Published in October 2023

Having a reliable source of clean water is so crucial to peoples’ needs, particularly in southern Ethiopia where water shortages are a regular occurrence. We spoke with a member of the Gurma Mero community to find out how their sand dam is helping them to meet their most important needs.

Gurma Mero is a rural Kebele (sub-district) found in the Bena Tsemay Woreda (district) of southern Ethiopia. Water shortages are a long-standing problem in Gurma Mero, where collecting water has become a daily priority for communities due to the profound impact that shortages have on local people and their livestock (which for many are crucial to their livelihoods).

Mile Sofa is a 39-year-old agro-pastoralist farmer living in Gurma Mero who was kind enough to speak to us about her experiences. She tells us that her household, which includes her husband and five children, is mainly dependent on livestock rearing and crop production to meet their needs. Despite Mile’s best efforts, water scarcity often caused her crops to fail and the health of her livestock to decline, meaning that she and her family would struggle to get enough food to eat.

Before the community constructed a sand dam in Gurma Mero, Mile would regularly spend half of her day travelling to collect water for her family. She would fetch around 20 litres of water on each trip, which between her family of seven amounted to less than three litres each per day, much less than the WHO-recommended daily minimum of 50 litres.

Mile described this situation in more detail, "Every day, I would wake up early in the morning and travel for long distances to fetch water. When I would get back home, it was already midday and my family had not yet eaten. My children would have to go to school without breakfast, so they used to hate going to school. I would also have additional responsibilities in the home after returning, so my days used to be very busy."

During the rainy seasons, Mile might be able to collect water closer to home by digging down into sandy riverbeds, sometimes up to three metres down. However, this water was often not clean and could lead people in the community to suffer from waterborne diseases.

Mile shares the impact this had on her family, "The water that I would fetch was dirty because of contamination from livestock, who would drink from the same water source before we collected it. My children were repeatedly getting sick because of drinking this contaminated water."

These experiences remained a persistent problem for the community until they began working with Action for Development (AFD) and Sand Dams Worldwide (SDW) to construct a sand dam (with funding from Jersey Overseas Aid, Isle of Man Government and the Beatrice Laing Trust), which represented a solution to their issues with water scarcity.

Mile tells us that since the dam was constructed, she now has a clean water supply near her home that is helping to meet all of her family’s daily needs. Furthermore, she has been able to use the water to cultivate new crops on her farm, such as papayas, bananas, and moringa trees, aided by the training she has received in conservation agriculture.

Community members in Gurma Mero also received training in water, sanitation, and hygiene practices, helping to combat the spread of waterborne diseases that had been affecting local people.

Mile expressed her delight at the changes the sand dam has brought to her life, "Now, I can fetch as much clean water as I need in 20 minutes. This is important not just for my family, but also for our livestock who are drinking clean water too."

"The construction of the sand dam has reduced the burden of water collection and improved my children’s attendance at school. Today, my family is healthy as we have enough water and are better able to look after our personal hygiene."

Mile Sofa, member of the Gurma Mero community, southern Ethiopia.

As the Gurma Mero community now look forward to a future where they can rely on a sustainable water supply from their sand dam, Mile had these concluding remarks to share with those who supported the project, "Organisations can provide many precious things but, for me, there is nothing more precious than clean water. This project has fulfilled the most important needs of my family. Thank you and God bless you!"

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