Improving the water situation in Ethiopia


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Improving the water situation in Ethiopia, Africa



Focus Areas

Geographic Scope


Government of Ethiopia



Background and Significance

Ethiopia has nine major rivers and twelve big lakes. Lake Tana, for example, in the north is the source of the Blue Nile. However, apart from the big rivers and major tributaries, there is hardly any perennial flow in areas below 1,500 m. While the country’s annual renewable freshwater potential is 122 billion m3, only 3 percent of this amount remains in the country. It is estimated that 54.4 billion m3 of surface runoff and 2.6 billion m3 of groundwater can be developed for utilization. Currently less than 5 percent of surface water potential is used for consumptive purposes.

Ethiopia is largely dependent on the agricultural sector, which provides 86 percent of the country’s employment and 57 percent of its GDP. Rainfed crop cultivation is the principal activity and is practised over an area of 27.9 million hectares (ha), or approximately 23 percent of potentially arable land. However, frequent and sever droughts are causing serious decreases in the incomes of rural inhabitants who rely most on agriculture. Estimates have shown that 3.7million ha of land can be irrigated, at present a mere 300,000 ha has been developed. To make matters worse, predicted large and medium scale irrigation schemes will likely do little to secure the food supply for the rapidly growing population.

Additionally, wetlands are very valuable areas for rural communities, contributing directly to food security by providing vegetables in the early rainy season when the supply of food from the upland fields is running out for many families. Many families also obtain drinking water from the wells surrounding the wetlands. However, these wetlands are being degraded due to human-related activities, such as draining for agriculture, cattle grazing, industrial pollution and unsustainable utilisation of resources. It does not help that at the national level there is a distanct lack of wetland policy.

The status of water and sanitation infrastructure is also very poor. Only 10% of Ethiopians have access to propersanitation facilities, and 37% access to safe water. Service delivery differs widely between urban and rural areas and almost 25% of water installations in rural areas are not functional at any given time. One consequence of these deplorable conditions is extreme ill-health among the population, and women and children in particular; the most vulnerable to water-borne and water-related diseases as they more frequently come into contact with contaminated water. Diarrhoea, the most prevelant water-borne disease, account for 46% of the under-five child mortality rate.

Moreover, due to massive deforestation and loss of surface vegetation, flooding is now an annual phenomenon in many areas, such as the banks of the Blue Nile. These often cause social and economic damage, but also provide much needed water to ensure the fertiity of grazelands.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

To improve access to safe water and sanitation, the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) (2002-2016) was put into effect in 2002. This comprises five programmes that set targets for water supply and sewerage, irrigation and drainage, hydropower development, general water resources programmes and institutions/capacity building. The Water Resources Management Proclamation was issued the same year, to provide legal ground for the implementation of the Federal Water Resources Management Policy, issued in 1999. Importantly, this policy elaborates on the water supply and sanitation, irrigation and hydropower sectors. Overall it promotes the sustainable development of water resources for equitable social and economic benefits through public participation and IWRM.

Vocational and technical training centres have also been established since 2003, to train technicians on irrigation development schemes and water supply and sanitation services. The Goverment of Ethiopia has also taken steps to establish River Basin Organizations.

Results and Impact

Most Ethiopians do not have access to safe water and sanitation. This project involves activities to rectify, or at least improve, this situation.

A large number of Ethiopians still have no access to safe water or adequate sanitation facilities. Implementing the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) (2002-2016) should really help improve the situation, but funds from international donors will be vital to the success.

The main priority for the future should be attracting new, reliable international donors.

Lessons for Replication

Comprehensive awareness-raising activities are necessary to disseminate existing plans and policies at various levels. Currently, such activities are lacking in Ethiopia.

A functioning monitoring and evaluation system is crucial to be able to comprehensively analyse the rate of implementation and effectivess of policies. This is a fundamental aspect of the project cycle, but was absent.

National funds are insufficient to fund the investment necessary for the implementation of the Water Sector Development Programme. Attracting international donors should be a constant priority in order to alleviate the heavy burden of disease, poverty and hunger that Ethiopia currently faces.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions


The Experience at a Glance

Implementing Agency(ies)


See also

Additional case studies in Ethiopia
  1. Improving the water situation in Ethiopia/Map
  2. The Importance of Political Context in Achieving MDG7 in Ethiopia: An Essay
  3. The Nile: Moving Beyond Cooperation
  4. Water Conflict and Cooperation/Nile River Basin

External Resources

WWDR2 Case study summary

Full case study report


 Ethiopia.pdf  Ethiopiafull.pdf

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