RLC Alumni Reta Hailu on water security in Ethiopia

On the International World Water Day RLC Alumni Reta Hailu shared his research with us. Please find the extended abstract below:

Multistakeholder Platforms: An Institutional Option to Achieve Water Security in the Awash Basin, Ethiopia

Reta Hailu1, Degefa Tolossa1, Getnet Alemu2

1 Centre for Rural Development, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia;

2Institute of Development and Policy Research, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


In most developing countries water resources, as a common good, are often following a centralized control, hierarchal planning, and sectorial allocation (Mcnicholl et al. 2017). Such mode of water resources management proved to be ineffective and unsustainable to ensure water security. It was also criticized as ‘traditional’ management of water as a common-pool natural resource.  Rather, it was blamed for pursuing reactive approach, which has been deepening water-related looming crises. It is in this context that new challenges need to change an approach and institutional arrangements to reconcile myriads of conflicting aspects in current water resources management.  This study employed the Awash Basin of Ethiopia to illustrate how Multistakeholder with multiple interests and priorities could negotiate and dialogue to achieve water security. The basin suffered from rampant coordination problems (Hemel & Loijenga 2013), and pervasive institutional failures (Reta, et al. 2017). The controversies of the central and local governance prevail (Tamrat 2013). IWRM has never been implemented (Adey et al. 2016).  Therefore, this paper seeks to provide institutional options to move beyond rhetoric in the Awash River Basin so that water security could be attained.


The empirical information for this paper was obtained from multiple techniques. First, an institutional survey was carried out using structured questionnaire. The questionnaire addressed the performance of existing institutions to address interests and priories of multiple actors, scales, and sectors. Key experts in the private sector, donor and NGOs, universities, and government stakeholders in the water sector were consulted. The survey was complemented by in-depth interviews and Focused Group Discussions (FGDs). Semi-structured stakeholders mapping matrix and actor-network sheet were used to manage the key informants and face-to-face discussions. The respondents identified the interdependent actors, to the best of their knowledge, regarding the water resources in the basin. They scored each relationship as 0 (no linkage), 1 (weak linkage), 2 (strong linkage), and -1 (adverse linkage) based on their experiences with stakeholder’ arena. The actors were categorized into the key actors (decision makers and regulators), primary actors (water users), secondary stakeholders (water-related sectors who have direct or indirect impact on the basin water resources), as well as tertiary actors (also called external actors- facilitate, mediate, and finance dialogues among the stakeholders). In addition, substantial insights were gained from participation in workshops and meetings organized by various government and NGOs. The sources were cross-checked. The data were entered into excel database and exported to UCINET 6 for Windows (Borgatti et al. 2002) and Visualzyer 2.2 software (Medical Decision Logic.Inc 2014) were used as aids for Actor-Network Analysis. Moreover, descriptive statistics and content analyses (Julien 2008) were employed.

Results and discussion

Multi-Stakeholder Platforms (MSPs): a Roadmap for water security

Stakeholders of similar function, hierarchy, and sector put in the same category as means to promote MSPs because MSP is considered as an institutional arrangement in which collective actions, decisions, ideas, and possible collaboration and solutions are reflected (Simpungwe 2006). In the process, the active participation of pertinent stakeholders, spanning from the community to governments, from donors to private sectors and CSOs, are key entities for MSPs to function. In an attempt to capture the hierarchical MSPs, because bringing all stakeholders in a forum is unrealistic, the paper has structured hierarchically and matched with the roles, responsibilities or mandates of each stakeholder. The actors were grouped based on particular affiliation and analyses of the vertical hierarchy and horizontal relationships. Accordingly, three major vertical structures were identified. Viz. macro/basin, district/meso, and local/ micro levels as shortly explained below.

The Macro level Multistakeholder Platform

At the national level, the Federal and Regional institutions are key stakeholders. Yet, these institutions are not coordinated and integrated. The key water sector actors such as Ministry of Water, Irrigation, and Energy (MoWIE), Basin High Councils (BHC), and the Awash Basin Authority (AwBA) have strong linkages. However, there is inadequate coordination and relationship with public sector actors both at the Federal and Regional levels (Figure 1).  Sectors are also failed to coordinate. For instance, land use planning and management in the basin is undertaken separately. At least the two sectors-land and water- could have been worked together. In addition, donors and NGOs have been working and framing institutional arrangements in the basin through customizing exogenous model of water resources management. These efforts are project-oriented that the sustainability is problematic when external funds are ceased before internal capacity is developed.

Figure 1: Interaction of Macro stakeholders can be pooled as National MSP (Source: Own data (2017)

Furthermore, it was difficult to harmonize both political and hydrological boundaries. The prevailing institutional structure has been fragmented that water insecurity is exacerbated in the basin. In this sense, the MSP at macro level serves as a mechanism to encourage other sectors to consider water issues in their policies and planning milieus. MSPs are also the powerful tool to get buy-in from decision-makers to translate rhetoric into reality.

In the basin, the water is used for domestic, agricultural, hydropower plants, industrial, and ecosystem uses. None of these uses are systematically designed for multiple purposes uses that the conflicts among various uses are rampant. This resulted in multiple outcomes- the water security for some would be at expense of insecurity of others- that reconciliation among various uses is essential. Caution here is that multi-stakeholder processes are not a silver bullet to solve all problems, but they do help various actors to understand others’ views and interests (Warner 2005).

