Ask anyone on the streets of the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa what their city needs most urgently, and the answer is immediate: water. Every day, tankers and donkey-carts deliver water to tens of thousands of homes and businesses that have no direct access to the existing municipal piped water system.
The principal water infrastructure for Hargeisa was constructed in the 1970s to supply what was then a city of 180,000 inhabitants. Since the latest system upgrade in 1988, when additional boreholes were drilled at the city’s Geed Deeble well field (some 23 kilometres north of the city) and a second pumping main installed to boost the supply, there has been no increase in the volume of water, despite a quadrupling of demand over the last 25 years.
Following rapid urbanization and resettlement, the estimated population of the city is now over 750,000 people, while the daily supply from the existing water system is just 9 million litres – the same as it was in 1988. If distributed evenly, this would provide 12 litres per person per day, far below the internationally accepted minimum urban water supply target of 32 litres per person per day. To achieve this standard, Hargeisa needs at least 24 million litres of water a day. The chronic lack of water is only half the story. The 25- to 40-year-old pumping mains between Geed Deeble and Hargeisa are heavily deteriorated and regularly burst, leaving the city without piped water.
In response, the European Union has provided a grant of EUR 15 million to UN-Habitat to upgrade the system over a 42-month project timeline. On 6 December 2012, UN-Habitat, in partnership with the Hargeisa Water Agency and the Ministry of Mining, Energy, and Water Resources, began the implementation of the Hargeisa Urban Water Supply Upgrading Project (HUWSUP).
The objectives of the project are straightforward: to increase the amount of water to Hargeisa from nearby well fields, and to ensure that the supply system is secure and sustainable. To achieve this, UN-Habitat will engage the services of professional engineering consultants and contractors to design and then construct a new, upgraded water supply system. HUWSUP’s main priority is the replacement of the two existing 300 mm main transmission pipes. These will be decommissioned and replaced with a single 500 or 600 mm main, allowing up to 20 million litres to be pumped daily to Hargeisa without the risk of pipe bursts.
The second priority is the development of more water sources. HUWSUP will drill at least four new boreholes, within and near the existing well field, to augment the 13 existing production wells. This intervention will increase the daily supply from 9 to 12.5 million litres. Improving the infrastructure and finding and connecting new water sources require additional investments in borehole drilling, pumping equipment, power supply, and connection pipework – financial resources that are not included in the present project.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to the Hargeisa water supply problem: large-scale urban infrastructure developments of this kind require funding, planning, and time. Rather, HUWSUP is laying the foundation for an adequate and sustainable water supply system that will be able to satisfy both present and future demands.
The EU grant will secure the new pumping main, replace the existing pumping stations, and enable additional boreholes to be developed. UN-Habitat is working with its partners to identify additional funding, so that water supply stops being the biggest concern for the residents of Somaliland’s main city.