Ambitious Water Project is sign of hope in poor Ethiopia

On Tuesday 17 September the ambitious and unique water project ‘WaterPricing’ was launched. Six parties from Ethiopia and the Netherlands are working together to realize a good water management of the Awash river. This river provides a green oasis in a dry region and is the lifeline for millions of Ethiopians. The Awash river source originates near Addis Ababa, is 1,250 kilometres long and gives an important boost to employment and productivity in adjacent areas.

Along the Awash river a silent disaster has been taking place for years. A lot of water is drained upstream for agriculture and industry causing the level downstream to decrease. At the same time local residents near the river are threatened by floods during the rainy season. Due to the lack of good water management the available water is not retained well and the river and soil are increasingly drying up. For millions of vulnerable people, who depend on the river, this has far reaching consequences. Jacob Jan Vreugdenhil, project leader at Woord en Daad says: ‘Six parties have now signed an agreement and will introduce a business model. This is a big step in water management. Water must be paid for by farmers and entrepreneurs, and money will be available for access to and good use of the river water. This really is a sign of hope in a country like Ethiopia where drought is an important threat to the population and the economy.’

Cooperation between Ethiopia and the Netherlands

Woord en Daad has formed a consortium whose members are VNG International, Dutch Water Authorities, Royal Eijkelkamp, Basin Development Authority of Ethiopia, and the regional water bureau of Oromia state. These consortium partners have extensive experience in the field of water management, tariff setting, and soil and water research. During the launch, the objective and the impact of the programme were presented. ‘It is fantastic that each partner will contribute its expertise to make a huge difference in the lives of people in Ethiopia’, explains Rina Molenaar, Director and Manager of Woord en Daad. ‘During my speech at the event, I emphasized that we can achieve far more together. I’m grateful that the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency have entrusted us to implement the project and bring the parties together.’

Paying users

The key to sustainable and efficient water management of the Awash river is referred to in the project’s name: WaterPricing. All water users will be registered and will have to pay for the water: big plantations, farmers, and farming groups who irrigate their farms together. This will lead to a cost recovery model, which can be used to pay for water management and maintenance. Pricing of water also stimulates the economical and efficient use of water. The project has a 6-year duration, and after its completion in 2024 there will be a paid system for water management that all users participate in. The four pillars under the new system are 1) smart monitoring of water use and quality by using measuring equipment 2) water taxation according to ability to pay and water use 3) reduction of water use and re-use of water, and 4) efficient irrigation.

‘Water means life’

In her keynote speech, Rina Molenaar emphasized that sustainable water management is a long-term challenge. The aim of WaterPricing can only be realized through the cooperation between public and private sector agencies. ‘The water management of the Awash river is a major challenge, but not insurmountable. The consortium partners have a lot of knowledge and experience. Together we can contain the threats of the Awash river and increase and make use of the opportunities and challenges the river offers. Water means life. Woord en Daad works from a Christian perspective on fair and just opportunities for vulnerable people. This also applies to access to water from public services.’ For the implementation of the programme, Woord en Daad has received financial support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. Delegates from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency attended the WaterPricing launch.

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