Improving water security for the poor

Small town pathways to water security

The challenge

Small towns have often been neglected in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) research, where cities and rural areas tend to be the main focus. There is now a growing need to better understand WASH provision in small towns, and how to deliver universal access to safe water that is financially sustainable and resilient to climate variability.

Wukro is a small town of 43,000 people located in the drought-prone highlands of Tigray region, Ethiopia. The town is benefitting the ONEWASH Plus programme funded by the UK Department for International Development and implemented by the Government of Ethiopia and UNICEF. New groundwater sources are being tapped, and water storage and distribution infrastructure are being upgraded and extended. However, little is known about the capacity of the groundwater system to sustainably provide water to the town, given its growing population, water demand changes, industrial development and climatic variability.

The observatory

We are studying the impact of the ONEWASH Plus programme on water security for people living in Wukro. The research will provide evidence on the distributional impacts of urban water supplies, and the role climate-resilient urban WASH can have in reducing poverty and inequalities.

We are working with government and development agencies to ensure that water supply and water resources are more integrated in policy and practice.

Research questions

  1. As water service levels increase, what are the implications for water security in terms of groundwater and surface water resources?
  2. How can inequalities within households and communities be reduced through urban WASH programmes?

News and blog

ECR Feature | Does entrepreneurship mean empowerment for young women bunabéts (coffee house) owners in Wukro, Ethiopia? January 2020

Advancing climate resilient water services in Wukro, Ethiopia, June 2018

Exploring water vulnerabilities in Wukro, a growing small town in Northern Ethiopia, June 2018

Where will you get your water today? September 2016


Korzenevica, M., Grasham, C., Johnson, Z., Gebreegzabher, A., Mebrahtu, S., Zerihun, Z., Hoque, S.F., & Charles, K.J (2022) Negotiating spaces of marginality and independence: On women entrepreneurs within Ethiopian urbanization and water precarity. World Development 158

Johnson, Z. (2020). Young Women and Feminised Work: Complicating Narratives of Empowerment through Entrepreneurship with the Stories of Coffeehouse Owners in Wukro, Ethiopia. Gender and Research. Gender a výzkum / Gender and Research 21 (1): 64–88.

Grasham, C., Korzenevica, M., Charles, K. J. (2019). On considering climate resilience in urban water security: A review of the vulnerability of the urban poor in sub-Saharan Africa. WIREs Water.

Korzenevica, M. (2019). Emerging themes on considering water equity. REACH Research Brief, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.

REACH (2015) Country Diagnostic Report, Ethiopia. REACH Working Paper 2, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Research team

University of KwaZulu-Natal: Dr Seifu Kebede

University of Oxford: Dr Katrina Charles, Dr Sonia Ferdous Hoque, Dr Catherine Grasham

Water and Land Resource Centre: Dr Solomon Gebrehiwot, Dr Gete Zeleke

‘Understanding how water security affects Ethiopia’s growth and poverty reduction efforts is vital to realising its drive for middle-income status by 2025.’

Dr Gete Zeleke, Water and Land Resource Centre

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