In a single day last July, Ethiopians turned out in huge numbers to plant more than 350 million trees in what was thought to be the largest tree-planting event in history.
It was part of an ambitious national reforestation program to plant 4 billion trees across 1.5 million hectares nationwide over three months.
Ethiopia’s “Green Legacy” tree planting blitz gave 19-year old Mamu Alemu an idea: to start a tree nursery on land next to his family’s home. An African Development Bank-funded water scheme in his town of Tefki gave him the opportunity to become an entrepreneur.
Until just over a year ago, Alemu’s business plan could not have taken root in Tefki’s arid soil. The town of 12,000 people, about 30 kilometers southwest of the capital Addis Ababa, had implemented water rationing that limited families to fetching water from its four water points only twice a week. Enterprising water truck owners sold water of dubious quality from their tankers, at a premium.
“Before this new water came, I could not imagine doing something like this,” said Alemu as he watered seedlings from a long hose. “Before this, we could barely afford enough water to drink.”
The ‘new’ water, made available by the Bank-supported project, has enabled Alemu to cultivate 6,000 seedlings that sell for 40 Ethiopian Birr each (about $0.12) and he expects to earn about $700 from the current crop. Alemu says he intends to use the money to pay for his education and help his parents educate his three siblings as well.
Tefki’s residents say the town’s old water system storage tank had a capacity of just 25 cubic meters, totally inadequate for their needs. The new water scheme has more than doubled the storage capacity and provides continuous clean water to the town.
The project has tripled the number of private household water connections from 300 to 900; doubled public water points to eight and added two public sanitary blocks - one with showers - to Tefki’s water and sanitation infrastructure. Tefki authorities cut the cost of running the water scheme by connecting its pump to the national power grid, instead of using a diesel generator, which has also helped to reduce pollution.
“This increase in water supply will help Tefki enormously in the area of sanitation as we prepare to face the challenge of the coronavirus,” said Daniel Korbu, coordinator of the Tefki water scheme.
The project is part of a large-scale water development and sanitation project in Ethiopia called the One WASH National (OWN) Program. The program is run with pooled financing from the Government of Ethiopia and its development partners.
The African Development Bank is contributing $95 million of a total of $463 million to the program, with the balance also financed by other development partners. The Bank is also separately funding the Four Towns Water Supply and Sewerage Improvement Program with a loan of $76.11 million.
The Bank-hosted African Water Facility is providing $3 million in funding for a sanitation value chain demonstration project in Arba Minch, another Ethiopian city. The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative Trust Fund, also embedded in the Bank, has provided grants for projects worth up to $7 million throughout the country.
Twenty-three-year-old Gizaw Tafa also took advantage of the OWN Program to start up a car washing business in Tefki. Previously unemployed, Tafa’s investment in a water tap, a rubber hose and some washing brushes has already yielded dividends. He washes about 20 cars a week, charging 50 Birrs per vehicle.
“I’m saving almost all of my income because I want to expand this business, get a better location and attract more customers,” said Tafa. “I want to wash all the cars in Tefki and from neighboring towns,” he added. He will need to work fast, as there are already two other car wash startups in town, run by youths like him.
“This is how the OWN Program is supposed to work,” said Kasahun Beyene, Senior Adviser to the Ethiopian Water Development Commission, who recently visited Tefki’s young entrepreneurs. “Transforming lives one person at a time, and one community at a time. These are gradual changes, but they are also more sustainable changes, and these people are not likely to return to lives of poverty.”