Africa > East Africa > Ethiopia > Water supply and sanitation in Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Water supply and sanitation in Ethiopia


Access to water supply and sanitation in Ethiopia is one of the lowest in the world. While access has increased substantially with funding from external aid, much still remains to be done to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the share of people without access to water and sanitation by 2015, to improve sustainability and to improve service quality.

Some factors inhibiting the achievement of these goals are the limited capacity of water bureaus in the country's nine regions and water desks in the 550 woredas; insufficient cost recovery for proper operation and maintenance; and different policies and procedures used by various donors, notwithstanding the Paris declaration on aid effectiveness.

In 2001 the government adopted a water and sanitation strategy that called for more decentralized decision-making;

  • promoting the involvement of all stakeholders,
  • including the private sector;
  • increasing levels of cost recovery;
  • as well as integrating water supply,
  • sanitation and hygiene promotion activities.

Implementation of the policy apparently is uneven. In 2005 the government announced highly ambitious targets to increase coverage in its Plan for Accelerated Sustained Development and to End Poverty (PADEP) for 2010. The investment needed to achieve the goal is about US$ 300 million per year, compared to actual investments of US$ 39 million in 2001-2002. While donors have committed substantial funds to the sector, effectively spending the money and to ensure the proper operation and maintenance of infrastructure built with these funds remain a challenge.


According to the 2000 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) access to improved water and sanitation was as follows:

* 22% for improved water supply (86% for urban areas and 13% for rural areas)
* 8% for improved sanitation (34% in urban areas, 3% in rural areas)

The World Bank quotes national (urban and rural) access figures of 42% for water and 28% for sanitation for 2005.  These figures, for which no source is given, seem unusually high given the much lower estimates from the 2000 DHS and the absence of a massive investment program between 2000 and 2005.

Service quality

Rationing and service interruptions are frequent. There are no wastewater treatment plants in Ethiopia, so all wastewater collected in sewers is discharged without any treatment to the environment.

Responsibility for water supply and sanitation

In order to understand responsibilities in the sector it is necessary to provide a brief overview of local government in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a federal state consisting of the following subdivisions:

* nine ethnically based regions or Kililoch with a population between 200,000 and 25 million each;
* 68 Zones with a population between 100,000 and a few million each;
* 550 Woredas or districts, with a population between 10,000 and more than 300,000 each;
* A large number of Kebeles, which constitute the smallest administrative units in Ethiopia.

In addition to the nine regions there are two “chartered cities” (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa), where the lower-level administrative units mentioned above do not exist.

There is wide disparity in the capacity between the relatively more developed regions (Amhara, Oromia, Southern Nations, Tigray, Harari), where more than 90% of Ethiopians live, and the more pastoralist “emerging” regions (Somali, Afar, Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz).

Policy and regulation

National policies are set by the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) for the water supply sector and by the Ministry of Health for sanitation. In October 2006 a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed by both Ministries, as well as by the Ministry of Environment, to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each Ministry.

Regional Water Bureaus and Woreda Water Desks are in charge of investment planning, monitoring and technical assistance to service providers. Their capacity to fulfill these tasks is often limited.

Water supply

Formally the MWR's mandate covers only water resources management and it has no legal mandate concerning drinking water supply. Nevertheless, de facto it is the entity in charge of setting policies for water supply and to channel donor funds in the sector to local government entities. MWR has 737 employees in eight departments and 10 "services". One of the eight departments is the Water Supply and Sewerage Department. The former Minister of Water Resources was Shiferaw Jarso, an irrigation engineer and politician from the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) which forms part of the ruling coalition government. Asfaw Dingamo is the current Minister of Water Resources.

In 2001 the government adopted a National Water Strategy prepared by the MWR. The overall strategy includes a water resources strategy, a hydropower development strategy, a water supply and sanitation strategy, and an irrigation strategy

Concerning water supply and sanitation, the strategy aims at:

* More decentralized decision-making
* Promoting the involvement of all stakeholders, including the private sector
* Increasing levels of cost recovery
* Integrating water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities.

The strategy document does not include a diagnostic of the current situation. The water and sanitation part of the strategy alone includes 44 recommendations concerning technical, institutional, capacity building, social, economic and environmental issues. There is no priorization between the recommendations and the strategy does not establish mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the strategy.