Table 1: Levels and types of linkages among stakeholders

Level No Nodes No linkages Strong  link Weak link Adverse link Remarks
Macro 20 74 9(12.2%) 64(86.5%) 1(1.3%) No linkage among 455 potential links
Meso 10 22 5(22.7%) 17(78.3%) 0(0%)
Micro 11 32 10(31.3%) 13(40.6%) 9(28.1%)
Total 41 128 24(17.8%) 94(73.4%) 10 (7.8%)

Source: Own data (2017)

There are 74 linkages identified at the macro level, 64 (86.5%) of them are loose (Table 1). However, the interdependencies of 9 (12.2%) of the stakeholders are quite satisfactory on the issues of water resources planning. Some stakeholders indicated that financial limitations are the major barriers to bring together all the stakeholders on board.

At the macro level, the fragmentation and sectorial attitude towards basin management are affecting water security. In this perspective, we call for a coordinated basin management at the macro level that involves all water-related institutions and stakeholders. The Federal institutions, such as the AwBA has given powers and duties to set up a forum for effective networking among stakeholders. That the Authority needs to facilitate and catalyze the MSPs. It improves the systems for inter-institutional collaboration and enhancing horizontal and vertical coordination through focusing on outreach and facilitation. Regional stakeholders can legitimize and liaison between AwRBA and community level to device IWRM pragmatically and in a participatory manner.

The Meso level Multistakeholder Platform

The meso platform involves the zonal and district levels stakeholders and institutions. The zone is serving as a transition between micro and macro levels platform. Moreover, the stakeholders from knowledge institutions- universities and research institutions, NGOs, as well as CBOs constitute MSP at this level. Using actor-network analysis we identified 22 linkages among the major stakeholders at meso level. 17 (78.3%) of the stakeholders have weak linkage while only 5 (22.7%) were demonstrated strong linkages. The District Water Resources Office (DWRO) and urban Water Supply Utilities (WSUs), Zonal Agricultural and Natural Resources (ZANRO) and Water Resources Offices (ZWRO), as well as CBOs and NGOs,  have strong relationships regarding water resources development. Even though there is no negative interaction among stakeholders, some expected links such as district agriculture, irrigation, and water resources offices are poor. Strengthening weak relationships and build on existing strong interfaces are needed. Some water problems at meso level can be forwarded to macro MSPs for decision making and/or technical support. Thus, reconciliation among these key stakeholders at woreda and the zonal level is essential to make water resources management more effective.

The Micro level Multistakeholder Platform

Local level institutions are an essential entity of sustainable river basin management (Cossío & Wilk 2017) because local level institutions are more flexible and better respond to the demands and interests of the society compared to meso or macro level organizations. In order to realize these roles, the local institutions should obtain space. Local water managers could take an opportunity to bring the leader from customary institutions in the MSPs as a platform could not respect the customs and only abide by formal arrangements is barely successful. In addition, the inclusion of such institutions leverages the implementation of policies and water laws.  The actors were never brought to a roundtable to identify the problem of water allocation and use. Thus, reconciling formal and customary institutions is essential to manage the ‘common’.

It was found out that there are mixed institutional settings at the grassroots level. While some have strong linkage, others have antagonistic linkages that see other stakeholders as potential rivals. Actor analysis showed that there are 11 nodes with 32 linkages. 10(31.3%) have strong linkages. 13(40.6%) and 9(28.1%) have weak and adverse relationships, respectively. It suggests that the poor interaction at the national level has perpetuated at the local level. At the micro level, quite a lot of NGOs are involved in project identification to implementation and financing. The NGOs and CBOs have found to be a strong link with local level actors such as water users associations (WUAs), and other grassroots level organizations.

At various levels, platforms can involve think-thanks, academic, research institutes, and consultants. However, the MSPs must avoid expert dominated problem-solving. The homogeneity of stakeholders instigates further discussions and helps to converge interests and priorities of water users. The bottom-line is that MSPs must be backed up by experts and state actors to fill gaps and create conducive environments to make things happen. Overall, MSPs contribute to water security and serve as a dialogue through improving water pricing, strengthening Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) engagement, accommodating multiple purposes uses of water, mitigating the existing and potential conflicts over water resources, and promoting coordination and hence IWRM in the basin more pragmatically. Therefore, collective actions and integrations through MSPs are possible through basin systems hierarchically and maximize water security of all actors without affecting water security of others. In tandem, networking, communicating, and partnerships among the actors are crucial.


Water resources as a common-pool natural resource involve various interests, priorities, sectors, and stakeholders beyond rhetoric on the paper. Albeit, the linkages of several key actors are either loose or completely missed that affected coordination at the basin scale. Thus, collective actions, which often need a negotiation and bargaining through MSPs are needed. Three level of platforms can be grouped at national and regional (macro), district (meso), and local (micro) levels to resolve the camouflaging of issues that demand hierarchal solutions. It can bring together fragmented stakeholders and divergent interests so that dialogues could be created, ideas exchanged, understanding enhanced, and thus joint solutions sought. Once consensus established among the MSPs, they would be a regular forum that host technical, private sectors, state, local communities, and other stakeholders at various levels.  In such a way, MSPs are the means and playfields to move from rhetoric and myths of the processes to actual implementations and practices through reconciliations between political and hydrological boundaries; customary and formal institutions; macro and micro scales; sectors and integrated approaches; and various multipurpose uses.


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