June 2018

Water: an existential challenge

By Cherif Ouazani
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Cooperation with Ethiopia, a seawater desalination plant, massive investments in supply networks: Djibouti is pursuing a proactive policy to remedy its weak hydro resources.
 
With an average temperature of over 30°C and annual rainfall of barely 120 mm, Djibouti has known nothing other than a constant, chronic water shortage. The nomad population is becoming steadily more sedentary, resulting in rapid and unbridled urbanisation which, coupled with the significant population increase, is placing huge pressure on the Ambouli water table on the outskirts of the city of Djibouti. Therefore, the 40,000 m³ pumped by dozens of boreholes in the capital no longer met the needs of the city’s households, estimated at 80,000 m³. This limited water capacity was a crippling obstacle to any industrialisation project in the country. How does a country quench its thirst and dream of economic development when there is so little rain? “By getting help from our neighbour, Ethiopia,” says Mohamed Ahmed Awaleh, Minister of Agriculture, who oversees water resources, “which is the water tower of East Africa with its fourteen rivers and streams.” On the border with Djibouti, the Harrar plateau and its billions of cubic metres of groundwater reserves is a true blessing of nature. Ethiopia, one of our partners of choice, decided to extract 100,000 m³ daily and give them to Djibouti for free. The crossborder drinking water project was completed in 2017, financed by Exim Bank of China to the tune of $327 million. The Ali-Sabieh, Dikhil and Arta regions each benefit from just over 6,000 m³ per day. The remaining 80,000 m³ is reserved for the capital. In addition, Eiffage-Tedagua, a Franco-Spanish consortium, is building a seawater desalination plant with a capacity of 45,000 m³ per day for €63 million, financed by the European Union. Work began in 2017 with commissioning scheduled for the first quarter of 2020.
 
Infrastructure rehabilitation
The ageing water supply system in the capital and regional capitals has been rehabilitated, with around 10 water towers built and more than 600 km of pipelines renovated and replaced, of which 427 km feed the capital alone. Other than the drinking water supply system in urban centres, the sanitation and wastewater treatment component is also a priority in the infrastructure upgrading operations. Since March 2014 and the commissioning of the Douda wastewater treatment plant, more than 2,200 m³ of wastewater have been treated daily. “The government has invested massively in the drinking water supply and sanitation sector,” says Mohamed Ahmed Awaleh proudly, “to improve the quality of life of our fellow citizens and create the conditions for our development.” One tends to spend a lot when fighting thirst.
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