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Full Project Title: Improved water and land management in the Ethiopian highlands and its impact on downstream stakeholders dependent on the Blue Nile (PN19)


The Blue Nile, a major tributary of the Nile River contributing about 60% of the Nile’s flow. About two-thirds of this densely populated basin is located in the Ethiopian highlands and receives fairly high levels of annual rainfall of 800 to 2,200 mm.

However, natural resources are undergoing degradation due to poor land and water management, consequences of upstream-downstream interactions related to water availability, water quality and sediment, inadequate knowledge of ecosystemic linkages, and limited or insufficient governance mechanisms.

This project was envisaged to improve the scientific understanding of the land and water resources of the basin, and hypothesized that with increased scientific knowledge of the hydrological, watershed, and institutional processes of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia (Abbay), constraints to up-scaling adaptable best practices and promising technologies (technical, socio-economic, institutional) could be overcome, which will result in significant positive impacts for both upstream and downstream communities and state.

The study aimed to design action programs for improving the livelihoods of poor communities in the upstream while minimizing downstream impacts, to generate knowledge of upstream-downstream interaction, to enhance the effectiveness of governance interventions, and to increase agricultural water productivity while minimizing degradation.

Research Highlights

Research highlights

  • Integrated research across national and cross-disciplinary boundaries is constrained by lack of mechanisms for data sharing despite availability of basin-level data. However, a broad understanding of the basin was achieved through synthesizing existing knowledge and applying tools such as GIS and database development to characterize the basin and identify major water, land and livestock management constraints and opportunities, as well as impacts of current and future water and land management interventions within the catchment and in the downstream.
  • Existing and newly developed/adapted tools and methods related to hydrological process helped to understand rainfall-runoff, water distribution and availability in the basin. For example, extreme degradation occurs in the Ethiopian Highland; and sediment yield predictions at Sudanese border ranges from 88 to 110Million ton/year. Collaboration of upstream and downstream stakeholders and managing the water resources at the watershed level followed by sustainable WSM measures could reduce soil erosion and Blue Nile river sediment yield.
Project Outcomes

Project outcomes

  • Besides a better scientific understanding of the cause-effect relationships in erosion and sediment, interventions related to soil and water conservation, watershed management and related innovations such as payment for environmental services were considered and their impacts synthesized.
  • Policy and institutions across local to basin are not well established and do not take in to account downstream and upstream needs. Cooperation between upstream and downstream is key to success. Institutional arrangements must be built across different scales (nested from local to international) that increase trust, facilitate the exchange of information and enable effective monitoring required for successful water resources management.
  • The project provided significant capacity building endeavors for research partners, NGOs, community leaders and policy makers, through collaboration with local institutions and universities to facilitate student research, stakeholder consultation, facilitation and engagement of stakeholders in dialogues on resource management issues and innovative approaches, as well as generating knowledge that can be used by planners and policy makers.
Publications and Outputs

Selected publications and outputs

  1. S. B. Awulachew, M. McCartney, Tammo S. Steenhuis and A. A. Ahmed, A Review of Hydrology, Sediment and Water Resource Use in the Blue Nile Basin, 87p. Working Paper 131,
  2. Haileslassie, A.; Hagos, F.; Mapedza, E.; Sadoff, C.; Awulachew, S. B.; Gebreselassie, S.; Peden, D, Institutional settings and livelihood strategies in the Blue Nile Basin: Implications for upstream/downstream linkages. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute., 81p. WMI Working Paper 132,
  3. S.H. Alemayehu, S.B. Awulachew, Hans-B. Horlacher , J. Cullmann, Comaprision of ANNs and A Distributed Conceptual Hydrological Model (WaSim-ETH) for Predicting Daily Watershed Runoff , Journal of Hydrology , Under review.
  4. Tammo S. Steenhuis, Amy S. Collick, Zachary M. Easton1, Elias S. Leggesse, Haimonote K.Bayabil, Eric D. White, Seleshi B. Awulachew, Enyew Adgo, Abdassalam Abdalla Ahmed in J. Hydrological Process, Predicting Discharge and Erosion for the Abbay (Blue Nile) with a Simple Model, Journal of hydrological Process, Journal of Hydrological processes, 23, 3728–3737 (2009).
  5. S.H. Alemayehu1, S.B. Awulachew , Hans-B. Horlacher, J. Cullmann, Estimation Of Daily Flow In Ungauged Catchment By Coupling Hydrological Model And Neural Networks: Case Study, Journal of Hydrologic Engineering , Under review.
  6. S.H. Alemayehu, N. Schütze, H.B. Horlacher, S.B. Awulachew, Optimization of Multiple Reservoir Releases Using an Evolutionary Strategy: Case Study Of Lake-Tana Sub-Basin, Ethiopia, International Journal of Water , Under review.
  7. Solomon Gebreselassie, Fitsum Hagos, Amare Haileslassie, Seleshi Bekele Awulachew, Don Peden Land Degradation & Development, Determinants of adoption of improved land and water management practices in the Blue Nile Basin: exploring strategies for out scaling of promising technologies by Solomon G/Sellassie, Journal of Land Degradation & Development, Under review.
  8. Teklu Erkossa , Seleshi B. Awulachew and Aster Denekew, Farming System Productivity Modeling: Maize and Potato in Ethiopian Blue Nile Basin, Agricultural Water Management, Under review.
  9. Collick AS, ZM. Easton, Tegenu Ashagrie, Biniam Biruk, Seifu Tilahun, Enyew Adgo, Seleshi B. Awulachew, Gete Zeleke and TS Steenhuis., A simple semi-distributed water balance model for the Ethiopian Highlands, Hydrological processes, Journal of Hydrological processes, 23, 3718–3727 2009.
  10. Liu, B.M., Collick, A.S., Zeleke, G., Adgo, E., Easton, Z.M. and T.S. Steenhuis. , Rainfall-Discharge Relationships for a Monsoonal Climate in the Ethiopian Highlands, Hydrological processes, Journal of Hydrological processes. 22, 1059–1067 (2008).
Final Report
Project Partners

Project partners


Project Lead

Project lead


For more information on Phase 1 outputs please contact Udana Ariyawansa.