By Ayele Addis Ambelu ; +251918718307

There is not enough water. We are dirty enough; we will get messy. There is not enough water for us, the toilet, the yard, our house, or our clothes. It isn’t easy to wash every day.

Fekadu Moreda (Ph.D.) and Tirusew Assefa (Ph.D.) issued the warning during a conference on climate-resilient infrastructure. Addis Ababa’s current freshwater demand is at 1.2 million cubic meters daily, while supply lags at only 40 percent of demand. Only seven of the capital’s woredas enjoy water supply seven days a week.

The current gap between supply and demand in Addis Ababa is HUGE and concerning. Closing this gap requires substantial investment, and even then, such investment must cater to the city’s water needs for the next 20 to 30 years, as is common in typical municipal water supply planning. To address this water crisis, thinking beyond conventional methods and making bold and unprecedented investments is imperative. Addis Ababa’s per capita water usage is expected to rise significantly in the coming years, following the trajectory often observed in developing countries when their economies experience sustained growth. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure an adequate and sustained water supply right from the onset of this economic expansion. Such an approach will not only solve barriers to the city’s economic development but also will be less costly to the city and its residents overall.

Addis Ababa faces a substantial demand-supply imbalance, with only 40% of the required water supply reaching customers. Consequently, the residents of the city are currently in a dire situation, struggling to fulfill their daily water needs – as one resident put it, “በቂ አይደለም። ቆሽሸን ነው በቃ ፤ እንቆሽሻለን ። ምንም አይበቃንም ። ለሽንትቤት ፤ ግቢያችን ቢቆሽሽ ፤ ቤታችን ቢቆሽሽ። ልብሳችን ቢቆሽሽ። በየቀኑ ለማጠብ በጣም አስቸጋሪ
ነው።”. This inadequacy poses a significant challenge, not only for meeting the present needs of residents but also for ensuring future water requirements are met, considering the typical long-term planning horizon of 10 to 20 years needed to build urban water supply infrastructure in cities like Addis Ababa.

Water Shortage Takes Toll on Community Well-being

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, faces significant challenges due to a severe water shortage. The shortage is impacting their daily lives and overall well-being. In a recent interview, residents shared their struggles with limited access to clean water and the negative impacts it has had on their households.

Tewodros, 49, a resident of Addis Ababa, highlighted the difficulties of rationing water usage, leading to the inability to perform basic tasks such as daily showers and regular laundry. This has made it challenging to maintain personal hygiene, adding frustration to their daily routines.

Another resident expressed the constant juggling act of prioritizing water usage for essential tasks like cooking and drinking over other chores like cleaning and watering plants. The uncertainty of when the next water supply will come has added stress and exhaustion to their daily lives.

Furthermore, the water shortage has raised concerns about health issues within the community. With limited access to clean water, there is a higher risk of waterborne diseases spreading. Residents must be extra cautious about the water they use for cooking and drinking to avoid falling ill, creating a constant worry for their family’s health.

The water shortage’s impact extends beyond individual households, affecting the community as a whole. Tensions have arisen as people fight over limited water resources, some resorting to illegal water access. This has increased stress and conflict among neighbors struggling to cope with the challenging situation.

As residents continue to face these hardships, there is a call for solutions to address the community’s critical issue of water shortage. It is hoped that efforts will be made to alleviate residents’ struggles and ensure access to clean and sufficient water for all.

Groundwater shortage and the climate change impacts on residents of the Addis Ababa cities

Groundwater shortage is a pressing issue that residents of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, are facing due to various factors such as over-extraction, pollution, and climate change. As the demand for water increases with growing populations and urbanization, groundwater levels are depleting at an alarming rate. This can lead to water scarcity, affecting not only the availability of drinking water but also agricultural activities and overall ecosystem health.

Climate change exacerbates this issue by altering precipitation patterns, leading to more frequent and severe droughts in some regions. This can further strain groundwater resources and make it even more challenging for city residents to access an adequate and reliable water supply. Additionally, rising temperatures can increase water evaporation rates, reducing the amount of water stored in underground aquifers.

