Dagnachew Aklog (PhD),
Director, Blue Nile Water Institute, Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia
Because of its economic and historical importance, the Abbay basin, which is also called Upper Blue Nile basin or Ethiopia-Blue Nile basin, has been a focus of national development and research. Covering about 20% of the national landmass, the basin is home to 32% of Ethiopia’s population and contributes about 44% of the country’s total annual renewable freshwater resource of 124 BCM. In addition to its estimated economically feasible irrigation potential of more than 800,000 ha, the basin has a huge hydropower potential of about 78,800 GWh/yr, which is roughly 50% of the national hydropower potential. The national flagship project, the GERD, is located in this basin and there are a number of other hydroelectric and multipurpose dams either operational, under construction, or planned. Sustainable development and efficient utilization of land and water resources of the Abbay basin is not a choice for Ethiopia but an overdue activity to support economic growth and improve the livelihoods of the people. However, the development of the basin has faced a number of complex environmental and water use rights problems. The major environmental problems include severe land degradation and accelerated erosion, siltation of lakes and reservoirs, water pollution and infestation of invasive species, particularly water hyacinth, while the water dispute mainly arises because of Egypt’s intransigent in maintaining the Nile colonial agreement which deprives Ethiopia of its natural right to use water originating from and flowing through its territory. Although a wide range of soil and water conservation projects have been implemented for many years now by both government and non-government organizations, the environmental problems still persist and are even getting worse with the rapid population growth, expansion of cropland, overgrazing, and deforestation in the basin. Similarly, a lot of efforts have also been made in the negotiation and public diplomacy arena to ensure Ethiopia’s natural right to use the Abbay River but reaching an agreement with Egypt and Sudan remains a challenge. Numerous research in both environmental and water governance disciples have been carried out to support development interventions and guide land and water resources management policies. However, there has been only limited success in terms of generating concrete research findings which can help policymakers to develop efficient strategies or action steps for solving the problems in the basin. This presentation paper attempts to highlight some of the most important research findings, identify the research gaps and suggest a way forward to addressing the problems and developing strategies for sustainable use of the land and water resources of the basin in general and the GERD in particular.