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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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,
“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
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.