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Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

Real lives

Small water purifiers make a major difference in keeping Ethiopian children and

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2003
Dereje Abdeta, a UNICEF consultant, checks pollution levels in the Awash River

Dereje Abdeta dips a bucket into the polluted waters of the Awash River to take a sample just a few metres from where a group of young herders have brought their cattle to drink.

“The water is highly contaminated with organic material. We have tested it, and a there is a lot of bacteria,” says Mr. Abdeta, a consultant working for UNICEF’s Water, Environment and Sanitation [WES] section for the central and southern regions of Ethiopia.

But help is at hand. As part of its emergency water response, UNICEF is bringing safe drinking water to the people of Awash-Malkasa, Ethiopia using water purification equipment received as a contribution from the Norwegian government.

Since June 2003, 10 units have arrived in Ethiopia. Five have already been installed and are up and running in Oromia, Somali, Afar and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples regions.

Ten more units, which cost about $17,000 each, are scheduled to arrive early this year.

“We will put this equipment where there are high health risks and diarrhoea in emergency areas and where there are highly polluted ponds and rivers,” says Mr. Abdeta.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2003
Children water cattle from the same source used for drinking water

Science gives nature a hand

The same water purification technology has been used all over the world from Afghanistan and Mozambique to the former Yugoslavia in the aftermath of natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and volcanoes, or man-made ones like war.

“The Norweigan government asked our company, Plastec AS, to assist after UNICEF said there was a need for clean water in Ethiopia,” explains Steinar Langedahl, who is overseeing the installation of purification equipment.

“These are small units, easy to handle, even for unskilled personnel, and they work for nearly every kind of water source. If used properly, you can run them for about 10 years,” he adds. “Minor repairs can be done here. For bigger repairs, Plastec AS can supply the parts.”

The metallic hum of the pump powered by its diesel engine fills the air and can be heard over the mooing of the nearby cows. Water from the river is pumped through tubes into a chamber where water purification tablets are added. These bind to the sediment particles, making them bigger and easier to separate from the liquid.

The water flows through two filters where the sediment is filtered and the water is chlorinated. The purified water is then channelled into two large tanks, which provide safe drinking water for nearby villages.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2003
Workers involved with the project in Awash-Malkasa check the operation of one of a water purifier.

Clean water stops spread of diseases

This area of Awash-Malkasa was selected for the project after a joint water supply assessment was conducted by the Ethiopian Zonal Water Bureau and UNICEF between May and July 2003. 

“If we get more units, we can increase water supply coverage and reduce water-borne diseases, as purification saves a lot of lives during drought or flood emergencies,” says Haile Gashaw, Assistant Project Officer for UNICEF Ethiopia’s WES section. “We face a lot of diarrhoea and cholera in such areas, and with this equipment we can reach people immediately.”

The system can process an average of 4,000 litres of water per hour. Highly polluted water takes longer – 2,000 to 3,000 litres per hour. Each unit can provide for between five and 10 litres of drinking water for 5,000 people per day.

“Safe water can really change people’s lives. I’ve talked to many women who say it makes a big difference. They say they have less waterborne diseases and diarrhoea,” says Lillian Wikstrom, an advisor for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as she inspects the purification system equipment in Awash-Malkasa.

“It’s inspiring to see our efforts taking off on the ground. People are really satisfied, and it’s sustainable. It’s the best payback anyone can have.”



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