Safe and sustainable water supply is the birthright of all humankind – as much a birthright as clean air. The water sector is one of the priority sectors in Eritrea as it directly impacts on the quality of life of the people and overall productivity.
Water is vital for sustaining life, the development of livestock, agriculture, industry, fisheries, tourism, waste discharge and environmental conservation. Access to clean and safe water and improved sanitation facilities and practices are pre-requisites to the health of population. This basic fact makes access to safe water a prerequisite for human survival and it is included in the Millennium Goals set up by the UN to reduce poverty in the world. The government of Eritrea considers the sustainability of water resource as key in the developmental efforts.
Last Thursday Mr. Mebrahtu Iyassu, General Director of the Water Resources Department (WRD) at the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment, held a brief discussion session at the NUEYS junior club on the topic of water resource in Eritrea. This article will present a glimpse of water resource in Eritrea based on the discussion paper. Mr. Mebrahtu had discussed the water supply, achievements and potential challenges. He noted that Eritrea as an arid and a semi-arid country, Eritrea is not endowed with rich water resources. As part of the Sahelian Africa, it has a vulnerable environment exposed to recurrent and devastating droughts.
Rainfall in Eritrea is torrential with high intensity, short duration, unpredictable and ranges from 100mm to 900mm differing from area to area and from year to year. In some years the seasonal rains are below normal. However, if the rainfall us conserved and managed properly it can be sufficient to meet the national needs of water.
In general, the socio-economic development of the nation depends on the availability of adequate water of appropriate quality. The management of water resources and its proper utilization will not only ensure that Eritrea will be a healthy nation, but it will also contribute to the national income, improve GDP and create employment. The guiding principles of water are equitable, sustainable and efficient development, utilization, conservation and protection of water resources.
In Eritrea, the demand for safe and adequate sustainable water supply for domestic use, livestock and irrigation put pressure on the available water resources and services. One of the primary concerns in the coastal areas is that the water resources may be threatened through quality deterioration due to organic and inorganic pollution, saline intrusion and the like. Moreover, excessive exploitation due to competing use of water for irrigation and communal water supply is becoming a problem for water use management.
Regarding water resource development the nation has two major challenges to face: the need to increase access to safe drinking water supply and the need to introduce the wider use of irrigation systems in agriculture and other sectors.
The apparent solution is by developing the potential available water through water harvesting, water saving and proper water management including runoff control, groundwater recharging and water quality control. The Eritrean government is investing significantly in order to avoid dependency on unreliable rain water through the construction of water reservoirs, soil conservation and a wise use of water.
According to the Ministry of Land, Water and Environmental Resources, Eritrea has five major river basins: Barka-Anseba, Mereb- Gash, Red Sea, Danakil depression and Setit. Although no sufficient long-term discharge measurement of the drainage basins is available, an estimate of the annual runoff was made by the WRD. It was found that if developed and managed properly it is enough.
In terms of geological environment, 75% of Eritrea is covered with hard rocks and the remaining 25% is covered with soft rocks and have different ground water potential. Though it is limited, it is often the most dependable source of fresh water for different water use.
Researches of the water resource department show that the utmost fear we are facing is the unregulated drilling and digging of water wells especially for irrigation purposes in areas such as Ala and Hagaz. Overexploitation of underground water for different purposes combined with recurrent drought led to a fall in water tables, i.e. the Aquifer. In some coastal areas intrusion of sea water and in other areas draining down of the water tables by 0.75m-1m/year have been seen.
In general, the estimated potential available water resources in the country surpass the present and the projected national water need. The projected water demand in 2020 is expected to rise to about 25%.
The major challenges, the WRD outlined, Eritrea faces related to water resources management are climate variability, increase in demand for water as a result of economic and population growth, low level of investment on improving the supply and efficiency of water use, inadequate regulatory and enforcement mechanism, for proper water allocation and use, high level of environmental degradation and low level of knowledge on the resources base.
Considering the urgency of these challenges and to address them, Water Resource Department of the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment was established.
One of the top policy priorities of the Eritrean government is to have a country, where all its present and future generations have access to enjoy clean, adequate and sustainable water supply for domestic, social and economic use. The importance of water security is associated with national security because everything depends on water. Our world is more prone to threat of water scarcity than to fuel. Therefore, developing an efficient management of water resources, encouraging equitable and economically viable, environmentally sound and sustainable development are responsibilities of the WRD so that the future generation can enjoy optimal benefits.
Moreover, the ministry is working to establish an integrated water resources management (IWRM) with an adequate institutional framework and capacity to introduce modern water harvesting technologies, efficient and effective water supply systems, and effective water protection and quality control systems.
It issued a proclamation on water resources management in 2010 with the aim of enhancing and promoting all national efforts towards establishing and maximizing the available potential of the national water resources of Eritrea in an integrated and sustainable manner to secure and provide water of adequate quantity and quality for all social and economic needs and ecosystem stability with the full participation of all stakeholders.
