Revisiting Multiple Values of Water: Voices from Ethiopian Communities
Water is the source of life and it is the first element of every living thing on Earth. The increasing demand for it due to the growth of population and economy has put strong pressure on water quality and quantity. Water is therefore increasingly being valued as an economic resource despite it having many different values to farming households and other water users.
“My family used to get drinking water from the Legedadi River 20 years ago,” recounts Mr. Sisay Beyene, a farmer and businessman, from the town of Legedadi, found just 45 kilometers away from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
The Legedadi River is part of the Akaki Catchment and has its sources from the Dire Mountain to the east of Addis Ababa. Situated at the outskirts of the town of Legedadi, the river has sustained lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of humans and animals alike, thanks to the well-protected mountain and vegetation cover of the area.
The once small number of inhabitants of the town (nearly 150,000 twenty years ago) used to access most of their drinking water from this river before the town’s municipality service was established by the Oromia Regional Government to provide all with piped water. Despite this, the river is still benefitting most of them with multiple values.
To these mostly agrarian people, water has numerous values — ecological, economic, socio-cultural and spiritual — just like other urban communities of Sub-Saharan Africa, according to Dr. Amare Haileselassie, IWMI’s Principal Researcher who studied water values under the Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub with funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).
As a smallholder farmer, Mr. Sisay gets his water needs for watering his livestock and running his dairy business from the Legedadi River. “My boys and myself always fetch water from the river to water my cows and clean their barn,” said Mr. Sisay.
His dairy business would have been unimaginable in the absence of the river. It has brought him lots of fortunes during the past 15 years, one of which is raising his four children.
The river also benefits other residents of the town, such as Mrs. Yeshi Yitagesu. A housewife and mother of two beautiful children, Mrs. Yeshi has been accessing the river water for washing clothes of the household members for the past eight years.
“I usually come to the riverbank and wash clothes of myself and my family,” cheerfully asserts Mrs. Yeshi. She added, “my children and myself bathe ourselves once a week in the river.” This is a common phenomenon practiced by many residents of the town during weekends as they don’t get enough water from their tap water.
Other people also employ the river water for purposes of irrigation farming. Mr. Eshetu Getachew is one of these people who cultivates vegetables by accessing the water through motorized pumps since 2021.
“I cultivate cabbage and lettuce using the water from the river with no financial cost and I do the business throughout the year,” said Mr. Eshetu. He harvests at least seven times a year and earns a minimum of US $ 889 every year. This is more than enough for sustaining the business and leading his life.
Before it reaches the location where people access it for agricultural and sanitation purposes (at the lower part of it), the river serves one chief role to its users at its upper part — the spiritual role.
This role is vividly practiced during every September, October and January of every year. The Meskel (Finding of the True Cross) celebration, Irrecha festivity (Oromo Thanksgiving Day) and Ethiopian Epiphany are always colorfully celebrated at the Legedai Riverbank by the countless festivalgoers and Orthodox Christians. Both use the water for praising their Creator and blessing their followers every year.
People like Mr. Sisay work hard to protect the river from pollution and ensure that it streams abundant water throughout the year through a local development committee, thereby upholding key globally accepted principles of the 2023 UN World Water Development Report. They undertake these initiatives in partnership with the town municipality to cope with the two new faces of the Legedadi town impacting water availability: rapid urbanization and accelerating population growth.
Together, they have recently passed a by-law limiting the human-river contact by 50 meters to the left- and right-hand sides of the riverbank as well as ensure the protection of the river for sustaining its multiple values. Further, both proactively monitor effective implementation of the by-law. “We have devoted our time and energy for the sustainability of the river as our forefathers did and it is amazingly giving life to humans and animals to date,” exclaimed Mr. Sisay.