ERITREA: Water on their minds
The fog collector in Gahtelai
Asmara, 15 June 2009 (IRIN) - Doran Ali Osman, administrator of Rahaita, one of the most southerly villages on Eritrea's Red Sea coast, zips up his jacket as the wind tugs at his clothes. He has water on his mind. The villagers, who depend on fish, crops and livestock farming to earn a living, have to cope with less and less rainfall.
The village lies about 90km south of Assab, capital of Eritrea's Southern Red Sea Region, in one of the hottest places on earth, where temperatures soar beyond 40 degrees Celsius.
Water for daily use is pumped out of wells by diesel-powered generators, but Eritrea imports all its fuel, making diesel an expensive option. A few years ago the government helped the village set up a solar-powered generator, "But there are days when the clouds cover the sun," said Osman.
More help is at hand. Rahaita is one of seven villages in the region covered by the Eritrea Wind Energy Application pilot project - funded by the Global Environment Facility and the UN Development Programme - and will be electrified by the end of 2009.
A rapid assessment of water sources by the government's Water Resource Department found that 58 percent of households in rural areas have access to safe drinking water.
Climate change projections by the Eritrean government are less than cheerful: temperatures could soar by more than 4 degrees Celsius by 2050, shrinking precious sources of water such as boreholes and run-off - excess water from rain or other sources flowing over the land; droughts are expected to become longer and more intense.
Rainfall is inadequate and underground resources are declining, the UN Children's fund (UNICEF) reported in 2003. "The water in some of our groundwater holes has also become salty," said Osman. Almost 70 percent of the semi-arid land is affected by drought, including the highlands, which usually enjoy higher rainfall.
The food and fuel price hike in 2008 jolted the government and the people - the World Bank listed Eritrea, which also imports at least 40 percent of its food requirements in a good harvest year, among the countries worst affected by the crisis.
The International Monetary Fund said more than eight percent of gross domestic product (GDP) was spent on food and fuel in 2008, and the price of some staple grains rose fourfold in 2008.
"The villagers realize we have to start growing food, which is why we need the water," said Osman. They are planning communal gardens to grow and sell vegetables to supplement incomes.
Water is everything
"Water is everything to us," said Mogos Weldeyohannes, Director General of the Department of Environment. "We spend more than half our budget on conserving water." This could not be verified, as data are hard to come by in a country still recovering from a 30-year war of independence and later border conflicts with Ethiopia.
"[We] faced one of the worst droughts since independence [in 1993] last year . Crops failed. We are determined that rainwater has to be harvested to be used," he said.
Eritrea has built scores of small dams in the past three decades and is planning 200 more, as well as diversion structures to harvest and store water, according to an aid agency document.
Urban areas have begun to feel the impact; people in the capital, Asmara, now only have running water on three days out of every ten. "We all have had to invest in tanks and many, many buckets to store water," one resident told IRIN.
Gahtelai, a village in the highlands in the Northern Red Sea Region, is harvesting water from fog: "fog collectors", flat rectangular nets supported by a post on either side, are arranged perpendicular to the direction of the wind.
"The collection surface is a fine mesh net made from a nylon material," said Heruy Asgodom, head of Eritrea's agriculture department. "The water collects on the net ... [and runs down into] a trough or gutter at the bottom of the panel." About 14 litres to 20 litres of water per square metre are harvested every day and fed into a reservoir to irrigate vegetable gardens.
More villages near the coast could soon be exploiting the fog coming in from the sea. "We have to think of every way to collect water," said a villager.