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
  • Commemoration of Africa Human Rights Day

    2016/10/22 oday, the African People commemorate the Africa Human Rights Day across the continent under the theme “Women Rights – Our Collective Responsibility”. On this occasion, H.E. Dr. Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, Commissioner for Political Affairs issued a statement on behalf of H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission describing this year’s theme as timely and appropriate. Timely in the sense that it coincides with the Declaration of the African Union’s Heads of National and Government of “2016 as the African Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women”. It is, therefore, a clarion call on Africa to do additional to promote women’s rights, particularly the rights to development. It is in this context that the African Union Commission has concluded that the AHRD theme for this year is a reflection of a ray of hope that through empowerment of women in Africa, sustainable peace and development will be ushered in.
  • Africa’s overall annual GDP growth averaged just 3.3% in 2010/5, barely keeping up with population growth.

    2016/10/04 Is the honeymoon over for African economies? Less than a decade ago, it seemed that the continent’s economic dreams were beginning approaching authentic, with a lot of nations experiencing impressive GDP increase and development. Presently, as the harsh reality of the continent’s vulnerability to challenging external conditions has set in, sustaining that increase has proved difficult. Encumbered by slowing increase in China, a collapse in commodity prices, and adverse spillover from numerous security crises, Africa’s in general annual GDP increase averaged just 3.3% in 2010-2015, barely keeping up with people increase, and down sharply from the 4.9% recorded from 2000 to 2008.
  • Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa expected to dip further

    2016/10/04 The World Bank has predicted that economic increase in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to fall further to 1.6% this year, the lowest level in over two decades. The new figures have been outlined in the new Africa’s Pulse statement which is a biannual analysis of economic trends and data for the region. While a lot of nations are showing signs of decline in economic increase rates, some like Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania have recorded an annual increase rate of over 6%. Africa’s Pulse has noted that the sub-Saharan regions economic performance in 2017 will continue varying across nations, while the larger economies and commodity exporters are expected to see a modest increase.
  • Global trade in wild African Grey Parrot banned, U.N. meeting rules

    2016/10/03 The United Nations has banned world trade in wild African Grey Parrots, prized for their ability to imitate human speech, to help counter a decline in numbers caused by trafficking and the loss of forests. The highly coveted species was placed on the convention's "Appendix I", which prohibits any cross-border movement in the birds or their body parts for commercial purposes. The decision, made at the same time as members of the U.N.'s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held a secret ballot for the initial time ever, came at a two week-long convention in Johannesburg.
  • BON Hotels extends its footprint into Ethiopia

    2016/08/18 BON Hotels, a hospitality company that owns, manages and markets hotels throughout Africa, has added yet another property to its ever-growing stable.