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The Ethiopia Water Crisis: Facts, Progress, and How to Help

More than 62 million people are impacted by the Ethiopia water crisis; in fact, 7.5 percent of the global water crisis is in Ethiopia alone.

But, it’s not just about water. Unsafe sanitation and poor hygiene practices, combined with a lack of access to safe water, contribute to the spread of disease. In Ethiopia today, more than 97 million people do not practice proper sanitation. Without safe, enclosed bathrooms, families in very remote villages have no choice but to go outside, which leads to water contamination and a significant impact on the health of the community.

Though daunting, the water crisis does not define Ethiopia. Data shows that out of every country in the world, Ethiopia is projected to be the fastest growing economy in 2019. The country is ever growing and changing, and people are rising to the challenge to create better, healthier lives.

Below are the top facts you should know about the Ethiopia water crisis today and how you can help bring it to an end.

Ethiopia Water Crisis 2019 Facts

1. A Third of the Population is Without Safe Water

The Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP), a global database of water, sanitation, and hygiene data, reports that 31 percent of the Ethiopian population relies on unprotected water for their daily needs. That’s 32 million people.

Another 28 percent of the population has what JMP deems “limited” access, meaning the water is likely safe, but it takes over 30 minutes to retrieve it because of distance, overcrowding, or both.

In total, that is 62 million people living without basic access to safe drinking water.

2019 Progress Update

The country is experiencing a water crisis, and everyone from the national government to small charities, the United Nations, and communities themselves are working to solve it. As a result of concerted efforts, Ethiopia has made substantial progress.

In the year 2000, 75 percent of the population relied on unsafe drinking water. That percentage has been cut in half in just 15 years and continues to fall.

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ethiopia water crisis
A child in Ethiopia holds safe water in her hands.

2. Nearly a Quarter of the Population is Without a Toilet

The JMP reports that 22 percent of people in Ethiopia are practicing what’s called “open defecation” (OD), the act of using the bathroom in fields, forests, or along the countryside.

In these communities, human feces are washed by the rain into rivers, springs, ponds, and swamps—places where a third of the population is gathering their drinking water. This creates an unsafe environment, especially for children.

Families that drink this contaminated water experience waterborne diseases and pay expensive fees for treatment at local clinics and hospitals.

2019 Progress Update

In the year 2000, nearly 80 percent of Ethiopians were using the restroom outside and in the open. In 2017, that number dropped to 22.35 percent.

To accomplish this, many communities developed structures called “pit latrines.” These bathrooms, by definition, have four walls, a roof, and a door to keep flies out. These structures help keep disease from spreading.

3. Almost Half of the Population Has No Handwashing Facility

JMP regards “basic” hygiene access as the “availability of a handwashing facility on premises with soap and water.”

In Ethiopia, 41 percent of households have no handwashing facility at all. Most people, 51 percent, have a handwashing facility but no reliable source of water or soap. The remaining 8 percent have “basic” access, meaning they have access to a facility with soap and water.

This makes maintaining healthy hygiene and sanitation extremely difficult for most communities in Ethiopia.

2019 Progress Update

Data shows that the hygiene problem in Ethiopia has largely remained the same from 2012-2017, when the data was last collected. However, in Ethiopian communities where Lifewater works, over 78,000 people (since 2016) have built simple, home-made structures called “tippy-taps” at their homes.

Each day, more Ethiopians are getting access to hand washing and improved health.

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ethiopia water crisis
A girl washes her hands at a homemade hand washing structure called a “tippy tap.”

Help End the Ethiopia Water Crisis

Lifewater’s Vision of a Healthy Village model for addressing the water crisis is facilitating significant progress for safe water, improved sanitation, and hand washing in every country where Lifewater works. Through house-by-house visits, Lifewater staff come to know the families in villages in need across the globe. They work together to adopt critical health practices and ultimately, build a safe water source in their community that lasts for generations.

In West Arsi, Ethiopia, recent advancements promise health and hope for the entire region.

Still, Ethiopia has a high mortality rate caused in part by the WASH problem in the country. One in every 17 children do not live to see their fifth birthday, and diarrheal disease is the leading cause of death in Ethiopia.

This is entirely preventable, and exactly what Lifewater’s model has proven to help resolve in remote, hard-to-reach villages. Results from an in-depth survey of Lifewater’s first complete program cycle in West Arsi, Ethiopia, show that diarrheal disease was nearly eliminated. Lives were saved. Children were healthy, and families rejoiced.

Join us in partnering with communities across Ethiopia, Uganda, Cambodia, and Tanzania. Change is possible, and you can help end the crisis in your lifetime.

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Lifewater International is a Christian non-profit clean water and community health organization committed to helping children and families living in extreme poverty thrive. Learn more about Lifewater’s Vision of a Healthy Village program and the unique contributions local churches, governments, leaders, and families make to build a healthier and more productive future for their children at lifewater.org.

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