Ethiopia has abundant water resources with surface potential estimated at 122 billion cubic meters per annum, equivalent to a per capita fresh water resource of about 1920 m3/yr, one of the highest in sub-Saharan Africa from 9 river basins. Irrespective of the potential of water supply sources, Ethiopia is among the countries with least access to potable water supply for the population. In the year 2003 only about 34% of the total population (25% of rural and 85% of urban population) had access to potable water supplies. Access to sanitation facilities is even worse than water supply both in urban and rural communities of the country.
Apart from the low level of coverage the urban water supply and sanitation sector has a number of problems. Due to growth and expansion of the urban centers the demand for water increases at a faster rate than the supply of water. Thus in most of the cities quite significant portion of the demand for water supply and sanitation is not addressed, creating a wide gap between the demand for and supply of potable water. For example, in Addis Ababa the total coverage of the demand for water is not more than 70% and in Dire Dawa previous studies indicated this coverage to be around 68%. In Harar town the situation is even worse and it is difficult to talk about any level of coverage of demand at the moment due to the present catastrophic situation of water supply in the town.
The poor sections of the urban communities reside in congested and shanty areas. The sanitation situation in these areas is such that the streets are full of garbage, toilets are non-existent, and even if they exist are not properly managed to give proper services. This creates severe health concerns and puts these communities at risk.