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Ethiopia: New technologies for monitoring water resources

05-06-2013 Feature

In Tigray, northern Ethiopia, the ICRC is promoting the sustainable use of natural resources by using a geographic information system to monitor water points.

The track passes a wind generator before plunging into a brown landscape, dry and desert-like at this time of year. In September the same fields will be green, covered with onions, lettuce and teff, a typically Ethiopian type of cereal. The two colours symbolize the rigours and the beauty of a land that has seen many a cruel drought.

Ato Mulu Tadesse works for the Tigray water board. Today, he is carrying out his weekly inspection of water points in the district of Kilte, 50 kilometres north of the regional capital Mekele. He measures water levels, checks that pump handles are working and makes the necessary repairs.

Once his tour of inspection is complete, Mr Tadesse adds all this information to the database of the central water management office in Mekele, using a USB wireless modem supplied by the ICRC, which enables him to connect to the internet wirelessly.

Minimizing the risks

The ICRC's presence in the region is linked to the 1998-2000 conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea and we are one of the few humanitarian organizations operating near the border. Our engineers have built new water points, repaired existing wells, drilled new ones and promoted hygiene in the area. In a region so vulnerable to the whims of nature it is essential that the authorities have reliable information regarding water resources.

New technologies

In 2010, the ICRC launched a programme to put the region's wells into a geographic information system (GIS), which combines new technology and local knowledge. The ICRC supplied computers and USB wireless modems to the water management offices of the 34 woredas, or districts. The organization trained the staff of the offices on the new technology and then handed the wireless modems over to them.

Now, staff can log in to the GIS via internet and see the exact locations of the water points on a map. They can see the type of water point, its functions, the number of people it can supply and how close it is to different communities.

"The information is updated regularly, giving the authorities detailed information on each water point," explains Tesfay Gebrehiwot, who is in charge of the ICRC's geolocation project in the region. This new method makes it easier to identify communities who lack water, and to see what repairs a water point needs.

As Mr Tadesse leaves his office, he finds a group of village elders in flowing white robes sitting on the bench outside. They have walked 15 kilometres from their village to tell them that the earth dam that enables them to water their fields is blocked. His day is not over yet ...

In this part of Ethiopia, rapid access to information on the state of water points is an essential part of reacting to the risk of natural disaster. By supplying the technology needed to improve access to this information, the ICRC is helping to counter the effects of future droughts. From 2014, the Tigray water board will be running this programme independently.


Photos

One of the USB wireless modems that enable staff to upload information about water points. 

Kilte, Tigray, Ethiopia.
One of the USB wireless modems that enable staff to upload information about water points.
© ICRC / J.-Y. Clémenzo

This group of village elders has walked in from the next village to report a problem to the Kilte water management office. 

Kilte, Tigray, Ethiopia.
This group of village elders has walked in from the next village to report a problem to the Kilte water management office.
© ICRC / J.-Y. Clémenzo

Tigray water board employee Ato Mulu Tadesse at one of the water points he manages. 

Kilte, Tigray, Ethiopia.
Tigray water board employee Ato Mulu Tadesse at one of the water points he manages.
© ICRC / J.-Y. Clémenzo

The north Tigray landscape is a desert at this time of year. 

Kilte, Tigray, Ethiopia.
The north Tigray landscape is a desert at this time of year.
© ICRC / J.-Y. Clémenzo