A solar powered water pump is proving to be a lifeline in helping fight off the coronavirus pandemic for a rural community in Ethiopia.
Months have gone by since the electricity generator shut down in Rob Gebeye, a small mountain community in the Oromia region, and yet secondary school teacher Tullu Abebe still gets nervous when he cannot hear the rumble of the diesel engine that pumped the village’s water for years.
“Then I remember that the sun is pumping the water now. It’s still very surprising,” Abebe says.
The diesel generator was replaced in 2018 by a 36-panel solar water pump, which generates electricity to draw water from the community borehole up to a storage tank. The savings on diesel costs have cut the water rate fee per household down to $0.30 per month, less than half the previous $0.70. It also enabled the community to buy a storage tank with twice the capacity and provide clean water to almost all the 4,000 residents in the community.
Solar panels that power the water pump outside Rob Gebeye, Oromia Region, Ethiopia, which has replaced a diesel-powered fuel pump.
The Rob Gebeye solar water pumping plant is part of the rural water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) component of Ethiopia’s extensive One WASH National Program. The African Development Bank contributed more than a third of the funding for the program, which operates under a Consolidated WASH Account – a pool of financing provided by the Government of Ethiopia and its development partners.
One WASH, launched in 2014, is increasingly seen as critical to helping the country fight off the coronavirus pandemic. Its original objectives included improving the health and well-being of rural and urban communities by increasing sustainable access to water supplies and sanitation and the adoption of good hygiene practices.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way society perceives the importance of water development and sanitation, and has brought to light the relevance of the Bank Group’s efforts to fix the issues that enable sustained benefits from water development and sanitation, for the health and well-being of the people of Africa,” says Wambui Gichuri, Director of the Water Development and Sanitation Department at the Bank.
In Ethiopia, the Bank and other partners’ funding is supporting an ambitious nationwide program intended to serve 110 million people in Africa’s second-most populous country. Other partners include the World Bank, Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), the government of Finland and UNICEF.
A Water.org study found that while 42% of Ethiopians have access to clean water, only a tenth of those people have access to adequate sanitation services. The One WASH program aims to increase access to improved water supplies and sanitation services for residents of participating districts, wards and medium and small towns across the country.
The Bank has provided $178 million to the first phase of the program, out of the total budget of $463 million. The Bank-hosted Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative Trust Fund has extended grants of up to $7 million for One WASH projects. The program focused on serving rural communities frequently plagued by droughts, malnutrition, and waterborne diseases.
“Sustainable water and sanitation services in the rural areas strengthen education, maternal and child health, nutrition and livelihoods. In focusing on the rural environment, we address the WASH needs of over 60% of the population,” says Dr. Beshah Mogesse, Commissioner for Ethiopia’s Water Development Commission. “This has positioned us to better respond to the threat of the coronavirus.”
In addition to solar powered water pumps, One WASH is also embracing safe water development systems including boreholes, hand pumps, diesel pumps, gravity pumps, solar pumps, and electric grid power to bring safe, potable water to Ethiopians. Solar pumps offer low-cost, environmentally friendly and sustainable water delivery, not only in Ethiopia but across the continent, says Osward Chanda, Manager of the Bank’s Water Security and Sanitation Division.
“We want to use solar and other renewable systems wherever we can,” Chanda says. “Renewables reduce the cost of access to water for communities, while mitigating the effects of climate change.”
Solomon Abera, a representative of the Wuchale District in which Rob Gebeye is situated, says waterborne diseases that were common among children have virtually disappeared. Consequently, attendance at Rob Gebeye secondary school, especially that of girls, has increased by more than 80 percent.
“The One WASH National Program did not plan for the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Water Commissioner Mogesse. “But it has prepared us to fight the pandemic better than we would have been without the program, especially in the unserved rural communities.”
Watch our video documentary for an overview of the Ethiopia One WASH National Program.