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Policy Brief 14 - Small scale water harvesting in Northern Ethiopia: Can it improve household welfare without compromising health?

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 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 chronically poor and nearly one quarter of children born do 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. 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 as provide water for livestock and household use. But the benefits of water harvesting may come at a cost: Malaria. It is a major public health problem in Ethiopia where it contributes up to 20 percent of under-five deaths. Mosquitoes breed in areas of standing water, so extensive construction of ponds and water wells is likely to increase the number of available mosquito habitats. More mosquitoes mean an increase in the intensity malaria transmission as well as a longer transmission period. This study explores the range of negative health impacts associated with water harvesting in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. Our results show that ponds and wells are important factors in determining the prevalence of malaria. Households’ willingness to pay for improved malaria control is influenced various factors. Ponds and wells are not yet exploited to fullest potential, as they are not significantly contributing household income or welfare. This means that water harvesting structures could pose a high external cost to the economy.


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