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Saving Ethiopia’s Lake Abijatta – by showing its value for people and nature


Wetlands International and the Rift Valley Lakes Basin Authority recently organised a three-day workshop themed The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: a knowledge agenda for the Water Allocation Plan (WAP) for Ziway-Shalla sub basin in Hawassa, Ethiopia. 

The disappearing waters of Lake Abijatta are a thorny issue as a blame game on who is responsible goes on and the lake continues to shrink. But who is extracting and using more than their fair share of water from Lakes Abijatta and Ziway (the lake that supplies water to Abijatta)? This is the paramount question that seems to be causing tension among stakeholders who rely on the lake’s waters – including nature – and a key reason to bring them all together to discuss the environmental challenges (along with the causes and impacts) and what can be done to solve them. 

There are many demands for water in the Ziway-Shalla sub basin that are impacting Lake Abijatta, including industrial scale flower farming for export, a soda ash factory and many small scale farmers and their thousands of irrigation pumps. The workshop was the first meeting bringing together these different stakeholders, including government institutions, the private sector, NGOs and key decision makers, with the aim of deliberating on issues affecting the basin.

Even though the local communities think that the big companies like Sher flower farm, Castle winery and the soda ash factory are extracting large amounts of water from the lake, these companies have come forward to defend their practices. Speaking on the matter, Mr. Kemal Husen of Sher said that environmental conservation was top on their agenda and that they have implemented the use of an integrated pest management system which has reduced the spray of chemicals by 80%. He says they are also working on water-efficient technologies including  recycling the water they use to last them six to eight months. He believes the community’s perception is wrong and that having a WAP will be part of the solution to mitigate the current challenges.

Augustin Berghöfer and Dr. Hugo van Zyl, who are international experts in these fields, facilitated the workshop and shared experiences that can be applied here in order to draw attention to the benefits of the unique nature in the region, and highlight the growing costs of its loss and degradation. They presented different case studies, a good example being Wetlands international’s latest study - the Tana River Report - which was launched in Kenya last year.

In order to come to well informed decisions on water and land management, a broad knowledge base is needed. The Water Allocation Plan is the first step in Ethiopia of developing a similar study providing evidence of the benefits of ecosystem services and biodiversity under our Climate Resilient Flyways, which aims to restore and conserve the water resources of Lake Abijatta-Shalla National Park.

Speaking during the workshop, Dr. Kebede Kanchula, the Managing Director of the Rift Valley Lakes Basin Authority, highlighted some of the challenges the basin is facing such as water scarcity, water pollution, land degradation, population pressure, wetland encroachment, overgrazing, and receding water levels in the lakes. He however, fortified all stakeholders on the importance of working together and creating synergies that enhance efficient delivery in conserving and restoring the environment and its resources.

At the end of the workshop the stakeholders agreed that the Water Allocation Plan will not solve everything and hence, they propose other activities that should happen in parallel to effectively tackle environmental challenges in Ziway-Shalla sub basin. The proposed activities include: integrated water resource management, landscape restoration, livelihood improvement (improving agricultural practices) and enhancing eco-tourism activities in the area. 

This project is supported by the International Climate Initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.


Joy Kivata, Communications Officer

Communications and Media Coordinator

Wetlands International Africa

Phone: +221 33 869 16 81


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