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Waters of life flow through capital

Updated: 2014-05-02 09:27
By Wang Chao and Andrew Moody ( China Daily Africa)

 Waters of life flow through capital

CGC Overseas Corporation's employees (from left) Yu Renzhi, Lidya Yilma, Wu Lizhi, Yitagesu Mamo and Samuel Mulugeta. The Chinese company's water supply system has helped increase the water coverage in Addis Ababa to 90 percent. Provided to China Daily

Millions in Addis Ababa now have direct access to a precious resource

For more than 10 years a good stock of purified bottled water has always been a must-have for Sun Guoqiang. Addis Ababa, where he lives, is said to be the Ethiopian city with the best public amenities and services, but that does not stop sewage running through the streets of the capital.

For Sun that means drinking tap water is ill-advised, especially when the water is not boiled. Sun is keen to tackle the problem at its source. As head of the largest water supply system operator in the country he is probably one of the people best placed to do just that. Waters of life flow through capital

Sun, 44, general manager of CGC Overseas Corporation, Ethiopia, has been in Africa for 16 years, 14 years in Ethiopia and two in Nigeria. He is from Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, a green city whose credentials are burnished in the Chinese saying "In heaven there is paradise, and on earth there are Hangzhou and Suzhou."

For Sun, that image of his hometown has slowly dissipated over the years, lost not in the romantic mist that sometimes shrouds Hangzhou, but in the windy, dusty reality of the highland country to which he has devoted his best years.

CGCOC is active in five areas in Ethiopia: water supply systems, road and bridge construction, well drilling, glass making and supplying construction equipment. It is also active in more than 10 African countries, including Angola, Kenya and Nigeria.

The company says that over the past 10 years it has built 1,400 kilometers of roads, and CGCOC's glass factory is widely regarded as a symbol of Ethiopia's setting out on the path to industrialization. The factory's most important products are 2 mm to 8 mm sheet glass for windows, and the company says they account for 95 percent of the Ethiopian market.

"We don't sell people cranes when what they need is milk bottles and nappies," Sun says, stressing the company's attention to its marketing.

"We study the needs of African people and decide on our products. Obviously, people here have many needs, and we don't trick them into buying products they don't really need." Waters of life flow through capital

Water supply is one of the urgent needs, and Sun says building a system to do that has given him a huge sense of accomplishment.

Over the past 10 years, CGCOC has helped raise the water supply coverage in Addis Ababa from 37 percent to 90 percent, which means the great bulk of city dwellers have access to tap water. Those who do not, live in remote areas.

The World Health Organization says the average water supply for urban residents is 100 to 120 liters for each person a day, but in suburban areas of Addis Ababa many people are still far from having that standard.

On the outskirts of the city, whose population was put at 3.4 million in 2007, some still obtain their water from local sources.

"People have to fetch water with buckets and kettles for their daily cooking, drinking and cleaning," Sun says. "We want to help change that so they all have tap water."

The city's urban water supply system, which the French began to build in the 1930s, is showing its age, but given the expense of laying out a brand new system, the government decided to find partners to renovate it. CGCOC and a French company won the contract.

The project includes a dam and a water treatment system. The company will increase the height of the dam so it can hold more water, and expand the capacity of the water treatment system.

Addis has had no sewerage system, and CGCOC is designing one for the city. With sewage running on the street, even five-star hotels depend on sewer scavengers to take the dirt out of the city, Sun says. Waters of life flow through capital

Over time CGCOC's water supply solutions have reached beyond the cities into the whole country.

"Ethiopia is not short of water, but it is not evenly distributed," Sun says. "So we have to transport the resources between regions."

A recent project involves taking water from one major industrial city, Dire Dawa, which is at a low altitude and has plenty of water, to another, Harar, which is at a high altitude and has no underground water. The company drilled wells in Dire Dawa and uses pumps to send water to Harar. This $12 million project is partly sponsored by the African Development Bank.

The Ethiopian economy has grown 10 percent a year in recent years, and this is giving CGCOC more opportunities.

"Population growth by far outstrips the development of amenities, and just when infrastructure catches up with public demand for water, industries take off and even more water is needed for them," Sun says.

The company is helping to build a dam on the Gibe River on the north-western outskirts of Addis Ababa to add another 100,000 metric tons of water supply to industries in the city.

Another project high on the company's agenda is a 316-km road from Dessie to Gunde Wyen, two cities separated by the Nile. The $200 million project includes two sections of road on each side of the Nile and a bridge to join them. Construction began in 2006 and the project is due to be completed this year.

Previously, to travel between two big cities of Amare state, Bahir Dar and Dessie, which are separated by a tributary of the Nile, people had to take a big detour through Addis Ababa. Waters of life flow through capital

"The new road has cut the distance by two-thirds," Sun says.

The road also makes life easier for farmers: the Nile valley is a major grain production area, and the newly built roads are helping farmers sell their produce quickly in Bahir Dar and Dessie.

Qin Jian, deputy head of mission at the Chinese embassy in Ethiopia, says locals are familiar with Chinese companies.

"The companies have played a large part in developing infrastructure, which Ethiopians see as ensuring their well-being and sustainable long-term development. Ethiopia is a typical African market: here we don't sell them state-of-art high-tech products, but we build infrastructure and open factories, so they get what they need the most urgently, and this is helping development."

Contact the writers at wangchao@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily Africa Weekly 05/02/2014 page25)

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