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Downpours during the kiremt season keeps the city drenched, yet residents in certain parts of the city complain that they have poor or no water access. Clever individuals, however, are figuring out how to turn a profit by meeting the demand of eager neighbourhoods, writes HADRA AHMED, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER. 

Drenched in Rain, Yet Water Taps Run Dry:Opportunity for Business?



Girls carry 25 litre jerry cans full of water to their respective homes.

As Addis Abeba experiences heavy downpours during the month of August, paradoxically parts of the capital have suffered intermittent water shortages. With the unpredictable rains of the kiremt season, which lasts from June to September, some are capitalising on the water shortage that households are facing.

Neighbourhoods situated on the peripheries of the city, such as Bethel located in Kolfe Keranio District, often struggle because of scarce water supply, and residents now resort to other sources of water for their households and businesses.

Five years ago, Getu Alemu, 25, came from the Gurage Zone, 155Km south of the capital, in search of a job to support his two sisters and two brothers during their academic years, as well as to support his parents. Today, Getu testifies about the remarkable business he has been engaged in for the past three years.

He strides with his three donkeys, each carrying two 25-litre jerry cans, and walks two kilometres singing his favourite tune to fetch water from the spring. His plan is to distribute it to his customers who are eagerly waiting for him because they badly need water to keep their businesses a float. When he does not go to the spring for water collection, he buys the water from those who sell him water for two or three Birr for one 25 litre jerry can, which he then sells to his regulars for twice as much.

Getu’s income affords him the relative luxury of renting a 300 Br room with three other friends and he is grateful for his job as the unofficial water distributor of Bethel.

In the chaotic weeks of water shortages, which occur more than three times a month, Getu sells 25 litres of water at a price of ten Birr. His clients are mostly restaurants, cafes and sometimes households.

He used to sell 25 litres of water for three Birr when he started the business three years ago, but looking at the high demand for water by the local residents, and the increasing standard of living, he has decided to raise his price accordingly. 

On a good day he earns as much as 300 Br. Getu’s services require him to make about five round trips a day, and since each donkey carries two jerry cans, this amounts to six jerry cans for every round. He always uses all three donkeys to maximise his load and profits for each tiresome trip. 

Although he is the only water man left in the area today, Getu was once engaged in the water delivery business alongside two other individuals, who were also making good profits. He believes that his former competitors have moved to other areas, and are now leading good lives. Getu is not sure, however, why his competition have left the area.

“We have good sales, but we are mostly scared of continuing our business because there are some people who are resentful of our gains, even though they also benefit from the water we provide; but they don’t see it that way,” he asserted.

Getu and others like him, despite their detractors provide valuable services to households and businesses that have few options in times of water cuts.

The total water supply of Addis Abeba amounts to 301,000 cubic metres a day, out of which 165,000 cubic metres is from Legedadi Water Treatment Dam, 25Km east of Addis Abeba in the Oromia Regional State. About 30,000 cubic metres is from Gefersa Dam, located 28Km west of the capital in Oromia, and the rest is from 54 water wells mostly located around Akaki Kality District, which supply 115,000 cubic metres a day.

About 20pc of the water being distributed by the authority is wasted, while 15pc of the supply is utilised and is a source of revenue. The Addis Abeba Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) has developed a plan to decrease the 35pc non-revenue water to 13pc by 2013, according to the authority’s plan.

Almaz Solomon, 40, lives around Alem Bank located at Kolfe Keranio and shares Getu’s dilemma. Almaz, a mother of three elementary school children, and her husband is employed at a private company employee. She is apprehensive of the rumours that are spreading around about government plans to start forcing small businesses to pay tax. 

Almaz sells water in containers ranging from 10 litres and 20 litres to 25 litres and 30 litres, charging one Birr, two Birr, three Birr and four Birr, respectively. In one day, Almaz claims to have earned 28 Br, selling water from two 30-litre containers, five 25-litre containers, two 20-litre containers and one 10-litre container. Her business is dependent on the high demand of water from her customers because she sells at a higher price than others because she has to feed her family.  

“I don’t have any other job, and yet I know I have to support my husband in any way I can, and when a great opportunity like this shows up, I take advantage of it,” Almaz explained how the water cuts have been a stroke of luck for her and her family. 

Unfortunately for Almaz, AAWSA has a plan to increase water coverage from 73pc to 94pc using the 54 water wells which have a capacity to produce 73,000 cubic metres of water. The authority has invested half a billion Birr, and this project will be completed on October 2011.

