Improving water security for the poor

Sustaining growth through water security

The challenge

The Awash is a large and complex river basin, home to around 14 million people and many different water users. The basin is an important region for Ethiopia’s economy; its water resources support urban areas, manufacturing, rural households, wetlands, agriculture and pastoralist livelihoods.

Water use in the basin is already high and irrigation schemes are expanding. Manufacturing and agriculture are more concentrated at the upper end of the basin, resulting in pollution and water shortages for the downstream populations, including the agro-pastoralists and pastoralists.

In 2015/16 the Awash basin experienced the worst drought in over 30 years, which had a severe impact on livelihoods, economic productivity and food security in the basin.

The observatory

Our research will provide new evidence on how water risks, such as drought, slow down a country’s economic growth.

The link between economic growth (mostly upstream in the basin) and the multidimensional poverty experienced by women, men and children associated with these changes in water security (mostly downstream) is not well understood.

We will model the trade-offs between water security for economic development and human development within the basin. Our work will help identify combinations and sequences of investment in water management to support both economic growth and poverty reduction.

Research questions

  1. What evidence is there for water-related economic drag in the Awash basin?
  2. Using a risk-based approach, what are the appropriate levels, combinations and sequences of investment in multi-sector water management and efficiency to support both economic and human development?
  3. How can the trade-offs between large-scale productive water uses and water security for household water use and livelihoods be managed as part of Ethiopia’s development?

Research team

Addis Ababa Science and Technology University: Dr Behailu Berehanu

University of Addis Ababa:  Dr Woldeamlak Bewket, Dr Tassew Woldehanna

University of KwaZulu-Natal: Dr Seifu Kebede

University of Oxford: Dr Katrina Charles, Dr Simon Dadson, Dr Ellen Dyer, Dr Catherine Grasham, Professor Richard Washington

Water and Land Resource Centre: Dr Tena Alamirew Agumassie,  Dr Solomon Gebrehiwot

News and blog

Uncertainty and optimism: the impact of COVID-19 on the REACH community in Ethiopia, Kenya and the UK, May 2020
How can we increase capacity for water-related climate adaptation? Lessons and opportunities from Ethiopian river basins, October 2019
What we know, don’t know and need to know about future East African Climate | 4 September cross-project meeting, October 2019
Ethiopia’s future is tied to water – a vital yet threatened resource in a changing climate, August 2019
ECR Feature | Water for all: A systems approach to improving basin-scale water resources management, July 2019
Towards establishing a ‘risk threshold’ in the Awash river basin, Ethiopia: Part II, July 2018
Too much, too little: the economic impacts of rainfall availability and variability on the Awash basin, January 2018
Towards establishing a ‘risk-threshold’ in the Awash river basin, Ethiopia: Part I, December 2017
Water related extremes and economic shocks in Ethiopia, August 2016


Abebe, Y. and Kebede, S. (2020) Impact of Lake Beseka on the Water Quality of Awash River, Ethiopia. American Journal of Water Resources, 8(1), 21-30

Kebede, S. and Zewdu, S. (2019). Use of 222Rn and δ18O-δ2H Isotopes in detecting the origin of water and in quantifying groundwater inflow rates in an alarmingly growing lake, Ethiopia. Water MDPI: 11, 2591; doi:10.3390/w11122591.

Dyer, E., Washington, R. and Taye, M. T. (2019). Evaluating the CMIP5 ensemble in Ethiopia: Creating a reduced ensemble for rainfall and temperature in Northwest Ethiopia and the Awash basinStreamflow response to climate change in the Greater Horn of Africa. International Journal of Climatology: doi: 10.1002/joc.6377.

Hirpa, F. A., Alfieri, L., Lees, T., Peng, J., Dyer, E., Dadson, S.J. (2019). Streamflow response to climate change in the Greater Horn of Africa. Climatic Change.

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.

Taye, M. T., Dyer, E., Hirpa, F. A., and Charles, K. (2018). Climate change impact on water resources in the Awash Basin, Ethiopia. Water MDPI: 10, 1560.

Borgomeo E., Vadheim B., Woldeyes F. B., Alamirew T., Tamru S., Charles K. J., Kebede S., Walker O. (2017). The distributional and multi-sectoral impacts of rainfall shocks: Evidence from computable general equilibrium modelling for the Awash Basin, Ethiopia. Ecological Economics, 146, 621-632.

Vivid Economics (2016) Water resources and extreme events in the Awash basin: economic effects and policy implications, report prepared for the Global Green Growth Institute, April 2016

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

‘Water security has a defining role to play in Bangladesh’s goal to achieve middle-income status and end extreme poverty.’

Professor Mashfiqus Salehin, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

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