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A letter to the UK government from the Ethiopian Collaboratory

As the UK government moves to catastrophically cut Official Development Assistance, our Ethiopian team explain how ODA funding is helping address pressing development challenges.

26 March 2021

Many of the developmental challenges, devastating conflicts, and displacements in eastern Africa have roots in resource insecurity, top of which is water.

In a region that is particularly vulnerable to climate-induced extreme events including recurrent droughts and flood, these insecurities are likely to grow, not lessen. Yet building water security at different levels is not easy. It requires tackling many complex variables including hydro-climatic change, socio-economic demands and needs, technological transformation, and institutional/governance systems.

With the support of the UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund, the Ethiopian Collaboratory under the Water Security Hub (comprising the Water and Land Resource Centre (WLRC) Addis Ababa University, and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI)) are working to investigate ways of managing, mitigating, and tackling critical water security challenges at a systems scale.

Our focus is on the ‘problemscape’ of Central Ethiopia, a region where water allocation between competing uses is an increasing challenge. The result is a set of tensions among communities, between industries and communities, and even within communities that our research tries to understand and resolve. Our teams are working on these issues with local partners, building in-depth analysis to support decision makers who partner alongside us, and help identify resilient, sustainable, and inclusive solutions.

This GCRF project has given us the opportunity to adapt and use systems analysis applications developed by academics in the UK, including deploying drone technologies to make inventories of resources, and using stakeholder engagement at basin level and below to help improve governance environments. The Hub project has been instrumental in WLRC receiving a grant to undertake a national resource audit, and IWMI’s contribution on water values is reflected in the working of the new National Water Policy.

In short, we are actively making positive change happen for the people in Ethiopia.

Some of these challenges are acute, including the impacts of uncoordinated urban sprawl around Addis Ababa on the water quality of the Akaki River, flowing in the Upper Awash Basin. We are helping to understand how to manage and mitigate water quality challenges that could affect thousands of livelihoods downstream, where the growing type and volume of emerging contaminants are already a serious health issue. We are learning from the Hub project partners in Asia and Latin America, including ways of managing manufacturing industry and municipal wastewater pollution. This core element of the project design – its intersectionality in effect – is one of its great benefits to achieving impact.

And in the Abbay Basin, which is the major supplier of agricultural produce to the rest of the country, through this project we have been able to understand rainfall patterns to support, down the line, better farming practices for greater food security.

This project provides a rich contribution to a host of acute and long-term development challenges in Ethiopia, and helps build a new cadre of Ethiopians, though our early career researchers, equipped with the skills and capacities to tackle future problems. We therefore urge you to continue funding this work to help secure a safe and resilient future for Ethiopia in the face of the very significant challenges we face.


  • Dr Gete Zeleke, Director, Water and Land Resource Centre, Addis Ababa University
  • Dr Tena Alamirew Agumassie, Deputy Director, Water and Land Resource Centre, Addis Ababa University
  • Dr Bezaye Gorfu Tessema, Project Manager and Postdoctoral Researcher, Water and Land Resource Centre, Addis Ababa University
  • Dr Alemseged Tamiru Haile, Principle Researcher, Hydrology/Hydrological Modelling, International Water Management Institute
  • Dr Amare Haileslassie, Principal Researcher, Agricultural Water Management and Environment, International Water Management Institute
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