The issue of water suppl1y is a global concern. Water affects every human activity and its availability is a key factor for the improvement of the living standards of people. As a country located in the Sahel region of Africa, a large area of Eritrea is arid and semi-arid. This realization led the Government of Eritrea to give the issue of water supply in the country a priority, and in an effort to mitigate the challenges, a number of dams and associated infrastructures have been put in place since the country’s independence in 1991.
Although 71% of the earth’s surface is covered with water, a number of countries suffer from shortage of water. Mr. Mebrhatu Iyasu, Director General of Water Resource Department at the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment (MLWE), said that Eritrea’s geographic location makes it vulnerable to shortage of water although it does not suffer too much from deficit of water.
Eritrea is potentially rich in surface water provided that rainwater is impounded properly. Since surface water is the major resource of the country, almost all activities are dependent on rainfall. The annual range of rainfall varies within the country. Some areas get up to 200 mm of rainfall annually while other areas have 500 mm. The Northern Red Sea region enjoys around 900 mm of rainfall annually because it has two rainy seasons.
Mr. Mebrahtu underlines that if water from rainfall is impounded effectively and prevented from pollution, Eritrea will have sufficient amount of water for all socio-economic undertakings.
Taking into account the fact that agricultural activities of the country depend on rainfall and deficit of potable water may occur at any time, the Government of Eritrea has been building strategic dams that are expected to bring about economic growth and a difference in the well-being of the society.
Reports from the MLWE indicate that there are currently around 300 dams and water reservoirs of different sizes in the country. According to Mr. Mebrahtu, only 20% of the overall amount of water so far impounded has been utilized for domestic activities. What this figure shows is that even though Eritrea’s geographic location is vulnerable to deficit of water, the country is not totally poor in water resources. With the ongoing construction of water reservoirs that are intended to ensure sustainability of water supply, Eritrea will have sufficient amount of water that meets both its current and future demands, Mr. Mebrahtu added.
In addition to the tasks being carried out to ensure the provision of water for all kinds of activities, around 5,000 wells have been drilled across the nation. This progress has impacted various development activities but much remains to be done for the achievement of the envisaged goal.
The primary goal of the nation is to ensure the provision of potable water to all nationals throughout the nation. Mr. Mebrahtu said that only seven percent of the rural and around 30% of the urban areas of the country used to have access to potable water prior to Eritrea’s independence.
But, he added, through projects carried out over the last 28 years, around 85% of Eritrea now has access to potable water– 80% in rural and 90% in urban areas. The projects carried out include the installation of water pipe lines and the construction of water reservoirs and distribution centers. The replacement of old water pipe lines of around 250 km through Warsay-Yekealo Campaign that was initiated in 2002 is part of the efforts being carried out to ensure sustainable provision of portable water.
There are around 2,750 villages in the country out of which around 1,600 have access to potable water. The only difference is in the level of services being provided. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people should not travel more than 500 meters to fetch potable water. Also, individuals need to have 20 liters of water per day.
The WHO standard emphasizes the provision of water, its sanitation and its distance from a village. Mr. Mebrahtu said that the provision of water at the nearest location enables children to pursue their education with ease and its sanitation helps prevent the occurrence of waterborne diseases, together resulting in increases of productivity of nationals. He added that with the exception of Asmara and Adi-Quala, which use surface water supply, most of the other parts of the country use underground water.
Mr. Saleh Ahmedin, head of projects in Adi-Halo, said that major dams with a capacity of around 500 million meter cubic of water have been constructed. They include Kerkebet, Fanko- Tsmu’e and Fanko-Rawi, Mslam and Logo dams. The strategic Gahtelay dam, near Massawa, is under construction.
Water tanks that can hold 77,000 barrels of water have also been recently erected in different parts of Asmara. Some of these tanks have become operational and have already eased problems of water supply residents had been experiencing.
Asmara’s potable water comes from seven sources, Tokor and Mai-Nefhi dams being the biggest. According to Mr. Saleh, Mainfehi dam, with a capacity of 26 million cubic meter of water, provides water to the southern part of Asmara; Adi-Shaka, Balineki and Adi-Anahb dams serve the northern part of Asmara while Tokor and Adi-Shaka dams supply water to the central areas of Asmara.
Mr. Yohanness Mulu, a surveyor, said that based on an extensive research on Asmara’s water supply carried out in 2006, projects will be carried out until 2025. The implementation of the plan was delayed due to technical reasons, but initiatives have now been taken to implement the charted out projects. “Once a 24/7 supply of water is ensured, the challenges we are speaking of today will be gone once and for all,” Mr. Yohanness stressed.
Mr. Saleh finally said, “We have introduced new technologies that have a capacity of pumping water upto 2400 meters high. Thus, the 300 million meter cubic of water in the water reservoirs around Asmara are expected to solve challenges related to water supply. We are quite confident that people will not complain any more about potable water supply.”