Alemitu Matteos’ back spasmed with pain.
At seven months pregnant, Alemitu was walking a journey she took daily – an eight kilometre trek with a 20 litre container tied to her back – to get water.
Like the majority of people in her community, Alemitu walks to the traditional, unprotected well every day, no matter if the sun is scorching or the rain is pouring. Her seven other children rely on the water she brings.
But on that day, Alemitu remembers the pain being too great. Her back ached more strongly than ever before. Her stomach was cramping. She says, she knew it was a heartbreaking omen.
“I felt a bad pain in my stomach and visited the health centre. The doctor told me that it is an [miscarriage] due to long distance and load of water that I used to carry and travel. I was so shocked and cried. I passed three days in health centre for medication,” she remembers with a pale face.
Alemitu and her seven children live in the Jore village of Kedida District of Durame Area Development Programme (ADP) in southern Ethiopia where 64 per cent of the population suffers from lack of potable water.
And by no means is Alemitu the only victim of this appalling situation.
“Of the six children I have, almost all of them are affected with various water borne diseases. Especially two of them were severely ill and were treated at Durame Health Centre several times. I incurred quite a huge bill for their treatment,” explains the 50-year-old Beletech Gonjolie, another older woman from Jonche village using the water from Chancha well.
At the Chancha well, a ladder descending four to five metres into the earth leads down to the well. One man climbs down to the opening of the well and draws water. He returns up the rungs, carrying the container and when he reaches to the top, finally hands it to another man who is near the opening of the well.
The opening of the well is slippery. Unless the person receiving the water is vigilant, he will fall down in the well and could die. A beneficiary of the well told me that one man fell down in the well years ago and died while trying to receive a jerry can of water from a man down at the foot of the well.
But from February to May, the well dries up. Instead, women travel to Shone, a journey of 12km back and forth, or to Durame, 8km from and to, to fetch water for their daily consumption. The long distance, long queue for a jerry can of water at the water point, coupled with the weight of water that they carry on their back wears women out and multiplies their agony.
“I lose stamina and enthusiasm to do house chores when I come back to home after such a long distance trip in the stone backing sun. My days will turn into dusk without any rest,” Beletech desolately explains.
Lack of potable water is also contributing to school drop outs. Some children are expected to take the responsibility from their mothers when their mothers pass away or face some sort of physical challenge.
The 15-year-old girl, Mimi Abebe, is a case among hundreds. She had to quit school when her mother died and provide water for the family.
“As fetching water takes four to five hours of my time, I had to quit school from Grade 5 and do my best to ensure my little siblings have access to water,” Mimi regrettably explains.
One of the worst problems affecting children in Jore village is waterborne disease. Diarrhoea and all kinds of ramifications of intestinal parasites are some of the rampant waterborne diseases tormenting the people in the various communities within the ADP.
“Of the total population visiting our health centre, 25 per cent of them are victims of waterborne diseases. Children under five are the most affected ones,” says Desalegn Bokie, head of the Durame Health Office. Of the total number of people who visited the health centre in the last year, more than 8,000 of the children under the age of five were diagnosis with waterborne diseases.
Unless solution is taken from concerned bodies, the situation will go on aggravating people, leaving the life of children and women with intolerable risks.