The dynamics of water access, water use, and governance in Wukro Town, Ethiopia: a community perspective

Wukro is a rapidly developing small town with a population of 43,000 people, located in the drought-prone highlands of Tigray region, Ethiopia. The town has a piped water supply that frequently malfunctions. That, in combination with the low availability of groundwater, has resulted in the majority of town residents struggling to even get a minimum of 20 litres of water per day. The development of a new groundwater-fed source of water  in Abreha and Atsbeha, which operations started in May 2018, and modernisation of the piped water supply system are promising – but how equitable and inclusive?

Women who use water for productive purposes have an unaccounted role in the town’s economy yet may be particularly vulnerable. Many young women migrate from surrounding villages to the town, wishing to attain economic independence through running small-scale businesses that are highly dependent upon access to water. They often end up renting houses without a water provision, thus having to buy water from multiple sources and at a higher price.

The study, led by Mekelle University, explores water-produced vulnerabilities, primarily, but not exclusively, for women, and adaptive strategies to cope with water related challenges. The research explores issues of water access, in the context of its availability, reliability and affordability, and seeks to understand how domestic water use for income generating activities, especially those led by women-small business owners, influences power structures within the community.. The analysis is carried at various levels in relation to existing institutional and structural provisions that affect water governance, gender-based power relations, and micro-level coping mechanisms by local communities.  The project implies ethnographic fieldwork that includes interviews, observation studies, focus group discussions and participatory approaches.

This project is one of three Exploring Inequalities projects funded through our Partnership Funding.


May 2018 – July 2019

Study Site

Wukro Town, Tigray, Ethiopia


Mekelle University


Zerihun, Z., Tafere, K., and Zegeye, L. (2020) Addressing Women’s Needs in Water Access for Economic Use: The Case of Wukro Town, Ethiopia. Waterlines.

‘We want to make sure poor water users are legally and institutionally enabled and protected to use water resources for both domestic and productive uses.’

Barbara Schreiner, Pegasys Institute

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