Building the long-term resilience of safe water supply systems in 13 regions of drought-prone Ethiopia

Washing In The River (1)

Awada Boricha water source spring in Sidama Regional State, Ethiopia.

The UK is the lead bilateral donor in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector (WaSH) in Ethiopia. Through this support, the UK assists the 'Climate Resilience' pillar of the Ethiopian Government’s flagship One WaSH National Programme through the Strengthening Climate Resilience Systems in Water Sanitation Hygiene (SCRS-WaSH) programme. As part of SCRS–WaSH, in partnership with Water Aid, NIRAS is delivering expert advice to strengthen climate-resilient delivery systems in drought-affected areas and amplify the impact of financial aid provided to the Ethiopian Government.

May 23, 2024
  • SDG: #3, #5, #6, #10, #13
  • SECTORS: Development Consulting, Water
  • COUNTRIES: Ethiopia
  • CLIENT: Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) / UKaid
  • CONTRACT VALUE: £7.447,926 GBP
  • DURATION: 10/2021 – 08/2024​

Ethiopia, a country characterised by its diverse landscapes and extensive highlands, is increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. These impacts manifest as more frequent and severe weather events, such as droughts and floods, which threaten the water security and sanitary conditions of millions of people. The current drought, which began in late 2020 has affected more than 13 million people resulting in severe water shortages and disease outbreaks. The importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WaSH) cannot be overstated given their fundamental role in health, survival, and the overall development of communities. Yet, the resilience of WaSH systems to climate-related shocks remains perilously low in many regions of Ethiopia. 

Recognising the urgent need to address these challenges, the UK is working with the Ethiopian Government through a programme called ‘Strengthening Climate Resilience Systems in Water Sanitation Hygiene (SCRS-WaSH)’. This initiative is part of a broader commitment to support sustainable development and climate adaptation strategies in vulnerable regions across the globe. The project's objective is to enhance the capacity of local systems, ensuring they are robust enough to withstand the increasing unpredictability and severity of climatic conditions. 

SCRS-WaSH not only focuses on the integration of climate-resilient practices into WaSH programmes, the project also seeks to improve immediate access to essential services and lay a foundation for sustainable, long-term environmental and social health. This involves a multi-faceted approach, including the development of innovative technologies, strengthening of institutional frameworks, and community engagement. 

Due to the limited availability of water, we had to use unprotected ponds for our drinking needs. Thanks to the restoration of the public standpoints (known as "bono"), this has been resolved. Now we not only get access to clean drinking water but we also can use the system to cultivate our gardens and grow vegetables. To make sure this water supply lasts, it’s really important to upgrade the electric power supply system and establish the household connections.”

Kassim Abdulahi, villager from Erer Woreda Marko Kebele, Samte, Harari Region

Goals and beneficiaries: SCRS-WaSH in short

Supporting three types of beneficiaries – at the federal, regional and facility level – across 13 regions, SCRS-WaSH sets out to transform water management and sanitation practices in Ethiopia. It has multiple objectives starting with fortifying the management of water supply systems in 30 rural multi-village schemes to transition them into sustainable business models and integrating climate resilience and mitigation strategies into existing and new water supply schemes.

The initiative also aims to establish robust post-construction maintenance systems and supply chains for spare parts, which will enhance the functionality of the water schemes while creating jobs particularly for women- and youth-run micro and small enterprises. Another goal is the tackling of period poverty in schools by the piloting of private sector solutions for menstrual hygiene management. Finally, the project team is working with the Government to develop a National WaSH financing strategy that emphasises domestic funding sources. A number of finance options have been identified and their potential for generating revenue estimated. The strategy is currently under Government review with a view of finalising and implementing it in 2024.

All the findings and developments from these efforts are being shared to guide future policies and the subsequent phases of the One WASH national programme, ensuring a broad and lasting impact.

Strengthening management systems

Of the 30 rural multi-village water supply schemes set to receive support, diagnostic assessments and business plans have already been developed for 27. The project team is working mostly with Ministry of Water and Energy departments, respective regional bureaus, and locally with the schemes directly to diagnose strengths, weaknesses, gaps, and bottlenecks and develop and implement plans for improvements in their operations.

A big part of the work is the technical and managerial training given to multi-village scheme utility board members and staff on topics such as water tariff setting, GIS mapping, asset management maintenance, and reducing non-revenue water. Customised training is offered on developing business plans that ensure sufficient supply and quality of tools and equipment.

