Good water management can drive growth and poverty reduction, and help deal with climate shocks. Poor water management can do the opposite
By Helen Parker (Trust) |
It is time to focus on Ethiopia. Drought, floods and food shortages threaten to undermine a decade of economic growth and development progress. At the same time, a slower-burning, man-made crisis is emerging in some areas, as increasing water scarcity and pollution lead to arguments about ‘who gets what water’. Good water management can drive growth and poverty reduction, and help deal with climate shocks. Poor water management can do the opposite.
El Niño is an extreme example of a common problem
It has been a difficult year in Ethiopia. The 2015-2016 drought created a humanitarian crisis. More than 10 million people (around 10% of the population) required food aid after two consecutive failed harvests. The devastation was followed by rainy season flash floods, killing 100 people and displacing 300,000 more. There are fears the coming La Niña could make things worse. Most Ethiopians are subsistence pastoralists and farmers, relying on small livestock herds and fragmented land plots. Drought degrades grazing areas and weakens livestock. Floods spread disease which decimate vulnerable herds, and destroy roads for humanitarian assistance. When harvests fail, households deplete scarce reserves and adopt emergency coping strategies such as selling assets and migrating to seek food aid.Unfortunately, floods and drought are not unusual in Ethiopia. Rainfall is highly variable, falling heavily in short stretches of time, across different regions. Rivers and aquifers are unevenly distributed. As such, in many areas, water scarcity is the new norm. This severely affects livelihoods and economic development.
Poor water management is a constraint to growth
The World Bank and others have analyzed how variable rainfall negatively affects Ethiopia’s growth, advocating for increased storage to ‘smooth’ the effects. However, this research too often neglects issues on the ground, of water allocation and use. Hydrological variability in terms of rainfall and river runoff can be managed through physical infrastructure (such as dams) but also needs institutions (regulation and management) and information to allocate water when and where it is needed. Without these crucial interventions, valuable water is captured by the most powerful.
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