Patients swear by the healing powers of Harbu hot springs in the South Wollo Zone of Amhara Regional State.
Located 42 km outside of the city of Dessie, and 358 km north east of Addis Ababa, this hot spring at Harbu Town is believed to possess medicinal properties. The site is now becoming popular as more people become aware of it.
The makeshift huts built around the hot spring are usually crammed with people who come to wash with the hot water.
Abebaw Tesfaye, a 62-year-old man from Woldia, a town in Wollo, said that he had lived with a sore right leg for about a year. Having visited so many different medical facilities and people who administered traditional remedies, he came to Harbu after being unable to find a solution.
“When I came there and bathed in the hot springs, I noticed a change in just three days,” Abebaw said.
He added that he hadn’t been able to walk for three months prior to his visit to Harbu. When Addis Zeybe’s correspondent met him in Harbu, he was walking without aid. “This is like a miracle for me!” he declared.
The other beneficiary of the Harbu hot springs is Halima Awel. Halima is a resident of Shewarobit town, North Shoa Zone. She told Addis Zeybe that she was in poor health after she delivered her last child.
“I had severe back pain. I was given medicine for it from a hospital but wasn’t feeling any better. I then heard about Harbu’s healing powers and decided to come and try it,” she stated.
Halima came to Harbu and started bathing in the hot waters. “In the past ten days I've seen significant changes and progress in my health," she said.
Despite the fact that the hot springs are therapeutic and many people are currently visiting the place for treatment, as Halima noted, the area is underdeveloped.
“The shelters near the hot springs are not comfortable. Many people who come to seek treatment want to stay here until they recover. But they can’t stay here for long due to poor sanitation and management,” complains Halima, adding that the hot spring's service should be improved as its fame increases.
According to Sheikh Mohammed Miftah Jamal, the current administrator of the hot springs, the hot springs were discovered and established by Hajji Mahmud in 800 A.D. The current administrator, Sheikh Mohammed Miftah Jamal, is the 11th generation progeny of Hajji Mahmud.
As the administrator said, the hot water is divided into two parts to give separate services for women and men. Apart from bathing, patients are also advised to drink the water for some ailments.
“The drinking water that is clean and free of contamination can also be used as a treatment by anyone who has a stomach ache, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and gastroenteritis," said Sheikh Mohammed.
In addition to separated men's and women's baths, which are made of plastic around the hot spring area, the hot spring has a system to adjust hot water temperature as its temperature rises by diverting flows from the adjacent river to the hot water.
Sheikh Mohammed has written a book on the use of the hot springs and what illnesses they cure and that many people are benefiting from them.
This means people who cannot afford to pay for conventional healthcare are using Harbu’s hot springs water as a substitute. However, its growing popularity doesn't mean that there can be no gaps in maintaining and organizing the hot water supply, and its services to users.
According to Sheikh Mohammed Misbah, the government has responsibility to construct necessary infrastructures and clean up the area as maintaining its sanitation helps to attract tourists. It also allows people who visit the place to stay comfortable and be inclined to come again.
“This hasn’t been done yet. We are not providing service with full capacity,” says Sheikh Mohammed stressing the area is overcrowded and yet not being properly managed.
Due to the increased number of visitors to Harbu, the existing infrastructure is not enough to accommodate all. Guesthouses and roads that are up to the standard are needed, according to the Sheikh. He also added that the place needs to be connected to electricity and clean toilets, cafes and restaurants would add quality to the area.
Awel Mohammed is a tourism destination development expert at Kalu Woreda, Culture and Tourism Bureau. He said that the hot spring is not only a tourist destination but a means of income for many locals.
“Although the hot spring has been used by many people to solve their health problems, it is also creating jobs for the youth. This is why we say it should be developed and modernized to serve more people and create more jobs," Awel added.
Furthermore, Awel mentioned that educational institutions like Wollo University should become more involved, contributing to this hot spring development and research. This would help to preserve heritage, make it comfortable for users and attract tourists.