From less than 20% of the population having access to clean water in 2000, the figure has risen to 68.5% today
Ethiopia has tripled people’s access to safe drinking water in the last 10 years in one of the most significant signs of environmental progress. New government figures suggest that over 90% of people in urban areas now live within 500 metres of a fresh water source in urban areas and two in three people in rural areas are now within 1.5km.
The remarkable turnaround of the provision of a basic service in Africa’s second most populous country (after Nigeria) – from under 20% overall clean water access in 2000 to 68.5% today – has cost around $745m since 2005, said water minister Kebede Gerba in an interview with the Guardian. Domestic money has been invested but much has come from official aid, World bank loans and non-government groups, he said.
“It costs around $33 per person to bring clean water to communities, and we estimate that around 22.5 million people have benefited since 2005,” said Gerba. “The investment in water has saved thousands of lives, and improved health, education and living conditions for millions of people. Waterborne diseases have been greatly reduced, and it has led to major economic benefits.
“Many communities, and especially girls and women, used to have to spend hours fetching water. A lot of time was wasted. Now there are as many girls as boys enrolled in schools.”
The official data shows that progress towards meeting millennium development goal 7 – to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to clean water and sanitation by 2015 – is accelerating. In 1990, only 15% of the rural population in Ethiopia had access to clean water and by 2004 this had declined to only 11%, according to Unicef. Last year, more than 20,000 Ethiopian villages were newly connected to improved water supplies and sanitation, compared with around 9,000 in 2006 and fewer than 3,000 in 2000. In total, nearly 120,000 villages are said to have benefited since 2005. The country is now ahead of schedule to meet its official MDG7 target of 70% overall accessibility by 2015.
“Ethiopia has certainly made progress in access to water and sanitation, starting from a very low base,” said Sarina Prabasi, country representative for WaterAid in Ethiopia. “But millions of Ethiopians are still without access to these basic services and there is still a lot to be done. Particular areas that need more emphasis are in ensuring the sustainability of water schemes that have already been built, ensuring investments are reaching the hardest-to-reach populations, and linking water and sanitation with other sectors such as health, education and food security for greater impact.”
The figures compare favourably with rapidly industrialising countries with vast human and financial resources. In urban areas of China, 96% of people now have access to piped water supply, while the share in rural areas is only 76%.
They also buck the trend in the sub-Saharan African region where few countries are expected to meet the 2015 targets because of high population growth, low government spending, and political instability.