April 19, 2010
Below is an article published by Belfast Telegraph :
Deborah McAleese visited Ethiopia to find out about the work that the Japanese International Co-operation Agency is carrying out to bring clean water to one of the world’s hungriest, most water deprived countries
A cloud of orange dust swirls around Mihret Tsfay’s bare feet as she strolls in the blinding afternoon sun, past a row of mud huts, towards a small enclosure that has become this Ethiopian village’s oasis.
It does not look like much, but a small well and water pump, almost hidden from view behind a wooden fence, is a lifeline for the 500 households in Konga village in the Oromia region of central Ethiopia. For the first time ever the villagers here have access to clean water.
“Before the well was constructed I walked for one and a half hours every day fetching water from a small spring up the mountain. The spring was oozing and was susceptible to contamination. We used to get sick and the children used to get sick because of the parasites in the water,” said Mihret (25), a mother-of-three.
“But we are getting clean water now. It is safe for us to drink and I do not have to walk every day up the mountain.”
The water from the well, which was constructed as part of a ground development programme by the Japanese International Co-operation Agency, is rationed. Mihret is allowed 80 litres per day for her family of five. The UN minimum acceptable standard is 50 litres per person.
But Mihret and the other villagers are among the lucky ones. At least half of Ethiopia’s population still do not have access to clean drinking water.
Like much of Ethiopia, Konga village relies heavily on rain water for farming and when there is poor rainfall, the small amounts of food the village is producing must be rationed.
“Last year there was a big drought and there was a shortage of food. When there is lack of timely rainfall it can be a problem. Even in good times we are vulnerable,” Esaya Betane, a 17 year-old maize farmer explained.
But while people like Esaya and Mihret must cope with their small rations of water, the Ethiopian government is wooing foreign investors with offers to lease 3m hectares of arable land, an area around the size of Belgium.
While Ethiopia remains one of the hungriest countries in the world, with more than 13m people needing food aid, much of this fertile land is being used by rich countries and some of the world’s richest people to export food for their own populations. Large scale flower farms owned by foreign companies are also beginning to spring up around Ethiopia for the exportation of cut flowers.
What will soon be one of Ethiopia’s largest greenhouses is currently being developed by a Saudi billionaire businessman who has leased vast amounts of land outside Awassa. Still under development the structure, which is used to grow food for export, already stretches over 20 hectares.
The Ethiopian government says that these land deals are attracting hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign investment and tens of thousands of jobs and have denied the deals are causing hunger.
However in the state of Oromia, where just 46% of the population has access to clean water, the president of the Oromia Studies’ Association, Haile Hirpa, recently wrote to the UN secretary general to protest that Indian, Saudi Arabian, Egyptian, South Koran, Chinese and other Arab investors were active in the state.
“This is the new 21st-century colonisation. The Saudis are enjoying the rich harvest, while the Oromos are dying from man-made famine as we speak,” he said.
By exporting these crops and flowers these businesses are also exporting thousands of gallons of water a year, leading critics to claim that by selling land, the government is also selling water.
Local government officers in Ethiopia told the Belfast Telegraph that foreign companies that set up flower farms and other intensive farms such as coffee farms have yet to pay any money for their water usage.
“We would like to charge them, but the deal is made by central government. They are using too much water, especially the coffee farms as coffee production is one time water usage. The more exported coffee there is the more we have water problems,” one officer said.