Faced with a rapidly growing population and limited water resources, the Addis Abeba Water & Sewage Authority (AAWSA) is taking a bold step. Under a new regulatory framework spearheaded by its director Zerihun Abate, the Authority is opening up groundwater extraction to private companies for the first time.

This initiative is part of a multi-pronged approach to address the city's water crisis. The city's 5.2 million residents require a staggering 1.3 million cubic meters of water daily. However, the Authority can only provide around 800,000 cubic meters.

According to Gashaw Mengiste, a groundwater regulation expert at the Authority, the directive aims to encourage responsible private sector involvement in water management while ensuring fair distribution of this limited resource. A licensing and monitoring system will be implemented to regulate private companies involved in groundwater extraction, operation, and marketing.

The regulations mandate a minimum well depth of 250 meters, ensuring all users access deeper, more sustainable water sources.

"This ensures all users tap into deeper sources," he told Fortune.

Companies seeking permits must demonstrate a minimum demand of 100 cubic meters a month, prioritising larger institutions like real estate developers, hotels, breweries, and the Federal Housing Corporation. Permit applications require a comprehensive plan outlining the water source location, a hydrological report, intended water usage, projected monthly and annual water demand, and installation of a water meter.

Commercial lawyer Yohannes Woldegebriel applauds the new regulations, highlighting the dangers of unchecked groundwater extraction. He recommends robust enforcement to ensure successful implementation and urges regulatory bodies to "scale up" their capacity to manage this vital resource.

“Regulation makes distribution fair,” he said.

Water scarcity is not only affecting residents. Institutions like Zewditu Hospital have faced severe shortages for years. Despite serving 200,000 patients annually, the Hospital's direct supply from the Authority was insufficient.

To address the problem, Deputy Head Dechasa Bulti said the hospital began drilling its well three years ago, currently supplying 25,000 litres daily. He said a more sustainable solution is needed with plans for additional wells underway.

The real estate sector, heavily reliant on a steady water supply, has been forced to take matters into its own hands. Developers such as Gift Real Estate, established for nearly 25 years, began drilling their wells 10 years ago to meet demand.

Founding CEO Gebreyesus Igata said: "The service [from the Authority] was not meeting our demand." Gift Real Estate now uses well water for construction and even plans to sell it to residents in some areas. New companies like DMC Real Estate, constructing over 4,000 apartments near the Lebu area, are also following suit, with plans to source water for their developments.

Addis Abeba has not had a census in 17 years. Unregulated urban expansion and migration have likely exacerbated the water crisis, particularly in central areas. The liberalisation comes with strict regulations. Existing users of groundwater will also need to comply with the new standards, ensuring responsible water usage across all sectors. While the Authority attempted to address the water shortage by drilling 12 wells, the growing population outpaces their efforts. By involving the private sector in groundwater extraction, they hope to free up resources to prioritise serving residents.

Ministry of Water & Energy is one of the federal agencies pushing toward the involvement of the private sector. Minister Habtamu Itefa (PhD) strongly supports private-sector participation with responsible extraction practices. He acknowledges that rapid population growth due to rural-urban migration has placed a strain on existing water resources. He said importing essential drilling equipment remains an obstacle despite tax breaks.

"The underground water is in a critical state," he said.

Addis Abeba heavily relies on a mix of underground wells and surface water from nearby dams. These existing sources, totalling 68 reservoirs and 220 wells, contribute to around 65pc of the City's water supply. However, Habtamu also sees opportunities: private sector involvement could free up government resources and encourage investment in exploring new water sources.

"They are highly encouraged to distribute," he told Fortune.

Zeleke Agide, an associate professor at Addis Abeba University's Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources, highlights unregulated groundwater use as a major threat to Addis Abeba's water supply. He points out that numerous private entities and businesses pump groundwater within 500m proximity of each other, depleting the resource. The growing problem of artificial pollutants, such as sewage waste, contaminates the remaining groundwater. "Quality of groundwater is another major concern," he said.

Zeleke warns that unplanned urban expansion diverts natural recharge from reaching the city's aquifers, as 70pc of the inner city's groundwater relies on infiltration from highland areas. While acknowledging recent regulatory efforts to involve the private sector in mitigating the city's water crisis, Zeleke believes the Authority should strengthen its regulatory capacity.

"Improper administration could lead to a rapid decline in the water supply," he said.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 28,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1252]

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 2

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Put your comments here

N.B: A submit button will appear once you fill out all the required fields.

Editors' Pick