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

Improving urban water supply security through the integrated use of surface and groundwater resources May 2021.

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


Taye, M., Haile, A., Dessalegn., Nigussie, L., Bekele, T., Nicol, A., Dyer, E., and Tekleab, S (2024). Policy and practice recommendations on flood risk management in the Awash basin. REACH Discussion Brief. 

Zinabu, E., Alamirew, T., Whitehead, P., Charles, K., Abebe, Y. and Zeleke, G. (2024). Evaluating the structures and arrangements of water institutions to include in-stream modeling for water quality management and control pollution: Insights from the Awash Basin, Ethiopia. World Water Policy. 10: 1, 233-243.

Zinabu, E., Alamirew, T., Gebrehiwot, S., Whitehead, P., Charles,K., and Zeleke, G. (2024). Information synthesis to identify water quality issues and select applicable in-stream water quality model for the Awash River basin in Ethiopia: A perspective from developing countries. Scientific African 23: e02063.

Dyer, E., Gebrehiwot, S., and Sisay, M.K. (2023). REACH Story of Change: Open source tools and skills for climate information flows. REACH programme. Also available in Amharic.

Abebe, Y., Whitehead, P., Alamirew T., Jin, L., and Alemayehu, E (2023). Evaluating the effects of geochemical and anthropogenic factors on the concentration and treatability of heavy metals in Awash River and Lake Beseka, Ethiopia: arsenic and molybdenum issues. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment. 195: 1188.

Abebe, Y., Alamirew, T., Whitehead, P., Charles, K., and Alemayehu, E. (2023). Spatio-temporal variability and potential health risks assessment of heavy metals in the surface water of Awash basin, Ethiopia. Heliyon 9: e15832. 

Hailu,K., Birhanu, B., Azagegn, T., and Kebede, S. (2023) Regional groundwater flow system characterization of volcanic aquifers in upper Awash using multiple approaches, central Ethiopia. Isotopes in Environmental and Health Studies. , doi: 10.1080/10256016.2023.2222221.

Jin, L., Rampley, C., Abebe, Y., Bussi, G., Quynh, T., Ager, D., and Whitehead, P. (2023) Assessing heavy metal contamination using biosensors and a multi-branch Integrated Catchment Model in the Awash River Basin, Ethiopia Water 2023, 15: 407.

Mekonnen, D.K., Tensay, T.M., Yiman, S., Arega, T., Beyene, E.G., Zhang, W., and Ringler, C. (2022). Key stakeholders and actions to address Lake Beseka’s challenges in Ethiopia: A social network approach IFPRI Discussion Paper 02135

Grasham, C., Charles, K.J., and Abdi, T.G. (2022). (Re-)orienting the concept of water risk to better understand inequities in water security. Frontiers in Water 3, 799515.

Birhanu, B., Kebede, S., Charles, K., Taye, M., Atlaw, A., and Birhane, M. (2021). Impact of Natural and Anthropogenic Stresses on Surface and Groundwater Supply Sources of the Upper Awash Sub-Basin, Central Ethiopia. Frontiers in Water 9, 656726.

Kebede, S., Charles, K., Godfrey, S., MacDonald, A. and Taylor, R.G. (2021). Regional-scale interactions between groundwater and surface water under changing aridity: evidence from the River Awash Basin, Ethiopia. Hydrological Sciences Journal, DOI: 10.1080/02626667.2021.1874613

Jin, L., Whitehead, P., Bussi, G., Hirpa, F., Taye, M., Abebe, Y., and Charles., K (2021) Natural and anthropogenic sources of salinity in the Awash River and Lake Beseka (Ethiopia): Modelling impacts of climate change and lake-river interactions Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies 36, 100865.  

Bussi, G., Whitehead, P.G., Jin, L., Taye, M.T., Dyer, E., Hirpa,
F.A., Yimer, Y.A., and Charles, K.J. (2021). Impacts of Climate Change and Population Growth on River Nutrient Loads in a Data Scarce Region: The Upper Awash River (Ethiopia). Sustainability 2021, 13: 1254.

Report on findings from the Awash River basin. REACH Mid-Programme Synthesis 

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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