Ethiopia’s Amhara region lies partially within the Abbay (Blue Nile) River Basin, which is one of the country’s twelve major river basins. It is also home to Ethiopia’s largest freshwater lake — Lake Tana — from which the Blue Nile River originates. Within the broader river basin, the Tana Subbasin is an area identified as a growth corridor for Ethiopia due to its vast productive potential. However, the subbasin faces challenges with water access and availability due to growing water withdrawals, agro-industrial pollution, changing climatic patterns, and environmental damage like deforestation and soil erosion. This puts economic activities and the livelihoods of the region’s predominantly rural communities at risk, making it a vital issue to address.

Amhara IWRM-WASH Platform launching event in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
Amhara IWRM-WASH Platform launching event in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Photo by Cherinet Tsegaw/ ABAO Photographer

For this reason, many government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and development partners are working on projects to improve water resources governance and access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Amhara. However, many of these interventions lack coordination or complementarity. This siloed approach leads to duplication of efforts, redundancy in activities, minimal accountability, resource loss and reduced capacity to collectively scale. In addition, the intersection of the Amhara administrative region with catchment boundaries adds further complexity. Water is primarily governed from an administrative perspective without considering natural hydrological flows and settings important to its continuity. Managing water without considering hydrological boundaries or broader catchment conditions could severely hinder sustainable water resources management (WRM) in both the region and the larger basin.

Map of Abbay Basin and Amhara Administrative Region

The Abbay Basin Administration Office (ABAO), an agency of the Ministry of Water and Energy (MoWE), is mandated to advance sustainable water resources management at the basin level. On the other hand, the Amhara Regional State Bureau for Water and Energy (BoWE) is MoWE’s operating branch at the regional scale, responsible to endorse and implement water policies and regulations, improve utilization and management of water resources, and expand safe drinking water supply to both urban and rural areas. The mandates of these two government agencies align in many ways, but complementarity and cooperation are generally inadequate, sometimes even leading to overlap. And until recently, there was no system or platform in the region for increasing collaboration and integration in planning, implementation, monitoring and policy.

The Amhara Regional IWRM-WASH Platform was launched in December 2023 with the main purpose of uniting actors working in both the WRM and WASH spheres and tackling institutional, governance and integration challenges. The platform was driven by the need to improve integrated water resources management (IWRM) in the region, an approach which seeks to promote the sustainable use of water resources for socio-economic development while protecting the environment. The Amhara Regional IWRM-WASH Platform was initiated by ABAO and BoWE, with the support of World Resources Institute (WRI), IRC WASH, United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Millennium Water Alliance (MWA), Plan International Ethiopia and WaterAid Ethiopia. Although it was established as a platform at the regional level, due to institutional decisions on water in Ethiopia being made at the administrative scale, the platform aims to better connect different water-using sectors and actors while enhancing the region-basin linkage.

Objectives of the IWRM-WASH Platform

The overall objective of the IWRM-WASH Platform is to promote, support, and better coordinate regional and basin efforts to enhance sustainable WRM and WASH services, improve livelihoods, and protect the health of the environment and freshwater ecosystems.

Specific objectives include:

  • Enhance cross-sectoral coordination and planning and build collaboration for better collective impact in the WRM and WASH sectors.
  • Avoid silos in WRM and WASH as well as among basin and sub-basin authorities, regional bureaus, and other sub-national offices in the development and management of water and other natural resources.
  • Share data and information and engage in regular learning and promotion of best practices.
  • Enhance coordination among relevant programs and/or projects undertaken by government agencies, development partners, NGOs/CSOs, universities/research institutes, etc.
  • Facilitate forums and discussions and engage in joint advocacy on WRM-WASH linkage.
  • Monitor progress in the WRM and WASH agendas and identify challenges and recommendations for improvement in policy, strategy and implementation.
  • Help set a shared agenda for IWRM-WASH implementation in the Amhara region.

The platform launch event saw broad participation from high level officials and experts from different governmental and non-governmental organizations. During the launch ceremony, Yewendwesen Mengistu, Head of ABAO, said that one of the main responsibilities of ABAO is to prepare a strategic plan for the Abbay Basin with the full participation of stakeholders in the water sector. Once prepared, the basin plan must be executed by different actors and multiple sector offices in each region overlapping the Abbay Basin. He said the existence of this platform will allow better integration and cooperation during the implementation of the plan.

Mamaru Moges, Head of BoWE, also acknowledged the importance of the platform to address the intersectionality of WASH and WRM issues. He said the platform will improve the much-needed coordination and integration of government agencies, nongovernment organizations and all stakeholders working towards water security. He pledged BoWE’s full support for the participation and sustainability of the platform. 

According to Haymanot Belete, a federal representative of MoWE, a similar platform was recently launched at the national level. However, regional IWRM-WASH platforms are still missing and are critical to ensure that the national platform translates into action on the ground. He said regional platforms are critical for sharing expertise, securing financing and implementing more sustainable interventions. MoWE is happy to provide support from the federal level for this first regional platform that links basin and region and actors working across the water sector, he added.

The platform was established primarily as a collaborative effort by ABAO and BoWE with initial technical and financial support provided by WRI, IRC WASH, UNICEF and Plan International, representing a good example of cross-agency cooperation. Following the platform launch, ABAO and BoWE organized the first IWRM-WASH stakeholder and member meeting in February 2024 to share updates on progress, including finalizing the terms of reference for the platform and establishing working groups. This first event included sessions by BoWE and NGOs active locally on continued challenges in water access in addition to good regional experiences in WRM and WASH implementation.

The first stakeholder platform meeting, February 2024
The first stakeholder platform meeting in February 2024. Photo by Cherinet Tsegaw/ ABAO Photographer

During this first meeting, ABAO was also elected to chair the platform, with BoWE as co-chair. In addition, the Amhara Plan and Development Commission was nominated as secretary while the Amhara Environment & Forest Protection Authority and Health bureaus were designated to lead the IWRM and WASH thematic subgroups respectively. WRI, UNICEF and IRC WASH will take on advisory roles.

Since the launch of the platform, 32 agencies and organizations submitted applications for official membership.

IWRM is a long and participatory process. Gaining political support at various levels is important, and the establishment of multi-stakeholder platforms for consultation, experience sharing and coordination can be vital. A key discussion point going forward will be exploring solutions to ensure platform sustainability.

WRI’s support to the IWRM-WASH platform falls within an ongoing program of technical assistance to the ABAO. WRI long acknowledged the need for the establishment of such a platform to foster better alignment and collaboration to collectively improve water management and governance in the Amhara region, to both spur the protection of water supplies and freshwater ecosystems and to improve water access. WRI has provided technical and financial support to establish this platform, mainly through a project funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, titled “Promoting IWRM and environmental sustainability to enhance water availability and livelihoods in Ethiopia’s Tana Subbasin."