The authority envisions increasing the 94pc coverage to 100pc within two years by developing 44 wells, 20 wells will be dug by the city, and 24 will be financed by the Chinese Exim Bank with 92 million dollars. In order to meet the full demand of the city’s water needs, an estimated 420,000 cubic metres to 450,000 cubic metres water is needed.

The authority served 350,000 customers by the end of the last fiscal year, with 5,000Km in total pipelines length.

About 40pc of the population had access to safe water, according to the federal government of Ethiopia in 2005.

However, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and local non-governmental organisations, the figure was closer to 22pc.

WHO estimated that only 13pc of the population had access to sanitation. Ethiopia’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for improved water and sanitation access are 70pc and 56pc, respectively, according to a research conducted by USAID.

The projected water resources consumption per person in 2015 is 1,006 cubic metres. This water resource per capita is a straight-line regression calculation based on population growth rates with no adjustment for consumption or technology changes, the report further states.

Despite the measures towards attaining universal coverage to 100pc, water cuts and lack of adequate provision have left many to their own devices. This is evident when one looks at the long lines of people of different ages waiting to purchase water from the one place, offering cheaper rates, on a rainy Tuesday morning on August 9, 2011, in Bethel.

The people carrying their assortment of jerry cans of different sizes, looking tired and cold yet still optimistic that they may have the opportunity to one day have as much water as they need with little hassle. For Hayat Mohammed, however, this is currently a thriving business.

Hayat, 26, who came from Dessie, 401Km north of Addis Abeba, six years ago after her parents died, now lives with her uncle and relies on the sale of water whenever she gets the chance.

Hayat secured 200 Br at the beginning of August. She sells water from 10 litre, 20 litre, 25 litre and 30 litre containers for 50 cents, 75 cents, one Birr and two Birr, respectively. But since her water metre is registered for commercial use, she claims that she pays about 500 Br each month whether she sells water or not.

Unlike other residents, Hayat gets water every single day with no cuts while her next door neighbours or the ones facing her house, only get water access once or twice a week. For her, it is a way of getting an income and supplementing her business. Water vendors like Hayat, feel that they are providing a valuable service to the community.

“There are times that I want to stop selling water because it is not as profitable. I prefer moving on with my other businesses. I continue doing this because I feel it is good to help those who do not have water,” Hayat said.

There are about 5,246 households living in Bethel area with 1,253 living in the three condominium sites.

The households living on the third and fourth floors do not have regular access to water, and sometimes they have to wait for as long as two weeks for water to return. The households mostly complain about the issue because they find it hard to cope with their daily activities.

 “We understand the problem but since Bethel is under expansion it is expected that residents will encounter these kinds of problems,” Wondwossen Lehulum, deputy manager of Bethel district, and design and construction works head, told Fortune.

“There are ongoing projects and construction works that might cause the shortage since accidents sometimes occur and pipes are broken or damaged. These things happen,” said Wondwossen.

There are various reasons that explain why the shortage occurs, problems which the government as well as the population should work on, according to experts in the area.

Omer Ahmed, an inventor of waste water recycling system and a civil engineer who works as a researcher believes more serious studies need to be conducted. 

Another factor for the problem is the rapid rate of urbanisation, experts indicate.

“For instance, residential water supply used for lavatories averages a loss of seven litres per flush, which is a big loss for a developing country like Ethiopia,” experts point out.

According to Addis Abeba Water and Sewage Authority, consumption per person is 110 litres per day and if one person properly uses only 40pc of their water consumption they stand to save 44 litres a day, Omer said.  

Sharing Omer’s sentiment a researcher and an expert in the area of water from WaterAid offered more factors for the shortages in association with sanitation.

“One of the main reasons for the shortage, according to research, is that we waste a significant amount of our water supply,” a water engineer who asked to remain anonymous, told Fortune.

‘‘There should be a modernised way of distributing water,” he said.

The problems in relation to water distribution range from global problems such as climate change to institutional challenges. The knowledge gap of water experts, and problems of congested housing make it difficult to locate and mend broken water pipes.

As Addis Abeba works towards attaining city-wide access to water, the rapidly expanding city coupled with the construction boom would no doubt continue to add pressure on the provision of water, opening opportunities for entrepreneurs like Getu, Almaz and Hayat to continue to fill the gap in water distribution, while turning a significant profit.





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