Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

Light in the house

I am just back from a short trip to Bahar Dar, where I went to visit a land rehabilitation and conservation project in the Lake Tana watershed. I had been several times to Bahar Dar, but never in September when the rainy season is coming to an end. It was like visiting a new place: the whole countryside was green and lush like I have not seen it before, the fields were covered with corn and teff almost ready to be harvested and the river streams full of fast flowing water.  I was told before to visit this region in September when it is at its best, now I understand why. I wish I had time to see again the Blue Nile falls in their full flow, but unfortunately I could not take that liberty.

Biogas lamp lighting up the grain storage containers inside a rural house

Biogas lamp lighting up the grain storage containers inside a rural house

This field visit nevertheless gave me the opportunity to visit a rural village, about two hours south of Bahar Dar, where the conservation project is being implemented. In particular, I visited a house with a new domestic biogas plant. The technology is part of a larger scheme initiated by the Dutch Non Governmental Organisation, SNV, and other partners to provide biogas to 70,000 households in six African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal and Burkina Faso) by the end of 2013. The idea is to use manure as well as human waste to provide alternative energy to rural houses and thus reduce the burning of wood. The technology has become so popular that in the Lake Tana area alone, already 500 households have been equipped with it, compared to an initial plan of just one hundred houses. After my visit there, I could understand why: the newly introduced biogas technology gives light into previously dark houses.

Every time I visit a rural house in Ethiopia, I am shocked by how rudimentary living conditions are. That’s when reality hits. The houses, made of mud and straw, have no opening other than the entrance doorway and no windows to let the light in. The ground is the floor, there is no other layer serving as floor, it is the ground itself. Inside the houses are extremely dark, so much so that we need a torch to see. A partition separates the sleeping room from the living room/kitchen, and a plank fixed along the wall serves as narrow bench to sit on. Before biogas was introduced, families had no latrines as such and were using their backyard as an open toilet, creating serious hygiene and sanitation problems, not to mention the revolting smell they had to constantly live with. As part of the new domestic biogas plant, a latrine is built which is in fact a hole in the ground surrounded by a concrete structure linked to the biogas digestor to produce the gas. Because they know it will give them light and energy, the families are regularly using the latrine and keeping it clean. The manure from the cows, which is providing the greatest share of the gas, is stored in a purpose built pond in the backyard next to the vegetable plot, where among other, sugar cane grows.

Ethiopia is still a predominantly rural country. I realise now how important it is to visit rural houses to try to understand something of the country and its diverse regions, even if it’s not always easy to witness the precarity of a rural life unchanged in centuries.


2 comments on “Light in the house

  1. isabelleclevyohara
    September 25, 2013

    Coucou Dominique, super de te lire de nouveau ! on part pour les Bal Mountains demain bientt et bon Meskal, isa

  2. calls make
    October 19, 2013

    Wonderful blog! I found it while searching on Yahoo News.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News?
    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem
    to get there! Many thanks

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