Home > Feature > Water is Life in the Highlands and Lowlands of Beautiful Ethiopia

Access to safe drinking water is an integral component of sustainable livelihoods projects in Ethiopia. During a recent monitoring visit, Misean Cara’s Project Officer Don Lucey met with missionaries and communities using innovative techniques to maximise water to bring life back in their projects. Read Don’s blog below.


Water is Life in the Highlands and Lowlands of Beautiful Ethiopia

At the turn of the millennium, Ethiopia was the second-most populous country in Africa and the third-poorest country in the world. More than 50% of the population lived below the global poverty line, the highest poverty rate in the world. Thankfully this has dropped to 24% in 2016. A big improvement but still a high percentage living in poverty today in a country with a population of over 100 million people.

In the Ethiopian Rift Valley lies the town of Arba Minch. It lies on the banks of Lake Abaya and Lake Chamo. I went to visit the Spiritans who are working to improve livelihoods and Water sources to remote communities in the verdant highlands of this beautiful part of Ethiopia. Arba Minch means forty springs which supplies the 200,000 people living in the ever expanding town. However, sources of clean water in the isolated villages of the highlands are far and few between, due to the difficulties of the topography and the highland terrain. The livelihood of these village communities is dependent solely on farming livestock, wheat, barley and potatoes with very low productivity.

I saw that the Spiritans are empowering these village communities through the construction of gravity driven water supplies. By using improved seeds of wheat, barley and potato, and introducing improved varieties of heifers, bulls, sheep and chickens they are boosting the production of the livestock, cereal and root crops which the villages depend on for nutrition and income. The project gives special attention to women’s rights by organizing them in to groups of saving and credit associations. I saw that the project provides the women with seed capital to start their own business after they complete intensive training in Adult Literacy and Basic Business Skills. As I spoke with Mrs Amarige Asha (see photo below) she told me that the project had given her 2 sheep (seed capital). She also joined the local saving and credit association which has helped her both socially and financially. She now has 5 sheep and a kitchen garden which grows many nutrient rich fruits and vegetables. She sells the surplus sheep milk as well as the fruits and vegetables in the local market. She proudly adds “I now am able to pay school fees for my three children”.

Mrs. Amarige Asha received two sheep from the project as seed capital. She also joined the local saving and credit association which has helped her both socially and financially. Photo: Don Lucey.

Since 2017, the Spiritans have improved access to water, improved nutrition and household income, for 2,700 households living in these remote highlands of Arba Minch.

Back in the Capital, I met up with the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. They are working to improve the quality of life of the poor and marginalised people residing in Yeka Sub-City of Addis Ababa by increasing their income through basic business skills training and entrepreneurship. The project is empowering 360 beneficiaries in running successful small businesses such as preparing injera for sale (Ethiopian staple food prepared out of teff, local grain), shoe mending, handcraft, preparing spices, dry food preparation, hairdressing, embroidery and tailoring.

The Sisters are also working in the town of Bulbulla, a small rural Muslim town, 3 hours’ drive south of the Capital. It is a stark contrast to the high-rise buildings and cool temperatures of Addis Ababa to the low-lying and sweltering heat of Bulbula. The population is mainly Muslim. The Daughters of Charity educate over 2,500 Muslim children in their Kindergarten and Primary School. Due to climate change and the diversion of water to the Rose industry, the water table has dropped and the local river has dried up.

This photo was taken in 2016 of the Ziway River when water was plentiful and animals could graze there. Photo: Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.
Today due to climate change and the diversion of water to the Rose industry, the water table has dropped and the local river has dried up. Photo: Don Lucey.

Another problem is the high levels of Fluoride in the water. It’s affecting the local population causing dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis — diseases caused by high levels of consumption of water with fluoride content. I noticed how most of the older children in the primary school had teeth tarnished black. They told me that “along the rift valley region, nearly 14 million people are likely to be affected by fluoride.” The Sisters have installed a new borehole with a water filter system which filters out the fluoride making it safe for the children to drink.


Sr. Geraldine Henry (MDO) and Sr. Abeba Kidane (Project Manager) from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and local Water engineers show off the new water point with filter system. Photo: Don Lucey.

On my last day in Ethiopia I visited the Irish embassy and met Patrick McManus, Head of Development Cooperation Embassy of Ireland. He spoke very positively about Misean Cara members and the great work that they do to serve the people of Ethiopia. He said that “The Irish Aid programme here in Ethiopia is Ireland’s largest bilateral cooperation programme. We are happy to work with Misean Cara and Irish Missionary groups in Ethiopia working in a range of projects and programmes in health, livelihoods, resilience building, and working with very poor and vulnerable communities’ right across Ethiopia…Given our government’s recommitment to expand our ODA development assistance around the world and given the great needs in Ethiopia the funding will expand in the years ahead. The role that grassroots missionary groups play here in Ethiopia is very important to tell us what is actually happening amongst people and their communities on the ground.” Over the coming years let Misean Cara and its members continue to do great work in Ethiopia serving the furthest behind.

Photo Caption: Sr. Abeba Kidane (Project Manager) from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and local Water engineers show Misean Cara Project Officer Don Lucey the new water point with filter system in the town of Bulbulla, a small rural Muslim town, 3 hours’ drive south of Addis Ababa. Photo: Misean Cara.