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Where is Ethiopia going with Self-supply Acceleration?

Published on: 08/04/2015

This blog post was prepared by Sally Sutton - previously coordinator of the Rural Water Supply Network flagship theme on Self-supply - who returned to Ethiopia in March 2015 to participate in the My Water, My Business events linked to the World Water Day celebrations. Sally has earlier supported the Ethiopia government in developing its approaches to Self-supply, ever since the well-known Wolliso workshop in 2008.

Ethiopia is beginning to embrace Self-supply Acceleration (SSA) as one tool in the armoury of rural water supply strategies to reach universal access. National workshops, regional seminars, and training workshops are starting to cascade down an appreciation of what households can do for themselves to improve their own water supply. Water sector professionals tend to start off sceptical as to how the Self-supply approach can make any difference, but where it is beginning to take hold the potential scale of change becomes apparent.

Oromia region has a rural population of over 25 million, and was the first region to adopt the idea that people could begin to add to the investment that the state could make by bringing water supplies nearer to their houses. Reports that this has led to the construction of over 33,000 traditional wells in the past two years and the improvement (to include installation of a low cost pump) of 3,400 more, all through the efforts of individual households, point to the scale that can be achieved.

Other regional water bureaux and some NGOs are now seeing the potential. A national seminar and a Trade Fair of suitable technologies held over the three days of the World Water Day in March this year has both accentuated what options are available and highlighted the importance that government attaches to the inclusion of this supplementary approach in rural water supply strategy. It was followed by a three day training workshop for regional bureaux staff who maybe would be more convinced by what they could see on the ground than from all the rhetoric, but were comforted by seeing the support that government wished to give and the importance that they attach to bringing about leverage of additional investment from local users themselves. As one mechanic in Southern Region was heard to say ‘ Before tasting, nobody can talk how much honey is delicious. Self-supply is like that, before I started to use the rope pump, I didn’t expect these all benefits which I am enjoying now. Rather, I was worrying about the price of having the Rope pump scheme. Its proximity to my family makes it very easy to fetch water at any time we need.’[1]

Whilst there is still some belief that Self-supply Acceleration is simply the introduction of low cost technology (especially the rope pump) this to some degree can act as a vehicle to get in place the wider and truer objective of building up a service delivery model which supports many options of bringing water nearer, safer and more sustainably to households in line with the proposed Sustainable Development Goals. These households share with their neighbours so that the benefits derived by those who invest are spread more widely among those less fortunate or with less initiative. The differences from standard community supplies are that people can copy what they see, not waiting on the vagaries of donor interest, but using new, higher quality services and technologies which are affordable and allow incremental improvement. The resulting supplies augment community managed systems and will only grow up where households really perceive a lack, or inadequacy in those.

Several conundrums remain. If people are urged to form groups can this prove as sustainable as individual ownership? If a subsidy of 50% is available, for what should it be given? – all work and materials or just the 50% of the value of materials so that people become accustomed to raising cash as well as their labour? How can people in remote areas be best encouraged to reach levels of well protection which can count towards coverage? How can small groups use water productively as well as for domestic purposes? Can HHWT be included in loan and subsidy packages to encourage up-take/ demonstration?

The next year or so will show whether SSA is an approach which can fill in the gaps in districts which already have 90% coverage as well as speeding up progress in those which are less well served.  It will also give the opportunity to see whether small group or household led initiatives are more successful, and whether either or both embrace the idea of being able to move up the ladder progressively towards safer, more convenient and reliable supplies largely through their own investment.

[1] Self Supply News. No. 7. Feb 28 2015. Self Supply Working Group (SSWG) of Ethiopia.

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