What does good development look like? In Ethiopia, good development looks like a well, a pond and a gully.
The three projects, which are found in the Tach Gayint District in the country’s hilly South Gondar Zone, were built in 2005 through food-for-work projects supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank through its member, World Renew, and in collaboration with local partner Food for the Hungry Ethiopia.
The well’s management committee was waiting for us on a hill near the well, a fenced-in enclosure where village women come to get water for cooking, drinking and other uses.
Before the well was built, people in the area got their water from a natural spring, filling their containers in a pool in the ground.
After the spring was capped through the project, they had access to clean water—no need to strain out the sediment or worry about contamination by animals. It was a huge improvement.
To keep the water flowing free and clear, community members pay a small annual fee to maintain the well.
“Clean water is a scarce resource in Ethiopia,” says Sam Vander Ende, the Foodgrains Bank’s field representative based in Ethiopia.
“Being able to provide it for people is satisfying, especially this long. As long as it is maintained, it should last them a very long time.”
The old man came up to greet us as we walked up to the pond, a big smile on his face and his arms outstretched. We weren’t sure what would happen next.
When he drew closer, he gave us large and generous hugs, along with three kisses on the cheeks in a traditional Ethiopian greeting.
Through a translator, Zewedu Tefera, 81, offered his thanks for the long-ago support from Canadians that made possible the rock-lined pond behind him.
“This water has been life for me, and for others,” he said of the pond, constructed through a food-for-work project provided by the Foodgrains Bank. “Thank-you.”
At which point he hugged us again—and again offering three more happy kisses.
Prior to its construction, Zewudu said, farmers had to walk two hours with their livestock to get them water. Now they just have to walk 15 minutes to get them something to drink.
Zewudu was one of the many from the community, located in a dry region of the country, who helped dig the pond. Now retired from farming, he volunteers to maintain and manage it.
Why does he do it? “You invested money into this pond to benefit us,” he says. “I want to be sure it continues to serve the community.”
But what will happen when he is too old to keep looking after the pond?
“I have already found my replacements,” he says gesturing to the younger men standing beside him. “They understand how important this water is. They will make sure the legacy continues.”
Rain is a mixed blessing in Ethiopia—it is critical for life but, when unrestrained by vegetation or terraces on hillsides, it can destroy the very farms that need the water it provides.
That’s what happened to farms owned by Abehaw Gobez, Yirse Dessele and Meseret Addise. In the early 2000s rain washed down from the nearby hills, opening a huge gully—four metres deep and as much as ten metres across—across their land.
The gully, which kept growing, threatened to swallow their farms and livelihoods.
In 2005, the Foodgrains Bank and World Renew stepped in to help. Through a food-for-work program, the three worked with others to gabions in the gully—collections of rock inside wire mesh.
Over time, as the rain water flowed down the gully, sediment carried by the rainfall was caught by the check dams and built up behind them. Today the gully is filling in, and it is no longer expanding.
“If this work had not been done, many of us would have lost our land and been displaced,” Gobez says, noting that they have been adding additional check dams to make sure the gully doesn’t get bigger.
“Now we are protected.”
Reflecting on the three projects, all made possible with support from the government of Canada, Vander Ende notes his satisfaction.
“In the end, good development depends on the people it benefits,” he says. “If they feel part of it, and that they are responsible for it, it has a great chance of succeeding, like these projects have.”