The Ministry of Health is in charge of policies related to sanitation and hygiene promotion. It has adopted a Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion Strategy. De facto sewers in urban areas are under the responsibility of the MWR, while only the promotion of on-site sanitation is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.

Service provision

Urban areas

In the capital the Addis Ababa Water and Sewer Authority provides water and sewer services. In other cities and small towns Town Water Boards are responsible for service provision. They are expected to contract out service provision to private operators.

Rural areas

In rural areas community water and sanitation committees operate water systems and promote sanitation. They are supported by woreda water and sanitation teams.


Regional water resources development bureaus play an important role in planning investments at the regional level and in capacity building.

The Ethiopian Social Rehabilitation and Development Fund (ERSDF) – a Social Fund established in 1996 - is also an important actor, especially in rural areas. It has financed almost 2,000 rural water projects serving about 2.5 million people. However, the government has decided to phase out the ERSDF and to re-deploy its staff to other institutions.

Recent developments

Creation of the Ministry of Water Resources (1995)

The Ministry was created in 1995. It took over many of the responsibilities of the water resources department of the former Ministry of Public Works.

Decentralization (since 1995)

Until 1995 the national government was responsible for planning and implementing water and sanitation projects. Under the 1995 constitution Ethiopia became a federal state, which implied the decentralization of many functions to lower levels of government. This process has now been under way for more than a decade, but decentralization has been hampered by the limited capacity of local government to carry out its new responsibilities.

National Water Resources Management Policy and related programs (1999-2002)

In 1999 the government adopted a National Water Resources Management Policy, which was followed by the establishment of a Water Resources Development Fund (2002) and a Water Sector Development Program. The latter includes a water supply and sewerage development program (nota bene the focus on sewerage and thus the absence of on-site sanitation from the program).

Plan for Accelerated Sustained Development and to End Poverty 2005

The government’s PADEP, covering the period 2005-2010, aims at increasing access to improved water supply to 84% and access to improved sanitation to 80% by 2010. These ambitious targets go well beyond the water and sanitation targets of the Millennium Development Goals, which aim at halving the share of people without access by 2015. Given very low current coverage levels, institutional weaknesses and financing constraints it is unclear how this ambitious target should be achieved.

Tariffs and cost recovery

On average cost recovery is too low to recover operating costs, not to speak of providing adequate maintenance of facilities; Recurrent expenditures - estimated at US$ 29 million in 2001-02 - were financed primarily through user charges (64%), as well as by subsidies from the regional governments (31%) and the federal government (5%). Despite this overall bleak picture, a few service providers recover all operating costs and generate a modest cash surplus.

The National Water Resources Management Policy aims at full cost recovery for urban systems and recovery of operation and maintenance costs for rural systems. It is not clear if progress has been made to achieve this ambitious objective since the policy was adopted.

Investment and financing


There are no reliable estimates of actual investment levels in the sector, and available estimates vary greatly.

Actual investments

A detailed estimate of investment and financial flows in the Ethiopian water sector was carried out by the World Bank's Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) for the financial year 2001-02. It estimated total sector investments at US$ 39 million or less than half a dollar per capita, being one of the lowest recorded sector investment levels in the world.

Investment projections

The government estimates that annual investments in the 2006-2015 period will reach about US$ 100 million per year, or about two and a half times their level in 2001-2002. This projection is based on funding commitments made by donors and the government.It thus does not take into account bottlenecks in implementation due to limited capacities or other potential pitfalls.

The World Bank projects the 2008 investment level at US$ 100 million, including resources from a 5-year US$ 100 million World Bank loan for urban water supply and sanitation approved in 2007 and not yet disbursed.

Investment needs

The World Bank has estimated that the annual cost of achieving the government’s targets to increase coverage until 2010 are about US$ 400 million “in the first few years” and falling to US$ 200 million “in later years”. A detailed estimate by the government as part of its MDG Needs Assessment Report estimated investment needs at US$ 297 million per year for the period 2006-2015, roughly in line with the World Bank estimate.

In any case, actual investments are only a fraction - about one tenth - of what would be needed to achieve the government’s goals.


According to the WSP estimate quoted above, in 2001-2002 only 9% of sector investments were funded by the federal budget, 55% through the regional budget, 33% off-budget by NGOs, 2% by the ERSDF and 1% by other sources. This estimate does not include community in-kind contributions, which are high for rural water supply and sanitation. A high but unknown share of the federal budget and probably also of the Woreda budget devoted to the sector is funded by donors.

