Women slog for miles seeking last drop of water

Thursday, July 14, 2011

  • Galemo-walkingGalemo lugs the 25 litres of water it took her six hours to find in Dillo district, south Ethiopia. She will have to make the water last the entire day, unless she can go out to find more. ACT/DCA/Fikerte Abebe
  • Koye-Gree-of-Gorse-villageKoye Gree, of Dillo district south Ethiopia, transfers precious water from one jerry can to another. It can take women half a day to find enough water to fill a can, if they are lucky. ACT/DCA/Fikerte Abebe
  • Koye-GreeKoye Gree spares only a cupful of precious water to wash her child, at her home in Dillo district, south Ethiopia. ACT/DCA/Fikerte Abebe

Even in drought-struck Ethiopia, providing water is women's work

By Fikerte Abebe in south Ethiopia

She is tall and slim. From a distance, I see her walking quickly, taking long strides on the dusty road, head bent forward and back bowed slightly. When she gets closer, I see she carries a 25 litre jerry can on her back. I guess its contents: water.

But the jerry can is not what catches my attention. After all, it is very common in Borena for women to seek out and carry water long distances. It is her speed and long strides that signal more.

This is the Dillo district of Ethiopia’s southern Borena region, over 650km from Addis Ababa. Our guide, Duba, and I have gone to check on people enduring the drought and assess the success of ACT emergency cattle feeding and water programmes.

When the woman reaches us, she turns and smiles. Duba and I greet her and ask her permission to take a few minutes of her valuable time.

“I am very fearful of the drought.”

She tells us her name is Galemo. She does not know when she was born but assumes she is 50 years old. Her husband is over 80. Of her seven children, the girls are married. The boys and her husband, who is too old even to keep watch over her cattle, depend on her.

She left her house at 6am to fetch water from the pond closest to her home. Now it is past midday and she has only a few minutes to get home. To me, it sounds a long time to go to a nearby pond. To Duba, who is based in Borena and knows it well, the time was merely average. Many women spend far more hours searching for water than that. Only the lucky ones get it. Galemo had been forced to walk much further than the nearby pond in order to find her 25 litres.

Still, it is not enough for her family and the many tasks for which she needs it. If she had a donkey, she could have carried more.

“If I had older girls they could have helped to carry it. The older boys cannot help. In my culture it is the responsibility of women and girls to fetch water. If I manage to do the remaining housework fast, I have a plan to go back and fetch more,” she says. I am now convinced by what Duba meant when he said the time Galemo spent on water was average.

But it is not the long and tiring search for water and cattle feed that concerns Galemo. “What I am afraid of is that nowadays I go foraging for food all the time yet do not come back with what my family and I need.

“I am very fearful of the drought.”

The pond from which she gets her water is receding daily. She used to go to the highlands to get cattle feed but that supply too has dried up.

The family now lets the cattle roam freely in the mornings and brings them in at the day’s end. “We have no idea what they find in the field. But if they die we will too.”

Galemo finishes by stressing the need for help in order for them to survive. And then picks up speed so she can get back out to collect more water.

ACT is working in Ethiopia's Borena province through its member DanChurchAid (DCA).