Project Waterfall: Making a clear difference

Project Waterfall has completed an initiative in the Jabi Tehnan region of Ethiopia to provide improved access to clean water to more than 10,500 people in the coffee farming community. 5THWAVE speaks to Rebecca Hodgson, Director of Project Waterfall

More than 10,500 people across three villages have access to safe water and toilets for the first time | Photo credit: WaterAid/Frehiwot Gebrewold



Ethiopia is Africa’s leading producer of coffee, providing an income for more than 15 million people and generating approximately 60% of the country’s foreign income.
 
Jabi Tehnan is a coffee growing district in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, where only 67% of the local population had access to clean water and 50% to sanitation.
 
Since 2018, Project Waterfall, in partnership with WaterAid, has been working with the local community to create long-term water provision by rebuilding the existing multi-village water system and constructing a new system capable of supplying increased capacity.
 
The initiative completed in June 2022 with Project Waterfall reporting that 10,571 people now have access to clean drinking water and 10,662 have gained access to better sanitation and hygiene, boosting their health and life chances while simultaneously improving the local coffee industry.
 
The project reached 50% more people than it originally set out to in 2018.
 
Rebecca Hodgson is Director of Project Waterfall, a water charity focused on coffee growing communities.
 
She says accessing water is a daily struggle for many coffee growing communities and, until a few weeks ago, Jabi Tehnan was one of these communities.
 
“Now over 10,500 people across three villages have access to safe water and toilets for the first time. I am incredibly proud of our team and delivery partners for working tirelessly to make this happen and would like to thank all our supporters in the coffee industry for helping us bring this project to life,” she says.
 

Gojjam’s experience


Collecting water is the main day-to-day activity for 14-year-old Gojjam. As the eldest daughter in her household, responsibility for running the household fell to Gojjam after her mother passed away. Previously, Gojjam used to collect unclean water from an unprotected spring located more than a 20-minute walk from her Addis Alem village. The route is prone to flooding and there were many days when Gojjam missed school because of the time it took.
 
Now, a waterpoint has been built only five minutes away from her house, meaning Gojjam can collect up to 10 jerry cans of water per day and still attend school.
 
“We make sure the water is protected. We won’t let small children and cattle get into the area where the taps are installed. Since the water makes our life simple, we want to keep it functional,” she says.

Gojjam used to collect unclean water from an unprotected spring located more than a 20-minute walk from her village | Photo credit: WaterAid/Frehiwot Gebrewold


 

Building a clean water-aware community

 
Two water supply systems have been constructed and handed over to the Jabi Tehnan community, one supplying water to two local schools. Collectively the systems are providing improved access to clean water for more than 10,500 people.
 
To ensure the system’s sustainability, the community was involved in the construction work and training was provided to health extension workers and other community leaders. Two public toilet blocks, shower blocks and a water kiosk to provide water and sanitary materials have been built, ensuring increased sanitation for more than 10,600 people.
 
The continued stability of the system has been strengthened through the creation of water supply committees alongside WASH training for government officials. Importantly, a ten-year consolidated WASH plan and climate resilient water plan have also been established.
 
An inclusive sanitation block has been constructed at the local high school for more than 300 female students. The block has a shower, rest area, hand-washing facilities and a small garden, not only increasing sanitation for the community but also helping young women to feel more dignified. Nearly 1,500 packs of sanitary pads were also distributed to 631 female students.
 

The pandemic problem


Improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) has proven beneficial to communities in myriad ways, from helping children stay in education and making local businesses more sustainable, to lowering child mortality rates and the spread of respiratory infections.
 
Therefore, working to improve WASH services within the context of a global pandemic provided new educational opportunities alongside more obvious logistical challenges.
 

“Our work has not only meant clean water to drink, but also sanitation and hygiene training at a time when washing our hands became more important than ever”

 
The Jabi Tehnan project began in 2018 and construction was in full swing at the beginning of 2020, when it faced new challenges triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
 
“Access to the community became more challenging, construction costs rose, and we were aware that we were working against the clock to make sure these communities had hand-washing facilities in place as quickly as possible,” says Project Waterfall’s Rebecca Hodgson.
 
“During this time our work has not only meant clean water to drink, but also sanitation and hygiene training at a time when washing our hands became more important than ever,” she adds.
 
The pandemic also led to an increase in construction materials and medical equipment costs. The impact of inflation was well-managed through regular risk assessments, but Project Waterfall also experienced disruption due to Ethiopian election preparations and a longer rainy season than usual, which limited working days.
 

Post-completion expectations


Following the success of the Jabi Tehnan project, Hodgson says that Project Waterfall will be continuing its WaterAid partnership with the two charities currently in the process of choosing a new project.
 
“After a challenging couple of years, it’s great to see the coffee industry bouncing back and more brands deciding to support charitable initiatives. We’re hopeful that by working together we’ll continue to make a life-changing impact in coffee growing communities across the world,” she says.
 


This article was first published in Issue 11 of 5THWAVE magazine.

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