Two and half years into the project, major improvements in the performance of the first 15 multi-village schemes operations have been achieved in many areas including governance and policy, non-revenue water loss, billing and fee collection, income, financial and human resources management, customer satisfaction and operations and maintenance.

Climate resilience and gender and social inclusion are themes that cut across all project activities. The SCRS-WaSH project team is collaborating with the Ministry of Water and Energy, particularly the Water Supply and Sanitation Infrastructure Management Directorate and Water Supply Study, Design and Construction Monitoring Directorate, as well as the ministries of Health, Education; Finance; Women and Children Affairs; and Labour and Job Creation, and their respective regional bureaus in the intervention regions.

13 million

people affected by drought in Ethiopia


multi-village scheme utility board members and staff trained


Climate-Resilient Water Safety Plans prepared and validated and support for implementation underway

Supporting the development of climate-resilient water safety planning

To improve the climate resilience of water resources in drought-prone areas targeted by the project, Water Safety Plans (WSPs) have been drawn up in collaboration with government stakeholders. This involves assessing the implications of climate change at every part of the water supply chain, from rainfall reaching the catchment through to the end user. Depending on the location, risks can include not only reduced supply and interrupted service delivery, but also extreme events such as flash flooding that can cause major damage to water supply infrastructure.

SCRS-WaSH has brought the development of these plans to a new level by incorporating advanced tools to assess the vulnerability of catchments. These include GIS with satellite imagery; source catchment delineation; mapping and analysis of current land use, landscape area degradation and flood risk; downscaling of climate data to the basin level: hydrogeology/ aquifer characterisation; type and nature of the aquifers – including lithology, aquifer size, flow direction; and identification of recharge area. Joint field work is being carried out with government and utilities to increase knowledge on the resource base through monitoring and overall planning and support to the implementation of the catchment management and WSPs. Overall, there is heightened awareness of climate change and environment-induced risks posed to water supply, including the introduction of improved structural designs for scheme infrastructure to address flood risks.

IMG 20230819 140022
The extent of flood risk and damage to water pipelines of Mugwayn-Fiq-Hamaro MVS, Somali Region (August 2023). The pipelines are likely to be washed away during the next heavy flooding event if urgent measures are not taken to protect them.

Gearing women and youth up to establish and run micro-to-small maintenance and spare parts supply businesses

SCRS-WaSH is well on its way to achieving its goals of supporting women- and youth-run enterprises for the provision of maintenance services and spare parts supplies to water supply facilities. To date, 27 of the targeted 30 companies have been set up and trained. This includes support on business plan development and marketing strategies as well as connections to market outlets and equipment to start up operations. Over 60 technical and vocational education trainers and other experts have received training so they can, in turn, train others. At least ten regional bureaus have agreed to, or are providing working premises for these businesses and apprenticeships are underway for them to deliver services in collaboration with urban water utilities and cluster woreda water and energy offices to maintain water infrastructure systems.

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women, men, and youth involved in micro and small businesses supported with training

When I first experienced my first period, I was shy and concerned whether girls would see my period or if it leaks. Even after becoming a teacher, we wouldn’t tell others. But now we train students on open discussion and that period should not be a taboo. I encourage them to come to me and tell me and not to be shy to talk with parents and other teachers about it.

Gender club leader, Afar school

Keeping girls in school

With the overall goal of improving girls’ school attendance and educational performance, the SCRS-WaSH team is providing reusable menstrual hygiene kits (four reusable pads in a kit) together with two pairs of underwear to 150 schools (to date 145 have received the kits). The project is also supporting local businesses that produce and sell menstrual hygiene products.

In addition to making MH products more accessible, the project has developed behavioural change materials that are being shared with the schools to create awareness and breakdown taboos. This is targeted at boys and girls as well as teachers and parents. There has also been training of trainers for Gender Club leads and School Directors in Afar, Amhara, Benishangul Gumuz, Dire Dawa, Harari, Oromia, Sidama, the former SNNPR, and Somali. This has cascaded down to enhance awareness, ownership, and sustainability of these gains among the community.


34,177 girls will receive reusable menstrual hygiene kits over the course of the project

Unlocking financial pathways: A strategic overview for repayable finance opportunities in Ethiopia’s WASH sector

Lessons & Challenges: Adoption of Climate Resilient Water Safety Plans in Ethiopia

Taylor Martin

Taylor Martin

Senior Programme Manager (Climate Change)

Edinburgh, United Kingdom