Concerning projected investments for 2006-2015, it is estimated that 12% (US$ 12 million) will be funded by the government with its own resources, 15% (US$ 16 million) by communities and 73% (US$ 75 million) by donors. It is not clear if this estimate includes off-budget support by NGOs. Because of the different categories used, a comparison between the historical and projected sources of financing is not possible.


The financing system has evolved in line with the policy of decentralization. Thus, for example, the country's 550 Woredas now receive block grants from the central government and then can decide autonomously how to use these grants within broad criteria set by the Water Resources Development Fund (WRDF).[3] The WRDF is administered by a Board that is responsible to the MWR and is funded through budgetary allocations and donor funds.

External assistance

Donors finance a myriad of projects in water supply and sanitation in Ethiopia with different policies and implementation arrangements – some through the Federal Government and some directly to regions, towns and communities. As a result, according to the World Bank, transaction cost are high.

World Bank

* US$ 100 million credit/grant for urban water supply and sanitation approved in 2007
* US$ 100 million credit for water supply and sanitation approved in 20

African Development Bank

US$64 million grant for rural water supply and sanitation approved in 2005

Other donors

Other important donors in the sector are the EU, UNDP, UNICEF, AFD, FINIDA, JICA, GTZ, KfW, CIDA, DFID and the Netherlands.[19] There are also about 500 local and foreign NGOs, many of which are active in water supply and sanitation

Related Articles
  • i3 Summit, hosted by Sanlam, former South African finance minister Trevor Manuel

    2015/11/20 At the recent i3 Summit, hosted by Sanlam, former South African finance minister Trevor Manuel shared his views on the majority significant investment challenges that South Africa and Africa currently face – and offered a few solutions. Ethiopia a poster child for economic development Manuel held up Ethiopia as one of the majority dynamic economies on the continent. “Ethiopia is a poster child for ‘new economy’ development,” Manuel said. “The New Climate Economy Report shows that it’s possible to stimulate increase and reduce emissions at the same time.” Ethiopia is on the road to sustainable economic development with the well-designed urbanisation of Addis Ababa boasting, part other things, the initial light rail system in Africa. It has transformed itself from a country associated with starvation to one with thriving agricultural and forestry sectors. Much of the infrastructure development comes from private investment .
  • Opinion on Africa’s middle class opportunity is divided

    2015/11/19 Opinion on Africa’s middle class opportunity is divided. Before this year, Nestlé announced its disappointment with the scale and increase of Africa’s middle class, and cut its regional workforce by 15%. Only a few months later, however, AB InBev’s takeover of SABMiller – one of the major proposed corporate takeovers ever of a UK-listed entity – was motivated in large part by SABMiller’s proven increase markets in Africa. ‘Middle class’ households are typically defined as those that spend at least half of their gain on goods and services beyond just food and basic necessities. The emergence of this ‘consumer class’ helps to propel increase to the next level. Buoyed by supportive demographics, a rising middle class will make request grow, businesses prosper, employment increase and economies flourish. It’s a virtuous cycle.
  • Commodity exchanges in Africa: Lessons from Ethiopia

    2015/11/19 The Ethiopia Commodity Exchange (ECX) began operations in 2008 bringing together buyers and sellers to trade produce such as coffee and sesame seeds, while assuring both parties timely delivery of payments and produce. The ECX was established with support from the Ethiopian government and donor organisations, including USAID. It has been hailed as a success, helping fix challenges such as unreliable market information, contract defaults, lack of quality standardisation, limited access to markets, and other inefficiencies along the value chain. Engineer Solomon Edossa is one of six professionals who founded the ECX. As chief information officer of the exchange his responsibility was to build the electronic trading platform and oversee all things technology. He held that position until about 18 months ago. Edossa now offers technical advisory services to the ECX through his consultancy company DESS Inc.
  • Cape Gannet (Morus capensis), Birds Island, Lamberts Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

    2015/11/17 One lesson that has been well and truly learned in nature conservation is that for policies to be really effective nations have to collaborate to address common problems. Within the UN system it is as well recognized that this applies to the different Programmes, Conventions and Agreements set up over the years. That each of these bodies has a distinct niche and a clear role does not justify a bunker mentality. By synergizing, cooperating and collaborating they can find common cause with natural allies and seek compromises with those whose agendas do not necessarily match their own. AEWA, the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds, is a prime example of an organization that embodies this approach.