Water: A Few Sobering Thoughts

  • More than half of Africa's people lack access to safe drinking water, leaving them vulnerable to water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid and infectious hepatitis. Health care is often inaccessible, too. So water-borne diseases often go untreated and millions, especially young children, die as a result each year.
  • Whatever the quality, water is in short supply. In rural Africa, people use four to nine gallons of water a day — per person — for all domestic purposes. In Chicago, Ill., people use 265 gallons a day per person.
  • Food production suffers from water shortage. Of all the renewable water available in Africa each year, only 4 percent is used — because most Africans lack the wells, canals, pumps, reservoirs and other irrigation systems that cost money to build but that are needed to make use of the potential water supply.

A new well in Dollossa

The scene of horrendous famine in the mid-1980s, Ethiopia has a naturally dry climate, with rainfall only six months of the year. Most Ethiopian farmers — in fact, most African farmers — depend on rain to irrigate their crops. There simply are not enough pumps, pipes and year-round water sources, such as wells, to ensure a steady supply of clean water. Building new wells is a proven way to avoid crop failure and famine during a dry spell or prolonged drought.

In late May 1992, when Africare drillers struck water in Dollossa, Ethiopia, the village burst forth in celebration.

“The news spread like brush-fire,” a local paper reported. “Water had been found and the people's age-old dream had come true. Women ululating and children cheering, the festivities began. A Dollossa elder said never in his lifetime had he seen such merriment in the village. It was no wonder, for the people had been bitterly suffering from lack of water for many years.”

Typical of many villages in Africa, Dollossa is rural, isolated and without mechanized transportation of any kind. Prior to Africare's intervention, it had no well.

To obtain water during the long dry seasons, its people had to walk great distances — 3 miles to a stagnant, seasonal pond or 5 miles to the nearest river — every day. The water was infested with mosquitoes and parasites. During a drought, even this supply evaporated.

With Africare's help, village volunteers built a clean, permanent water system.

The system included the well itself, protective casing and screening, a pump, and structures for storage and distribution. With training from Africare, the villagers have been able to maintain the water system on their own.

The Dollossa area's 20,000 people and 40,000 head of livestock will have clean water for many years to come.

Africare has for decades helped to develop permanent water sources like the Dollossa well, which nourish crops to feed families even when the rains don't come. “Clean, potable water,” the Ethiopian paper went on to note, “boosts productivity and, as a result, improves our whole vision of life.”

Other Water Projects

  • Africare has helped develop permanent water sources throughout Africa since the organization's founding in 1970.
  • In 1994, Africare mobilized the village of Konga, in Mali, to build three dams. This six-month effort brought 250 new acres of rice fields under cultivation. Africare workers taught more than 500 villagers how to cultivate the rice, maintain the new dams and manage the new floodplain, which they continue to do today.
  • In 1992, Africare launched the largest emergency water program ever conducted in Southern Africa — combating what became the worst drought in the region's recorded history. Africare field workers and African villagers built wells, pumps and other water distribution systems in 600 villages of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, bringing water to more than 500,000 people.