimes, we may not get the water,” he said. “Sometimes, some of the elective surgery cases are stopped or postponed due to lack of water. Surgical site infections are there because there’s no adequate water. Patient attendants are using rainwater. There’s a nearby river. They are using river water. It is not safe.”
The Afar region’s water bureau says it is struggling to address the water shortage and that it tries to provide filters.
Fatuma Haissema, who works with the Afar Water and Energy office, said many boreholes have been dug, but that they couldn’t be utilized because of a shortage of fluoride.
“The fluoride level (in the boreholes) was below the WHO standard, and we were forced to close the wells,” she said. “The cost of filtering the water is high and beyond the capacity of our office.”
Relief comes when clean water is trucked in by aid groups and the regional government.
Fatuma Omar, a resident of Semera, said the locals are relieved they can get trucked water.
“Previously, we would buy water and carry it from the city center,” she said. “One jerrycan costs about 40 cents (20 birr). It was expensive and tiring. But now, we get clean water, so this is good for us.”
The relief is only temporary, however, as the truck quickly runs dry, and people have to wait for the next one or are forced to risk using water from the river.