top of page

Issues Africa: East Africa

Somalia Famine

by Ladan Abdulkadir

Somalia Famine.pdf (PDF — 152 KB)

Water in Ethiopia

by Rebecca Shore

\Similar to many African countries, parts of Ethiopia face water shortages, poor sanitation, and a lack of access to clean water sources. Ethiopia is located in Africa’s Horn where drought and politics are two leading causes of water shortage. In a study conducted by they found that “42% of the population has access to a clean water supply” and only “11% of that number has access to adequate sanitation services”. In rural areas of the country, these figures drop even lower, resulting in health problems in the villagers as well as their animals.

In the past twenty years, droughts have affected several areas of the country, leading to ponds, wells, streams and lakes drying up or becoming extremely shallow. Many people living outside of the cities collect water from these shallow water sources, which are often contaminated with human and animal waste, worms, or disease. During months and sometimes years of drought, disease runs rampant through small villages and towns. Frequently there is not enough water for people to bathe, leading to infections and sickness in children. Water borne illnesses, such as cholera or diarrhea, are the leading cause of death in children under five years old in Ethiopia.

In addition to illness, many Ethiopian children, especially girls, face problems with school. Statistically only 45% of kids attend primary school. The others are put to work collecting water each morning and helping their families earn money.

However, not all children face these dire circumstances. In an interview with an Ethiopian Israeli named Liat, she described her experiences as a child and young teenager growing up in one of Ethiopia’s small villages as comfortable and joyful. Her and her family lived in Ethiopia until she was 15 and then they immigrated to Israel; now she is 23 years old and has yet to go back. While in Ethiopia, Liat would go every morning with her mother to collect water from the nearby stream. Unlike some Ethiopian families, no one in her family ever got sick from the water they were drinking. “We lived in a natural environment,” said Liat, “we never thought about diseases in the water, we just lived off the land.” Unlike eight years ago when Liat last lived in Ethiopia, many more families are now affected by the looming water shortages. Additionally, Liat lived without running water, electricity, a toilet or shower. The first time she saw these things and experienced an indoor bathroom was when she immigrated to Israel. Although Liat would never move back to Ethiopia, she wants to visit and experience her roots and see where her family came from.

Kali Shebi, an Ethiopian student at George Mason University, told a different yet similar story about living in Ethiopia. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Kali lived with her family in the capital, Addis Ababa, until she was 15. In the city, she had a very comfortable and comparable life to the one she lives today in Arlington, Virginia. She never had to worry about the cleanliness of the water she was drinking or if her family was going to have enough water for the day. Outside of the city though, Kali’s grandmother lived more traditionally. “Each morning, Kali said, “my grandmother would go and collect water from the stream.” Then her grandmother would boil the water to purify it, before using it for other uses besides drinking. In Kali’s situation, she did not encounter many water scarcity issues, but she saw water collecting processes when she visited her grandmother outside of the city.

Another major concern in Ethiopia is how politics affect the locals. During Colonial times, the Nile River and its tributaries were split up between the nations surrounding it. However today, some Ethiopian farmers are finding themselves without access to water for irrigation because of the way the river was divided hundreds of years ago. As the rainy season becomes shorter due to global warming, the fields are becoming more sandy and dry, making it harder for Ethiopian farmers to survive. The situation in Somalia, which borders Ethiopia, is making water scarcity issues even more exacerbated because of the fighting in and around Somalia. Additionally, almost 66% of Africa’s 60 river basins are shared by more than one country. As a result, as Africa faces more problems with water, there could potentially be more fighting over how those river basins should be divided.

Ethiopia is a nation full of beauty and culture. However it is being severely affected by water shortages. Fields are drying up and farmers are fighting over irrigation resources. Also, children in villages are losing out on education and instead are spending their days collecting water for their families. In the coming years, outside organizations will be of great need to help alleviate the country’s water shortages.


(c) Sarah White

Water in Rwanda

by Rebecca Shore

In 1994, Rwanda and its people were plagued by war, famine, genocide and death. Since then, the country and government have pushed for major developments in basic human rights and conditions such as access to clean, sanitary water. But Rwanda does not stand alone in its struggle to maintain clean water for its inhabitants. In a NY Times article about the water situation in Rwanda, Michael J. Mascarenhas said that over a billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water. Rwanda’s government has taken this issue at the forefront and implemented several different programs to create better, healthier options for their people, such as the IDA’s Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s project, and water harvesting.

