FACT: 5 million die every year from water related diseases

Today’s water crisis is not an issue of scarcity, but of access.  More people in the world own a cell phone than have access to a toilet.  And as cities and slums grow at increasing rates, the situation worsens.  Everyday, lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills thousands, leaving others with reduced quality of life(Water.org).

In Ethiopia it is estimated that only 42% of the population has access to a safe water supply and only 11% of the population has access to proper sanitation facilities.

Wandering the busy streets of Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia and home to over 3.4 million people, the lack of water and sanitation facilities becomes clearer the closer you look.  Peering out the window of our van while driving through Addis, the need of such commodity almost becomes masked by the comings and goings of the people.

Colorful roadside stores, roaming livestock, traffic ridden streets, and trucks filled with youthful dancing men, blasting music to promote their party of choice for the upcoming election, all served as a chaotic yet captivating portrayal of life and community in its most organic yet beautiful form. This first glance however seems to hide the deeper issues that plague this energetic environment.  It isn’t until I wandered down the alleys and side streets, and visited the clusters of households that I began to understand what a community lacking a basic necessity of water and sanitation facilities actually looks like.

In our Westernized world it is both assumed and expected that wherever we find ourselves both water and restroom facilities will be readily available, and in many cases free to use.  Our homes are equipped and valued by the number of bed and bathrooms, used to construct an image of luxury.  This however is not the case for the urban poor residing in Addis Ababa.

As I walked through the narrow alleys that doubled as a pathway and a sewage line, it quickly became very clear that our reality is not theirs.  Without access to clean water, latrines, and wash stations people are apt to suffer from unsafe sanitation practices, which is the leading cause of water borne illnesses and disease.

Currently in Addis Ababa, LIA in partnership with UNICEF and USAID / People for People have been able to finance a major undertaking in 10 sub-cities surrounding the area.  Projected to reach 1,500 families, about 80,000 people this great undertaking has already seen transformation in the targeted areas. This WASH project has taken on the construction of latrines, water pipes, trash trolleys, public showers, and washing stations in an attempt to equip, empower and protect the urban poor.  Hygiene promoters are set to travel door to door weekly to promote safe sanitation practices to members of the community, sharing ways to further protect themselves and their family from communicable diseases.

Visiting the various water and sanitation sites I was confronted with a whole new image of community.

I saw the beneficiaries of the initiatives now empowered as the managers and watchmen and women of the various constructed elements.  This empowerment provides not only access to water and sanitation facilities, but also jobs and a source of income. The joy and exuberance that was expressed as I just listened to how these initiatives have changed lives, as well as the nature of their community was remarkable.  One woman shared that she had been without access to water remotely close to her home for 20-30 years.  Now, right outside her door the neighborhood is able to pump their own water and use it for washing, drinking, agriculture, and bathing.

Yes, the opening statistic still stands and will fluctuate from year to year.  Organizations and people around the world will work tirelessly to combat this grave reality in an attempt to provide access to this most basic necessity.  However, in the midst of the millions and the percentages there is hope and empowerment through such beautiful communal efforts.

Let us continue to pray for those that are afflicted and suffering around the world due to these water related illnesses, that they too can see a day in which access and accessibility is not the issue. But also, let us not forget to lift up praises and prayers for continued growth in the sub-cities throughout Addis Ababa, that the efforts will bring about change and improved quality of life for years to come.