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Voices from the Source: struggles with water security in Ethiopia

The idea of ‘water security’ is under unprecedented scrutiny at an international level.  Much current debate is couched in terms of a water-security-energy ‘nexus’ reflecting growing understanding of interrelationships at all levels . Many governments and agencies – including in Ethiopia – are seeking better ways of targeting water investments to reduce risks for the most vulnerable and to encourage contributions to growth and development at all levels

The literature that exists already tells us that difficulties in accessing reliable, safe water for drinking and household productive uses may only be experienced seasonally, and/or by certain groups within communities – and may range across different uses from individual consumption to small-scale irrigation and livestock watering. This mosaic of impacts and effects is often hard to interpret and understand without detailing the lives and livelihoods of local communities and enabling their own voices to tell the story of local water (in)security.

This research will go back to the source and will encourage people to speak for themselves and articulate their own diversity of views on what their understandings are of water ‘security and insecurity’ and how they interpret the links between these understandings and their wider food, income health and other forms of security constituting their overall human security.

This particular focus on a human-centric perspective will seek to engage with wider economic-centric understandings of water security, often presented simply in terms of water scarcity (availability per capita terms, for instance). We will focus in particular on understanding the institutional environments at a local level that mediate and shape access to the resource, how it is used and how communities – and other institutions – seek to develop and enhance their future water security. 

The key research questions are:

  • What are the specific physical, social, economic and political drivers of water insecurity in specific locations and what are the responses to physical and economic water stresses?

  • What are the public policy and institutional priorities and support measures that could improve resilience to water insecurities at a local level?


Josephine Tucker, Alan Nicol, Deres Abdulkadir, Likimyelesh Nigussie, Wondewosen Michago Seide, Mengistu Dessalegn

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