In our homes we think nothing of turning on the tap or flushing the toilet.
We don’t think twice about where our water comes from, or how it has been treated to arrive in a clean, drinkable condition.
Yet across the globe, 650 million people live without access to a safe water supply. Around 2.3 billion – one in three of the world’s population – don’t have access to adequate sanitation. And more than 500,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation: that’s more than 1,400 children a day.
In the developing world, there is a need for better delivery of safe water and sanitation. Even in urban areas, where household communal toilets are now common, more than two billion people use septic tanks that are not safely emptied, or use other systems that discharge raw sewage into open drains or surface waters.
Daily Trek: Frehiwot, 10, walks more than half an hour to get water she knows is unclean
The charity WaterAid is working to provide safe, clean water to everyone, everywhere by 2030 – and Yorkshire Water has for many years been committed to supporting their work.
The company is working with WaterAid Ethiopia on a five-year Big Wish for Ethiopia project to support the delivery of safe water and sanitation to 20 towns in the East African country.
It aims to raise £1m to deliver clean water and safe toilets to 170,000 households and provide further support through educating customers and influencing stakeholders regarding the challenges faced.
Teams of experts from Yorkshire Water have been visiting Ethiopia to improve the delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene – a programme known as WASH – and access to water and sanitation services.
In 2015, three employees with different areas of expertise – Nigel Riley, who’s from Selby, Joel Tidswell and Anna Warrington – visited the capital Addis Ababa and the town of Bishoftu to work alongside staff from local water companies.
Selby's Nigel Riley (left) demonstrates leakage detection equipment in Ethiopia
“We are working with the 20 towns project to upskill people and hopefully that will cascade across the country,” says Joel, who specialises in the management and operation of the network.“They are trying to improve their water and sewage network. We are looking at what skills they can use to achieve this.”
The trio held training sessions for Ethiopian water specialists. “Initially we went to various sites including reservoirs and bore holes, looking at the similarities in the ways we operate,” says Joel. “We are trying to build relationships whereby we can advise them and also gather information to bring back to Yorkshire.”
Some of the practices used, they found, were similar to those used in East Yorkshire, with water being extracted from bore holes – narrow shafts sunk into the ground to reach aquifers.
Whereas in rural villages, residents use a standpipe, in Addis Ababa homes have their own supply, most commonly through a garden tap. “It is treated at a basic level, not to the rigorous standards set in the UK, but is an improvement on water collected from streams or unclean water sources, which happened in the past,” explains Joel.
“There is no hot water, it has to be heated on a stove.”
“Some properties we visited had toilets and some were serviced by a toilet block for the surrounding community.”
The visit concentrated on the delivery of clean water. This year waste treatment will be a focus.
“Sanitation is a major issue in the towns,” says Joel. “They do not have a complete sewage network set up, so a lot of waste is discharged into a pit and collected by tankers.
“In Addis Ababa work has begun on a site into which waste can be properly dumped and treated before being safely returned to the environment. Increasingly, effluent is now also being taken to approved sites to be treated.”
He adds: “Things are definitely improving. As in the UK they are facing a growing population. One of the big challenges at the moment is to do with the treatment of effluent.
“At present the sewer network is limited. A lot of sewage goes into pits and is collected by tankers for basic treatment.
“They are building better collecting facilities and treatment systems. Where we were, they had built a sewage treatment works in a large pond in which organisms grow and break down sewage in a natural filtration and cleaning process.”
As well as site visits, the team gave presentations on how Yorkshire Water operates, with Anna speaking about water quality and Nigel explaining how the company tackles leaks.
Anna Warrington delivering water quality training
This year members of Water Aid Ethiopia will travel to Yorkshire to see the processes described by the team for themselves.
“They will try and pick up on our skills and build on their own,” says Joel. “Hopefully the knowledge passed on will have a ripple effect and be passed to future generations.”
Contact between the two companies is maintained through email and telephone. “Our visit opened up points of contact, as well as forging friendships,” says Joel.
In 2015/16, Yorkshire Water colleagues, partners and customers raised a massive £181,540 for WaterAid – enough to provide 12,102 people with access to clean water for the first time.
Fundraising activities included a cycling challenge, the annual 10k run around one of Yorkshire Water’s reservoirs and a golf day.
- For more information on WaterAid visit yorkshirewater.com/wateraid
- To donate £3 to WaterAid text SAFEWATER to 70300.