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Policy Brief 15 - Small scale water harvesting in Northern Ethiopia: Can it alleviate household poverty?

Theme(s)Water, Climate, Agriculture
Method(s)Regression Analysis, Economic Modelling
Serie(s)Policy Briefs


Ethiopia is one of the most drought prone countries in the world. Yet much of Ethiopia’s economy depends upon adequate and reliable rainfall for agricultural production. Over the years scanty and erratic rainfall has led to significant crop losses, and in some cases total crop failure. This means food crises and famine. Millions of Ethiopians have been affected. Half the population is chronically poor and nearly one quarter of children born do not reach the age of five. Higher temperatures due to climate change only exacerbate the pressure on Ethiopia’s already fragile ecosystems. In order to fight poverty and famine by providing food security, effective development of water resources is vital for Ethiopia. Water harvesting is one strategy used to increase agricultural productivity and household income. It is an important tool for mitigating the adverse effects of climate change. Historically, water harvesting in Ethiopia dates back to 560 BC, where rainwater was harvested and stored in ponds for agricultural and water supply purposes. These days, the construction of ponds and wells aims to make water available to irrigate and produce higher value crops, as well as to provide water for livestock and household use. However, there has been limited effort to systematically assess the impact of these structures on household welfare. Can access to ponds and wells alleviate household poverty? This study applies advanced econometric techniques to assess the impact of water harvesting on household welfare. The results show that access to either ponds or wells is not reflected in higher levels of welfare. Ponds and wells are not exploited to their full potential because most of the structures are recently constructed. One task for policy makers is to come up with technologies to improve water use efficiency. Other results show that labour work by men and the holding of livestock reduces poverty. Therefore a good poverty reduction strategy for households might be a mix of farming, labour work and livestock holding.


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