Providing and Managing Water in Ethiopia’s Pastoral Regions – Lessons Learned in the Last 40 years | Land Portal

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Date of publication: 
April 2012
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Introduction: Water as a range management tool The pastoral system - the inter-relationship between livestock, natural resources and people / institutions - has evolved to function effectively and efficiently in areas of low and unpredictable rainfall, using mobility as one of the key adaptation strategies. Although having undergone changes over the years, the pastoralist system comprises fundamental elements which have allowed it to persist for millennia. Until today, pastoralists continue to make the most of Ethiopia’s arid and semi-arid areas, contributing substantially to food security, to the national economy, and to the efficient management of grazing land. Pastoralists understand the dynamics of rangelands and use water as a means to manage pasture. In the wet season, both water and pasture are abundant and easily available. As the rainy season subsides and water becomes scarce, livestock are moved to dry season grazing areas where water sources are more reliable but forage is finite. This finite stock of forage must last until the next rains, requiring strict management of water to limit the number of livestock allowed to graze. Over the last 40 years a lot has changed in pastoral areas of Ethiopia: Droughts have brought in actors such as government, international agencies, and NGOs to alleviate suffering, and despite many positive efforts, rangelands are littered with failed development interventions, degradation of natural resources is widespread around water points, and competition and conflict over water by a growing population with competing demands have become more common. National strategies still lean towards intensive crop production as the vehicle for economic growth, and towards the eventual sedentarisation of pastoralists, despite a substantial body of evidence demonstrating the value of pastoral land use/management systems. The opportunity to learn from pastoralists’ skills as effective managers of dryland resources – using access to water as a management tool – is one that deserves more attention. The paper ‘Water Development in Ethiopia’s Pastoral Areas. A synthesis of existing knowledge and experience’ (Nassef et al, 2012), which is the basis of this brief, highlights that inappropriate water interventions in rangelands can hamper sustainable develop - ment and economic growth in the long term, despite stemming water shortages in the short term. The aim of this paper is to promote discussion and debate on the subject of water development in pastoral regions, based on an in-depth review of national and international literature, and over 40 interviews with key stakeholders and experts on pastoralism, conducted in 2009.

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