City residents may experience the impacts of groundwater shortage and climate change through water rationing, increased water prices, and potential disruptions to daily life. To mitigate these effects, communities must implement sustainable water management practices, such as water conservation measures, groundwater recharge projects, and alternative water sources.

Researches: Reflection

The study warns that the city’s ubiquitous water storage tanks and heavy groundwater pumping are making it difficult to maintain adequate residual levels and ensure water quality. This week’s new study warns that groundwater drilling is no longer feasible for Addis Ababa as the city’s wells are drying up. The engineering experts who presented the study at a UN conference in the capital this week caution that the city’s water supply is at risk of drying up if groundwater pumping goes unchecked and unregulated.

Supply deficiencies have forced the Addis Ababa Water and Sewerage Authority (AAWSA) to ration water, at least officially, for the last six years. The Authority’s data reveals that only two woredas in Akaki-Kality, three in Arada, one in Yeka, and one in Bole enjoy a steady water supply seven days a week.

The study presented at the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) conference affirms that the data and new polls indicate that most of the capital’s woredas have water flowing in their pipes only twice a week, while some go without water for more than a week. “Things have gotten worse since this plan was put in place six years ago,” Fekadu said.

Tirusew notes that cities such as Tampa, Florida, in the US, previously relied heavily on groundwater, and lakes and springs in the vicinity dried up due to the unsustainable demand.

“The same thing is happening to Addis Ababa, except that nobody knows how much is being sucked out. However, all the pumps take [water] from the same source. Before you know it, uncoordinated and unregulated water use by many will start drying up lakes,” warned the expert.

The study claims that several 250- and 500-meter-deep wells in Akaki-Kality dried up between 2017 and 2019. It cautions that the over-pumping will also soon affect groundwater quality.

Tirusew says the solution is to diversify into surface water and build reservoirs to store excess rainfall. The experts also urge city officials to pass laws to stop unregulated drilling and pumping before it is too late.

They say legislation is required to determine the jurisdictions and roles of the federal government, city administration, Shegger City, and Oromia regional government in water supply. According to the study, establishing an entity charged with assessing and allocating water supply is necessary. The entity would also be in charge of determining roles in water supply. The experts say legislation is needed to determine the financial aspects of water supply and infrastructure.

Reports indicate that many of the capital’s residents buy water from vendors who supply it in 20-liter jerry cans at a cost 23 times higher than rates charged by AAWSA.

“People are paying up to 20 percent of their monthly salary for water supply. Water should not be this expensive or unregulated,” Tirusew said.

The researchers and engineers who attended the conference agreed that the current unsustainable demand and supply gaps make the city’s ambitions of full citywide water supply coverage by 2030 unattainable.

Demand jumped to 120,000 cubic meters a day in 2024 from 100,000 two years prior. Supply remains stagnant at under 60,000 cubic meters daily and is expected to stay that way until 2026. Experts foresee demand reaching 160,000 cubic meters a day by 2030, with supply covering less than 60 percent.

Three water supply projects—Gerbi, Sibilu, and Aleltu—have been behind for the past 25 years.

“These projects should have been built five years ago, but we are still waiting for their completion,” said Fekadu.

Geremew Sahlu (Eng.), an expert at WASH, observes that the lack of foresight poses serious problems.

“In any water supply project, the most natural process is to plan for at least twenty years. The consultant is expected to provide plans for alternatives after a water supply dam’s operational lifespan ends. With that, the supply would continue to grow,” said Geremew.

However, he notes the process was not followed in Addis Ababa’s case, with a project commencing only as its predecessor reaches the tail end of its operational years.

“Gerbi was supposed to commence operations in 2000, so now we are paying the price. The other two [Siblu and Aleltu], and Jehda Meda, are expected to come online by 2030,” said the expert. “But, let me tell you, as a water supply engineer, even if those dams become operational, it will not be enough.”