Water Harvesting to Improve Livelihoods in Southern Ethiopia: From Pilots to Mainstream

2007 Winner

ERHA is an Ethiopian non-governmental organisation founded in 1999 by Ethiopian citizens who recognised the imminent challenges resulting from water shortage at global and local levels. ERHA works to promote rainwater harvesting (RWH) in Ethiopia through advocacy, networking, research and capacity building of its stakeholders, and importantly the local organisations implementing RWH projects. In 2005, ERHA was selected as Rainwater Harvesting Capacity Centre (RHCC) of the RAIN programme, to coordinate and manage the widespread implementation of RWH in Ethiopia.


1. Improved availability of water for household activities and productive use (e.g. for small scale agriculture, food processing, livestock keeping, sanitation, small-scale businesses). 2. Ensured long-term access to safe drinking water for vulnerable rural communities in the Borana Zone of southern Ethiopia. 3. Strengthened local capacity for water harvesting implementation and management. 4. Understanding and adoption of water harvesting; with water harvesting considered a realistic local and regional water supply option within a framework of integrated water resource management.

Project Description

The objective of the project is to increase access of water for at least 10 communities and a total of approx. 2,000 people. The combination of the construction of five sand dams and six storage tanks to harvest rain and surface run-off water will ensure drinking and productive use of water in the short- and long-term for communities living both adjacent to an ephemeral watershed and those further away. The sand dams are being built within a suitable riverbed and will have a total storage capacity of appr. 15,000 m3. At least 1,000 people, adjacent to the watershed will benefit from improved water availability – supporting livelihoods and possible income-generating activities. The constructed storage tanks will have a storage capacity of appr. 360 m3 of rainwater (60 m3 storage tanks) which will provide for additional 5-6 communities further away from the watershed with sufficient clean drinking water to bridge the bi-annual 3 month dry periods. The five sand dams will help to reduce the sediment load within the river basin following heavy rainfall events, thereby reducing subsequent erosion. In total the project will contribute to regional water resource protection: making optimal use of available water resources, enhancing catchment water retention is the solution offered by water harvesting in protecting the livelihoods of vulnerable communities from the foreseeable effects of climate change.

Country / Region

10 communities in the Yabelo District of Borana Administration Zone, Oromiya Regional State, Ethiopia. The Borana Zone is composed of gently sloping lowlands and flood plains, vegetated predominantly with grass and bush land. The geology is crystalline basement, with overlying sedimentary and volcanic deposits. The ephemeral drainage system of the Borana Zone is located within the Genale-Dawa River Basin. The region is semi-arid, characterised by two wet seasons. Mean annual rainfall is 400-600 mm.


The total population is app. 730,000 people, of which 89 % reside within rural areas. People are predominantly involved in small-scale subsistence agriculture production and livestock husbandry. The relative importance of crop and livestock production varies according to the agro-climatic zones within which communities reside. Within the mid altitudes (e.g. Bule-Hora and Yabelo districts) crop and mixed farming activities dominate, while lowlands are used predominantly for livestock farming based on traditional pastoralist systems.

Information about local context

The Borana Zone is known for its nomadic people who travel hundreds of kilometres to fetch water. The zone, particularly the rural zone, has been suffering from extreme water deficit for many years. The shortage of water has not only affected the people but also the livestock productivity, which is the major livelihood base of the area.

Chances / Risks

The ongoing drought is starting to affect the normal way of life of the community members and the social setup in the project area. The drought has as well ignited an outbreak of clan conflicts among the communities competing over resources. For a certain time the communities had to be deployed out the of the conflict area. The issues are sold and life seems to return to normal.

Participation of the communities

The communities have been involved in the project from beginning. The sites for the sand dams have been selected with the involvement of the Zonal Department of Water Resource Development and the involvement of key informants among the local community members. In the villages where sand dams and RWH tanks have been constructed, so called Community Water management committees (CWMC) have been established.

Project monitoring

ERHA undertakes periodic monitoring to control the implementation process and its progress. It gives as well technical backstopping to support the local organizations. The operation and the maintenance will be done by the Community Water Management committees. In November 2008 a five days training for all the CWMC members (77 participants in total) was held. The training was given by the Zonal Water Resource Development Department and the District Water and Sanitation Office. The instruction of relevant regulations of the local government requires the direct involvement of the technical staff of the relevant local Departments.

Project partners

RAIN Foundation The RAIN Foundation (Rainwater Harvesting Implementation Network) was founded in December 2003. Since its establishment, the RAIN Foundation has been responsible for the construction of more than 1,800 m3 of rainwater harvesting capacity by local organisations in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Nepal and Senegal. The RAIN Foundation aims to increase access to water on a global scale through the collection of rainwater, for vulnerable sectors of society and women and children in particular, with a focus on developing countries and regions where other means of safe water supply are not possible SASOL Foundation The local Kenyan organisation – Sahelian Solutions Foundation (SASOL), was founded in 1992 to provide local people with water, following the droughts and famines which had struck the arid region. SASOL has since constructed almost 500 dams in the Kitui district in Kenya, providing approximately 120,000 people with water. SASOL plans to build a further 500 dams in and around the Kitui district over the coming decade and to disseminate its expertise to other areas and East African countries. Acacia Institute The Acacia Institute, affiliated to the Vrije Universiteit, promotes the exchange of groundwater knowledge and the sustainable use and management of groundwater. The Acacia Institute, together with the SASOL Foundation, has initiated a program called “Recharge Techniques and Water Conservation in East Africa; Up-scaling and Dissemination of the good practices with the Kitui sand dams”. The program aims to promote community based sand dams in both other regions of Kenya and sur-rounding countries. Local project implementing partner Action for Development (AFD)

Project update 2009

The Watershed selection, demand inventory, impact assessment and site selection of all sand dams is accomplished. Ongoing is the design and construction of sand dam no 5 by local organisations and water committees. ERHA has provided technical support to the local implementing partner AFD. Trainings for local organizations on the implementation of sand dams has been fully provided, as well as technical education on quality control, operation and maintenance, repair, financial management of local organisations and water management committees. The establishment of a methodology for ongoing water quality evaluation and monitoring is partly accomplished. Community awareness and education programs have been provided in all sites. ERHA has strengthened its working relationship and initiated formal dialogues on policy issues with the Ministry of Water Resources of Ethiopia. 3rd progress report due end of November 2009.

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Ethiopian Rainwater Harvesting Association (ERHA)
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Ethiopian Rainwater Harvesting Association (ERHA)
Girma H Michael