Program to Serve Thousands Launched in Ethiopia

Lifewater continues Oromiya regional effort with new program to reach over 27,000 with water, sanitation, and hygiene in southern Borena Zone, Ethiopia.

A new program designed to reach forty-three communities with water, sanitation and hygiene, including six schools, began this month in the far southern Borena Zone of Ethiopia. Borena is known for its chronic drought conditions and pastoralist communities that must migrate to follow available water sources for much of the year. The program aims to significantly improve health and education for over 27,000 people through Lifewater’s mWASH projects over the next three years.

Lifewater Program Director Dr. Pamela Crane-Hoover points out that by serving in the Oromiya region in central and southern Ethiopia for the past nine years, Lifewater project designers and implementers are able to use experience with specific cultural and linguistic practices. “Lifewater has been working in this region since 2005, and we’re continually learning better ways to engage with the traditions and beliefs in communities in this area. Our experience gives us a running start for this new program, so we can reach more people, more effectively,” says Crane-Hoover.

Borena is among the least served regions in the country with water and sanitation, with coverage considerably lower than the overall national rates. Less than one-third of Borena residents has access to a consistent supply of safe water. Unreliable rainfall allows most of the southern region to remain a dry, desert landscape for most of the year. Nomadic family groups move with their herds in search of water and live at the mercy of available water.

Without a reliable source of safe water, thousands live with chronic illness, malnutrition, high rates of infant mortality, and lack of access to education. According to a 2010 study, diarrhea is responsible for fourteen percent of deaths in children under-five years old in Ethiopia. Eye infections and blindness also affect a significant number of children in Borena due to the lack of water to wash faces and hands.

The new program will result in sustainable safe water sources for forty-three communities and six schools through a combination of improved water systems, including protected springs, drilled wells, underground cisterns, and rainwater catchment. Trained WASH Committees, comprised of men and women from each community, remain responsible for operation and maintenance of the water system, establishing a user fee collection process that aids independence and longevity.

Additionally, demonstration latrines in each community will encourage over 2,500 households to build their own latrines, improving sanitation and decreasing disease transmission. One billion people practice open defecation worldwide. In Lifewater’s most recent program in the region, household latrine coverage increased from 32% to 87%, reducing incidence of diarrhea in children under-five by more than 50%.

In-country program staff and volunteers will train a combination of health workers and teachers, who in turn work in communities and schools to train hundreds more, reaching every household and classroom with potentially life-saving knowledge about handwashing and healthy hygiene practices.

“Borena is a difficult place to work because it is remote and very dry, but we have seen enormous impact on the lives of people there – families are able to stay together, spend their time in more productive labor, and kids are attending school for the first time ever,” says Lifewater CEO Justin Narducci. “The region is a mix of Muslim, Orthodox Christian, and traditional beliefs, but we’ve seen transformation in how neighbors work together to secure water and health for the community,” he adds.

The program beginning now is scheduled to conclude in September 2017, having accomplished 100% coverage of water, sanitation, and hygiene in affected schools, a 65% decrease in the amount of time spent gathering water at households, and a 50% reduction in incidence of diarrhea among children under-five.

Lifewater International is a non-profit Christian water development organization dedicated to effectively serving vulnerable children and families by partnering with underserved communities to overcome water poverty. With experience in more than 40 countries since 1977, Lifewater serves people of all faiths, focusing on contextually appropriate water sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) development. For more information, contact Christine Zurbach ( or visit Lifewater International is based in San Luis Obispo, CA.

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