Home | TheWaterBlog

TheWaterBlog: If you want to share unique images and observations in this section, or would like to know about syndicating these posts, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!


posted by Seifu Kebede, Taye Alemayehu, Asefa Kumsa and Frank van Steenbergen
October 01, 2012

In the last five years, the development of small scale private irrigation has caught on in Ethiopia. Small, high-value horticultural plots are ‘popping’ up in many parts of the country. Often the new vegetable gardens use water from rural drinking water systems, converting these - by stealth - into so-called  ‘multiple use systems’.  This does not come without conflict. Here are a few examples:                                                                 

In Arsi, a large multi-village, multi-district scheme has been developed. In Amraba, a spring was capped and a 60-kilometre long pipeline laid to take water to several villages towards Wabe Shebele valley.  However, whilst this work was going on, people in Amraba discovered the potential of the spring water and developed small vegetable gardens.  When the water supply system was completed, the upstream land users were no longer willing to share the water with the downstream rural water supply, the government had to interfere to salvage the drinking water system.

Things do not always go this way. In Gandata (see picture) in West Harrarghe, a well was developed by the Water Bureau to provide water to the community.  The drilling was successful and produced a 5 l/s artesian well.   The Water Bureau did not immediately develop the pipeline system. When it returned after a few months to do so, it found the well area fenced off and planted with oranges, bananas and other fruit trees.  The drinking water system was never developed.

Another case is Degem where a spring was developed for drinking water. Its discharge was plentiful (6-10 liter per second), whereas for the rural water supply system 1-2 litre per second was sufficient.  The overflow was allowed to go to the valley. After one farmer fitted a t-section in the water supply system to irrigate carrots and made USD 2000 in the process, other farmers followed suit.  When the upstream land owners also intended to develop this profitable business they were stopped by the downstream farmers. The downstream farmers would patrol the system with guns to make sure no water was taken by upstream land users, except for drinking water.

As the conflicts are new, water ‘rights’ in Ethiopia are largely unregulated and very much a matter of the positioning and strength of different communities and groups. In Degalile in Somali Region, for instance, two wells were developed to serve a community on the east bank of the river, yet the left bank community claimed the water belonged to it. In the ensuing conflict more than 100 persons reportedly died. The right bank community has no access to drinking water and at the moment efforts are going on to drill in almost ‘no hope’ aquifers for the lack of anything better.  In another case in Somali Region,  in Hartsheikh, a relatively weaker clan (the Abskul) did not even want a well to be developed in its land for fear that that a stronger group (the Isaq or Ogadens) would invade its area once a successful waterpoint was in place.

These examples show wthe need to develop a protocol for determining and settling water rights in Ethiopia – now that small-scale irrigated horticulture fast develops – defining also the role of the local government to step in where required. There is also a need to revisit the planning of drinking water systems and develop them as multiple use systems from the very beginning, including the settlement of access rights to the productive use water.


  • Water: The New Gold Standard?

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen September 24, 2012In recent times of crisis, the economic performance of US has been helped very much by an age-old practice – the printing of extra money (the euphemistic term is ‘quantitative easing’). A shot in the arm for the economy but also one that also brings inflation and weakens the patient. If the dollar was any other currency its bloated being woul...

    Read more

  • Herbicides: are they good for you?

    posted by Marta Agujetas Frank van Steenbergen September 17, 2012An amazing trend is the increased use of herbicides in rain-fed farming, for instance in Ghana where this picture was taken. A main driver is shortage of labour, with so many young people leaving rural areas for towns and cities. But are these herbicides good for us?The use of herbicides in often (but others are silent) recommended i...

    Read more

  • Mermaids

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen September 10, 2012 Whereas we may be familiar with the iconic mermaid in the harbor of Copenhagen, in rivers and lakes in Ghana, mermaid creatures are said to live as well. Called ‘Maame Water,’ she is very much like the Mami Wata spirit that is common to many other West African cultures. During the slave trade, the belief in these mermaids travelled to the Car...

    Read more

  • Yemen's 'Magic Soil'

    posted by Taha Alwashali and Frank van Steenbergen September 03, 2012The ancient name of Yemen is ‘Arabia Felix’ - the blessed happy Arabia - and maybe this has something to do with some of the special soils in the country.  A very common soil is the red soil that has an amazing ability to retain water - which in the arid environment of Yemen is a big plus.  Red soil is both cohesive and por...

    Read more

  • Changemakers: Future of Irrigation in Africa

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen August 27, 2012Much hope is pinned on the development of small-holder irrigation in Africa. In many places there are ample water resources – groundwater and local streams. Several new irrigation systems, large and small, have been developed. Even so, irrigation development is taking off slowly and failure rates are high.                      There are s...

    Read more

  • Financial Crisis and Water Utilities

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen August 21, 2012Over the past three-four years, the financial crisis has dominated the headlines– with much of the attention on national debts in Southern Europe at the moment. What gets less attention is the financial position of lower tiers of governments (municipalities, provinces) or public utilities, such as drinking water companies or water boards.Traditional...

    Read more

  • Weapons of Mass Destruction

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen August 13, 2012 What is more important – public health, or security and deterrence? To answer this impossible question, lets take a closer look at the sub-district of Kahuta, situated not far northeast from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.Located in Kahuta is Khan Research Laboratories:  Pakistan's main nuclear weapons lab and its center for long-range missile de...

    Read more

  • The Inca Vessel

    Posted by Frank van Steenbergen August 06, 2012One of the most beautiful objects in the National Museum of the American Indian in New York is the Inca Terraced Vessel. It is estimated to be six hundred years old and comes from coastal Peru.  The vessel looks like a replica of an Inka temple, but on closer look it seems to represent a carefully terraced landscape.The three lower steps of the vesse...

    Read more

  • Fluorosis: The Value of Norms (?)

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen July 30, 2012In the Habala district of Southern Ethiopia, fluoride levels are high – significantly higher than the WHO norm of 1.5 mg/litre. One would expect dental disorders and even the crippling that is associated with the consumption of fluoride rich water over many years. However, among a sample of 600 people in Habala these common symptoms of fluorosis were ...

    Read more

  • As Bad as it Gets

    posted by Frank van Steenbergen July 24, 2012Imagine water being so scarce that you have to compete with bees to get to it. And that the bees, being more aggressive, win the battle because you can’t bear the stings. And so you are forced to move to another area.This is what happens even now in Ciuabet in Lakes State, South Sudan.  South Sudan is the world’s newest country, but also one whose ...

    Read more