The ministry is attempting to develop adequate knowledge base and information on the national water resource by conducting continuous research that have importance in the economic policy of the country. The WRD also takes into account the development of comprehensive and integrated national water strategic plans based on optimum allocation principles that incorporate efficiency in use, equity in access, resource sustainability and ecosystem stability for the wellbeing of the nation. In order to enforce this policies, it has adopted applicable state of the art water technologies. It is also working to conserve and protect national water resources and the environment to the possible degree and ensure the provision of clean and safe water for human and livestock consumption, use the water resources for industrial and agro-industrial developments to contribute to food security and overall economic development. The WRD further calls for the norm of developing sustainable, productive and affordable agricultural practices.
The WRD is mandated to maintain and manage a national water resources database and act as national resources information center in order to prevent water related emergencies (e.g. drought and floods).
To implement these policies on the ground the WRD established a central body with full mandate to study, develop, manage and protect all the national water resources and introduced integrated water resources management approach progressively. Besides, it is facilitating the participation of all stakeholders irrespective of their sex, ethnic background, economic status, religion, age, etc. It gives high priority to the introduction of modern sustainable water harvesting and protecting technologies.
The WRD has water research capabilities and information database; it made human resources recruitment the center of water sector development and management.
WRD has three divisions and three supporting units: The Water Resources Assessment and Information Division has three units – Hydrogeology, Hydrometeorology and Geophysics. Water Resources Management and Use Division has three units – development, Water-use management and Water quality control. Water Supply Division has three units Rural Water Supply, Urban Water Supply, and Operation and Maintenance. The supporting units within are Legal Service and Water Resource Information Center.
WRD is charged with the responsibility of regulating the national water resources. It engages in collecting, processing, storing and publishing basic hydrological, hydro-geological, hydro-meteorological and sedimentation load data to help it monitor water quality and the sources of pollution.
Among the main objectives of the WRD to enhance the domestic food production capacity. Agriculture contributes to the national food security, generates capital, employment, earns foreign exchange, and produces raw materials, labor and other inputs to other sectors of the economy such as the industry, tourism, and other commercial activities.
Agricultural productions are heavily dependent on water. The dependence on unreliable rainfall situations has detrimental effect on the national food production. Thus, irrigation is taken as one of the best options for the growth of national food production and raw material supply to the agro industry. For this reason, harvesting rainwater through, the construction of embankments, canals, lining supply of water courses, catchment rehabilitation and the introduction of modern methods of farming is an ongoing endeavor.
Livestock production in Eritrea is one of the main stay of the population. In some parts of the country, particularly in the eastern and western low lands, it is the main occupation of the people. The people live on livestock production.
At a national level livestock contributes to food security, earning foreign exchange supplying, raw material to agro industry and contributing in improving the living conditions of the Eritrean population. In this regard water supply to livestock needs to be developed. In the past Eritrea had seen the migration and loss of domestic animals due to lack of water. Now Eritrea is working to prevent such a phenomenon from happening again.
Adequate and sufficient supply of clean water will encourage the development of industries as well as tourism.
Provisions of protected domestic water supply can have a positive impact on water born and water related disease. It encourages people to be more healthy and productive and enables more children, particularly girls, to enroll in schools. The majority of the world’s population does not have access to safe drinking water. This is certainly true in most parts of Africa and Asia. Even in relatively advanced countries such as India, safe drinking water is not readily available, particularly in rural areas. One reason safe drinking water is of paramount concern is that 75 percent of all diseases in developing countries arise from polluted drinking water. Of the 7 billion people on earth, more than one billion (one in seven) lack access to safe drinking water. Moreover, about 2.5 billion (more than one in three) do not have access to adequate sanitation services. Together, these shortcomings waterborne diseases that kill, on average, more than 6 million children each year (about 20,000 children a day).
The Government of the state of Eritrea has prepared Integrated Water Resources Management Plan by involving all key national and regional stakeholders. MDG in drinking water is to halve the number of people without access to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.
According to the Rapid Assessment of Rural Water Supply and Sanitation conducted in 2750 villages by WRD in 2006, protected water supply coverage for the rural areas was found to be about 59.7% and overall coverage was estimated to be 71% of the total population of the country.
The definition of coverage relates to the percentage of the population with access to an improved water source within a walking distance of 1.5 Km and 20 l/capita/day in a rural area and 0.2 Km and 40 l/capita/day in the urban area.
To date because of the big achievement in 2007 and 2008 the rural water supply has risen to over 70% and in urban and semi urban areas to over 90%. At a national level it has reached about 78%. However, the level of services needs to be improved and that will require additional fund and aggressive work.
Note that water is precious to Eritrea. It is essential to recognize the importance of water for the nation and that all economic development is hinged on water resource development. To achieve sustainable economic and social development, it is necessary that any project involving the use of water be properly planned and monitored.
To meet the increasing demands new water sources should be developed. Water saving must also be viewed as a strategy for the scarce national water resource use optimization. The practice of various techniques that maximize the available water resources potential need to be maintained.
Competing needs should be carefully studied and must be addressed through balanced water allocation. Properly planned integrated water resources development and management practices must be applied to ensure sustained development and optimal utilization of the resource.
The exploitation of ground water must be regulated. Over exploitation of ground water can result in an aquifer depletion, seawater intrusion in the coastal areas or sometimes total loss of important well fields.