Tigray, Ethiopia: a gift of water is a gift of life

Graham Romanes has had a deep connection with the people of Ethiopia over many decades and now leads the NGO WellWishers. He writes:

“I was very privileged to visit Tigray at the end of November to inspect 10 of the well sites in our 64 wells program for 2015.  The program is on target to finish construction of the 64 wells by the end of January 2016. The number of Ethiopian villagers who will now have fresh, clean, safe and accessible drinking water for the first time is over 17,800. A fabulous contribution made by WellWishers supporters to the lives of so many people.

A well under construction

Another well under construction (Photo: Graham Romanes)

“Unfortunately many parts of Ethiopia, and particularly central and eastern parts of Tigray Region are in the grip of a drought similar to the disastrous drought of 1984/5.  Around Hawzen district many farmers had ploughed their small plots in preparation for planting in the second half of 2015. Sadly, without rain, they had not planted and the fields lay bare. We have a substantial wells program in the area, and fortunately the underground water for the wells is consistently adequate.  In other places I visited, the teff plants had grown, but failed to produce useful seed heads.

“Across the entire Ethiopian population of some 90 million, it is expected that up to 20 million may need some food aid during the first half of 2016.

“Fortunately the Ethiopian government has done some good planning with reserves and USD200 million has been diverted from the infrastructure budget for food purchase.  Having been in Ethiopia during the 1984/5 crisis I could see the confidence of the population that they would cope is so much more evident.  Through all the difficulties, our wells program continues to bring hope, joy and confidence in the future.

Hiwot, Zenebech and Werkenesh from the well committee

Hiwot, Zenebech and Werkenesh from the well committee. (Photo: Graham Romanes)

“We receive no government funding, so the fabulous support of the Australian community, with help from friends in Singapore and the UK, makes all this life-saving work a reality.  Thank you!  A little help goes a long way.

Clean water for the first time!

“It is difficult to describe the emotion experienced when visiting a remote Ethiopian village where one of our WellWishers wells is providing clean water for the first time. In an area I walked through thirty years ago during the 1984/85 drought, famine and civil war, and where once again the rains have failed, to see flowing water bringing excitement to children and such joy to local women certainly leaves me choked up!  But to know that 30 years after my first visit we could finally achieve this WellWishers result in the village of Meraf Negaday made the long wait just so special. You can watch our brief video here.

“This well provides water for 60 households (almost 300 people).  The site for the well was chosen by the hydrogeologists from our partner The Relief Society of Tigray (REST), and a REST technician supervised the construction of the well by the villagers from Meraf Negaday.  Ongoing management of the well is with a committee of six trained villagers – four women and two men.  Three of the women are pictured below.  Under regional government requirements, the majority of the committee must be women – a recognition that water collection continues to be a major preoccupation of village women.  Zenebech Legese, the Chair of the wells committee (dressed with a red scarf) spoke passionately to me about the impact the well was already having – an immediate improvement in health through clean water for drinking and washing, and more time for girls to go to school.
The well-keeper - a key village role

The well-keeper: a key role in the village. (Photo: Graham Romanes)

The drought

“UN and Ethiopian Government reports indicate that the drought in eastern and northern Ethiopia will be the most severe in 30 years. This will impact on rural community food supplies at least until mid 2016.

“With good planning, our wells are located and constructed to withstand the shortage of rainfall.  Some older wells from earlier programs may need deepening.
An Ethiopian meal laid out on flat-bread

An Ethiopian meal, laid out on flat-bread. (Photo: Graham Romanes)

Looking forward to 2016

“With the Australian Dollar devaluing greatly against the Ethiopian Birr, the number of wells we will fund in 2016 will be reduced from our number in 2015 – likely to be around 50.   Our partner REST is nevertheless appreciative of all the support we can offer.  Weredekal Atsbeha, the Coordinator for our program at REST was keen to quote the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi:  ‘We can make a difference with even one cent!’  Our partnership with REST and the people of Ethiopia remains strong and important for everyone involved. Thank you again for your valued support.”

For additional background on Graham’s long involvement in Ethiopia, read the Ethiopian coffee story.

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