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Building everyday climate resilience in Ethiopia

Record-drought in Ethiopia has forced women and girls to often have to walk for hours to find water. All photos by Sarah Easter/CARE.

Record-drought in Ethiopia has forced women and girls to often have to walk for hours to find water. All photos by Sarah Easter/CARE.

Climate change is here now in Ethiopia. Sudden heavy rains have caused flooding and landslides around the capital city of Addis Ababa, while in the nearby Amhara region, drought has forced women and girls to walk for hours to find water.

Already by 2017, roughly 23 million people here had insufficient income to meet their food needs, and by 2021 an estimated twenty percent of the country’s 120 million people had become severely food insecure.

Keeping further disaster at bay here in the village of East Belessa — where farm animals are dying and fields are drying up — means building climate resiliency, and that starts with water.

Bosse fetching water from unprotected source contaminated by livestock.

It is the women and girls in East Belessa who go and find water.

Because of the drought, they sometimes must walk nearly two hours just to find a source. Girls drop out of school because they must walk the whole day to fetch water for their families.

Women like Bosse, 40, eventually find water after walking for hours, but it is often dirty. Livestock also drink from the small streams and ponds, and so the water is full of bacteria and excrement.

“Little worms live in the water,” explains Bosse, “They suck the blood out of your mouth.”

Drinking contaminated water like this has serious health effects that can severely compromise the immune system, cause infections, and even lead to death. But sometimes, this is the only water the women can find.

Bosse, 40, and Yalga, 70, fetching water at a water pump, installed by the community together with CARE.

Women fetching water at a water pump installed by CARE in a village in Ethiopia.

For its water projects in places like East Belessa, CARE builds wells and water pumps close to the villages and works with the community to protect the area around the water pump from contamination.

“With gabions, we build barriers to control the water flow,” explains Bosse. “No livestock is allowed to enter this area.”

“Before we had this protected environment, we only had enough water for a month. But now the ground water is rising, and we already have enough for six months. We will continue planting more trees to have enough water for the whole year.”

Yalga, 70, fetching water at a water pump, installed by the community together with CARE.

For Yalga, 70, clean water has made a profound difference in her life.

“Having access to water changed our community,” she says. “Women have less household chores and girls can go back to school and receive an education instead of fetching water the whole day. We changed our mindset. Now we treat the trees in the protected environment like our children.”

Yalga filtering the water to make it safe for drinking.
CARE supports the community with filtrations systems to have access to clean water.

For this project, funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), CARE also works to build filtrations systems that can provide another layer of health protection.

“I support my community by educating my neighbors and teach them how to build a filter with local material,” says Yalga. “Now that we filter our drinking water, we reduced many illnesses and have fewer health center visits. We now know that we cannot drink the water without filtration. If we do, we will face a severe health challenge.”

Here, Yalga, 70, shows the water before filtration (left) and clean drinking water after filtration (right).

From streams to fields to stoves

Amsal Abrea, 40, on one of her fields before irrigation.
Amsal Abrea, 40, on one of her fields after irrigation.

CARE is also helping farmers build solar-powered irrigation systems to help supply sufficient water to their crops.

Before she had the irrigation system in place, Amsal’s fields were dry, and she always faced the risk of losing her crops if she couldn’t find water.

“I produce twice as many crops as I did before,” says Amsal,the mother of seven children. “It totally changed my livelihood. I eat three times a day instead of only twice, and I can provide for my children’s education.”

Before she had the energy-saving stove, Enaneya used more wood for cooking, which caused health problems for her and her children.

For many women and girls, fetching water can just be the beginning of the day’s trials. They also have to find enough firewood to cook.

The area around East Belessa has been cleared of trees – part of the deforestation that contributes to the cycle of climate impacts – so finding the firewood can be difficult, and then when they do, the smoke from cooking with it can cause severe health issues in the eyes and lungs.

“Especially the children suffer,” says Enaneya, 35.

Like access to clean water, cleaner cooking techniques can help build community resiliency. CARE has helped families like Enaneya’s build energy-saving stoves that smoke less and cook more efficiently. Traditionally, women in East Belessa have cooked meals over open fires, an inefficient method that allows the bulk of the fire’s heat escape.

These new, insulated stoves are built with local materials, and they eliminate direct contact with the flames, centralize the heat so the food cooks faster, and use five times less firewood than the previous method. They also have lids, keeping the smoke and steam inside.

“We save a lot of money,” Enaneya says. “I can cook five times as many meals with the same amount of wood.”

CARE provides training for women to learn how to build these energy-saving stoves, which they then can sell in their communities. Aster, 40, is one of six women in this village who CARE has trained.

Aster Muche, 40, in her working place, where she produces the energy saving stoves.

“With the sale of the stoves I am able to support myself and my family,” she says. “I can pay for the school of my children, and I was able to buy them clothes and even some sheep. Over the last four years we made around 500 stoves and sometimes even sold ten per day.”

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