The International Development Association, or IDA, is the part of the World Bank that help’s the poorest countries. They created a program in Rwanda’s rural areas that aimed to provide drinking water facilities to about 370,000 people to encourage better hygiene and health. The project, which was to improve water supply and sanitation systems country-wide, was implemented by the private sector and run by investment companies and money loans from the World Bank. At the end of the project in 2007, the IDA estimated that 472,000 had gained access to better water services. They also found that about 70,000 Rwandan students benefited from better hygiene because of adequate sanitation facilities and water tanks (The World Bank). Now, four years after the project has ended, the IDA continues to provide policy advice and budget support. By 2015 they hope to provide at least 85% of the population with drinkable water.

In October 2006, the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, launched a program to provide safe drinking water to the Mbazi and Ruhashya regions of the Huye district in Southern Rwanda. The project cost about $240,000 and involved improving and expanding the water supply in both of these areas. It was run by the Rwanda Electricity Corporation, the Rwanda Water and Sanitation Corporation, and most importantly the local population. By getting the locals involved, these corporations were able to teach them how to take care of the water systems and keep them working properly. As said by the head of the ICRC delegation in Rwanda, Christoph Hartmann, “This project will provide people with plentiful, good-quality water supplies close to where they live” (, and at this stage in the project, around 10,000 people have better access to clean drinking water close to their homes. Today, the ICRC continues to work with the Rwandan government to provide safe water in places of need.

Water harvesting has become an important option in the lives of Rwandans. It simply involves capturing rain directly where it falls or collecting run-off from buildings, and then storing the water in containers or man-made wells. Farmers rely heavily on water harvesting because they can use the water they’ve stored during the rainy season when there may not be water during the dry season. They also benefit from harvesting because they can be self-sufficient, which leads to better agriculture and revenue in the country. In addition, it allows villages to have a constant supply of clean water, so women don’t have to trek miles to find it every day. In 2007, the Rwanda Agricultural Development Authority, or RADA, began harvesting in the southern and eastern areas of Rwanda. This has led to villagers being educated on how to maintain access to sanitary water so that they can lead healthier lifestyles.

In the last seventeen years, Rwanda has taken huge steps in fixing the failing water system. Although many parts of the country still lack access to clean water, more and more organizations are lending a helping hand to aid the Rwandan people and make their lives much easier and happy.


(additional references in original article)

Uganda in Crisis

by Rebecca Shore

In the Horn of Africa, Uganda used to be one of the most plentiful countries in terms of freshwater resources. However many issues, such as rapid population growth, pollution, and increased urbanization, plague the once abundant country and have now drained the available water sources (Uganda National Water Development Report). Rivers like the Kanywa, Kiborogota, Omukyijurirabusha, Kanyeganyegye, and Omukagyera once flowed strongly and provided local villages with fresh water, but now these rivers are extinct. Two of Uganda’s most important wetlands, Muyorwa and Garubunda are also extinct. The most significant cause for this, other than human reasons, is drought. In a study by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists warned that the effects of global warning could be and are already being felt by parts of Africa (News24).

Since the 1960’s, Uganda has experienced droughts every five to ten years, but recently, the drought facing Uganda has become extremely serious. Millions of people all over Uganda are facing food and water shortages due to the lack of rain water. As a result, Ugandans are forced to constantly move around the country to try to find areas with fresh water for drinking and cultivating food. Oxfam, an international NGO has stated that the situation in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, including Uganda, is “deteriorating quickly and could result in a major humanitarian emergency over the coming months” (Integrated Regional Information Networks). The lack of rain water and clean rivers and lakes in Uganda has also begun to severely influence the health of the locals, leading to outbreaks of diarrhea and dysentery because of poor hygiene. In upcoming years, Africa could experience a severe lack of food and water due to water scarcity and drought.

The drought has also affected living conditions in many parts of Uganda. Because of the lack of rain, the ground has become arid and dry, making it hard for families to cultivate crops. During the day, extreme temperatures and high winds make working outside very difficult and at night it is too hot to sleep. Also, the dry conditions make it impossible for farmers to grow any crops. In 2010 though, torrential rains water-logged parts of the country and destroyed the crops, also destroying any chance of profit off of crops. In both situations the lack of or exuberance of water has greatly affected the lives of local Ugandans (IRIN). This is significant because the Ugandan people are agro-pastoralists, which means people who grow crops and raise livestock (OXFAM). As a result of no rain, disease has begun to strike the animals, causing them to die. People have begun to turn to other sources of revenue, such as chopping down trees, to make enough money for their families. However, even these other sources of income aren’t stable enough to support families, and people are starting to die because of famine, lack of water, and lack of resources.

Uganda use to be one of the plentiful countries in the African continent. Now, because of drought and other man-made problems, the country’s water supply is greatly disappearing and people’s lives are being affected. Disease, crop loses, and famines are only a couple of the consequences of water scarcity. As hard as Uganda’s government tries, their efforts to provide water to their people will not be rewarded until the drought is over.


bottom of page