Ethiopia builds capacity to implement Climate Resilient Water Safety Plans

January 2020

Photo by Trevor Cole on Unsplash

As a result of climate change, Ethiopia faces increasing severity of drought and flooding and the desperate need to strengthen the management of drinking water sources. A majority of drinking water contamination in water sources across the country results from seasonal and flash floods,  which are anticipated to increase as a consequence of climate change. In an effort to address the susceptibility of vital drinking water sources against increasingly unpredictable weather conditions, new resilient water management techniques must be undertaken in both rural and urban settings.  

In response to this mounting challenge, Ethiopia has established the Climate Resilient Water Safety Plan (CR-WSP), the first national risk management approach to water in the face of worsening drought and flood conditions. The plan creates a framework to decrease the incidence of water borne diseases by improving the operation, maintenance and quality testing of drinking water sources. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Water Irrigation and Electricity, and in conjunction with partners such as UNICEF, WaterAid Ethiopia, Community Water Sanitation and Hygiene (COWASH), German Agro Action, Millennium Water Alliance and Drop of Water, CR-WSPs have been piloted in ten towns’ water supply and sewerage enterprises and six rural community-managed water supplies. 

The approach addresses grassroots water management, centred around the training of local water management officials in both urban and rural settings to ensure water sources have the capacity to adapt to stress and change. Five day trainings are undertaken, beginning with an assessment of the entire chain of water provision, from source to household level. Involving communities supports the development of a deeper understanding of their own water supply. Subsequently, incremental improvement plans are developed and a baseline water quality testing conducted. Communities are engaged with the entire process,  assessing their own threats and bringing awareness, ownership, and locally appropriate solutions to the challenges of water provision.

Alongside flooding, communities battle with unsafe water storage practices at household levels and inadequate sanitation. The CR-WSP implementation guidelines for community managed rural drinking water supplies and guidelines for urban managed piped drinking water supplies were finalized in July 2015, establishing a set of best practices for all involved in water management, including operators, caretakers, water quality technicians, environmental health workers and natural resource experts.

From 2018-2019, an external information audit in the pilot sites was undertaken. Audit findings show CR-WSPs have motivated water supply enterprises to give due attention to the safety of drinking water, and that successful implementation is dependent on leadership, staff commitment and support from partner organizations. In late 2019 these findings were disseminated at a workshop to create a common understanding of how to build on success and enhance implementation.

Stories from the field are promising, demonstrating CR-WSP trainings are already making an impression on communities across Ethiopia. In one case, CR-WSP training led a community in the Meskan woreda district to mobilise resources and dig a 250 meter diversion ditch, safeguarding the main water source for its 6,000 residents from intensive reoccurring flooding hazards during rainy season. In Butajira town, CR-WSP training prompted the establishment of a mini laboratory and appointment of a water quality technician to conduct regular water quality monitoring for a utility serving more than 50,000 people. In this instance, highly compromised water sources were identified as a result of poor storage and water handling proving resiliency measures must be taken across the entire cycle of water management, from source all the way to household level. Other activities resulting from CR-WSP trainings include the construction of fences and secured gates around water sources, reservoirs and public water points to reduce the exposure of water sources to solid and liquid waste, the covering of manholes, trading out old rusted water reservoirs, replacing damaged or galvanized pipelines, and the construction of roads to water supplies to facilitate community access to water sources .

Advancing the provision of safe and adequate water supply ensures a future for Ethiopians with fewer water borne diseases, despite worsening climate conditions. Ethiopia exemplifies these principles through national efforts to build communities which adapt to climate change and create resilient and robust mechanisms for the management of their own resources.