My WATSAN Life in Ethiopia: Week 1

Water and sanitation specialist Alex begins a new assignment, fighting a deadly outbreak in Ethiopia...

I am on a small, bumpy (hallelujah for ginger chew gravel), humanitarian sponsored airplane flying to from Ethiopia's capital, Addis Abeba, to Wardher. Wardher is a small quiet town situated in the horn of Africa with its population mostly made up of Somalis. Several IDPs (internally displaced people) camps surround the town as people in the area search for food, water and grazing areas for their livestock. 

The region has missed the last three rainy seasons and is facing high malnutrition rates and livestock mortality due to the drought.

Traditional water reservoirs have dried up with the lack of rains, as well as countless hand dug wells. More than 400,000 people in the region depend on 18 submersible pump wells, three of which support Wardher. Trucks have become the main method water distribution to various camps and villages, however roads are not always accessible.

Most people are living off of 2 liters of water per day or less; the WHO (World Health Organization) and MSF recommend 15 – 20 liters of water per person per day. This water is not only used for drinking, but also for basic hygiene needs and cooking. Bathing and laundry usually requires more water. 

In March of this year, an AWD (Acute Watery Diarrhea) outbreak began. AWD is a bacteria transmitted faecal-oral, with its most common means of infection through direct contact (contaminated hands).

Symptoms can begin after a few hours and last as long as five days. Symptoms are usually mild, however, one in twenty people infected have severe vomiting and diarrhea leading to extreme dehydration, shock and death. The most vulnerable population are children under 5 years old and the elderly.

My WATSAN Life in Ethiopia: Week 1

I just flew for 48 hours to get from Western Canada to Eastern Ethiopia, so I feel great! (It’s 3am and I’m ready to start my day).

AWD Treatment Center: Tents for patients requiring oral rehydration fluids and IV fluids

I’ve been assigned to work as a Water and Sanitation (WATSAN) specialist in the AWD treatment center in Wardher. During the peak of the outbreak, the center saw more than 50 new admissions per day with daily average of 150 patients being treated.

Laundry hygienists hand washing and disinfecting patient blankets in chlorine solution

This week I helped improve the treatment center in the event of another cyclic peak; currently there are between 25-35 patients.

I upgraded the toilet structures and expanded the laundry area where hygienists wash contaminated blankets and clothes. We built an area for the kitchen hygienists to wash dirty plates and store them in a clean environment to reduce the risk of contamination.

Hygienist cleaning vomit and diarrhea buckets with high chlorine concentrated solution. The hygienist use gloves and aprons protect themselves and reduce the risk of transmission of the bacteria

We dug trenches around the toilets and showers to collect and contain any waste runoff. And expanded the chlorine solution preparation station.

Hygienist cleaning and disinfecting plates used by patients. Meals are provided by the treatment center to patients and caregivers