Various research findings indicate that the collection, provision and dissemination of information on development and accounting for the use of water and land resources in Ethiopia and the sub region at large has remained less efficient due to a number of factors.
Lack of appropriate resource data base system is mentioned to be amongst the factors. Sectorial and compartmentalized approaches to water\land use and management are mentioned to be the factors that hampered the development of integrated and sustainable solutions. On top of that, lack of research supported participatory integrated watershed management that addresses the serious degradation of land and associated challenges are said to be the other gaps in this regard.
Therefore, local, national, bilateral and regional policies, agreements and interventions were said not often based on accurate knowledge and a sound analysis of the situation due to such and other shortcomings.
Having critically observed the extent of these challenges, a water and land resource centre (WLRC), with the initiative to fill gaps was recently established by the joint efforts of the governments of Ethiopia and Switzerland.
The main objective of the centre is to establish a full-fledged, robust and modern resource data base for water and land management, building on the past experiences of the University of Bern and other agencies on water and land management in Ethiopia.
Dr. Gete Zeleke, Director, WLRC, said that the centre was established by the governments of Ethiopia and Switzerland in September 2011 as an institution associated to Addis Ababa University with the initiative to avoid the lack of appropriate resource databases that made the efforts to collect, provide and disseminate information on development and accounting for the use of water and land resources in Ethiopia and the region at large less efficient.
He said, "The resource centre is intended to improve the collection, processing, and dissemination of data on hydro-sedimentology, meteorology and land management in order to help decision makers, planners and the scientific community to make informed decision and planning for reducing degradation and poverty in the country and the Eastern Nile region, for exploring alternative potential uses of natural resources, and for developing benefit sharing mechanisms. It would serve as a lasting knowledge hub in the country and the Eastern Nile region and support negotiations related to water and land, mitigate regional conflicts, and help to steer stakeholders towards evidence-based, participatory, and benefit-sharing approaches."
Connected to that, a workshop that enforced the centre's main objective was recently held, here, in Addis Ababa.
According to the officials of the centre, the workshop was to introduce the full-fledged database established to all the stakeholders such as policy makers, academia, research groups, development groups (gov, donors, NGOs), and land users - including some private sectors, the Sub-Basin and Basin organizations.
Lack of sustainable supervision, uncoordinated researches and shortage of clear picture on the extent and impacts of land degradation and limited efforts in addressing the land degradation problem are among the gaps the database is established in response, the Director said during the workshop.
Ambassador Dominik Langenbacher, Switzerland Ambassador to Ethiopia, on his part said during the event that he had been dealing with the concerned government organs to identify the common areas of cooperation between the two countries.
He said, "As soon as I came to Ethiopia, my very first discussion with the deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs was to identify the areas of our cooperation. And we finally pinpointed two common areas of cooperation; federalism and water. Switzerland is a federal state like Ethiopia and it is the water tower of Europe and the same is true for Ethiopia to Africa. The water tower of Ethiopia is the Nile. We split the cooperation in to two, one is the regional negotiation which is dealt with by Nile basin initiative and the second is water and land management. Eighty four per cent of the water of the Nile emanates from Ethiopia, so it is very important and crucial to focus on how Ethiopia manages the land and the water which flows on it."
The resource centre, now under discussion monitors, collects, stores, and delivers water and land related information proactively, in a timely and regular manner. It regularly develops relevant, user-oriented knowledge up on request. In cases where basic information is missing, the resource centre fills knowledge gaps by collecting data from pilot projects like selected model learning watersheds and observatories that monitor and compile information on water and land management from farm to watershed levels and of different sizes where research and development activities are concurrently implemented. Building on these experiences, it is intended to ultimately expand the activities of the resource centre to serve as a regional knowledge nucleus facilitating national and transboundary decision support for sustainable, equitable, and rational use of water and land resources in the sub-region.
Dominick said about the centre that it is not going to be another academic centre. "We have to learn to apply the knowledge. Generating, disseminating knowledge to the practitioners of development is the key tasks of the project. This fits in to the national policy on agriculture, the GTP and the issue of food security."
The centre's primary goal is, "Providing scientifically and openly accessible data and information for water and land management including water diplomacy with the goal of making available its knowledge to all stakeholders for their use and negotiation of water and land related services within and across borders, particularly in the Eastern Nile Region."
As stated during the occasion, water related problems as well as water and land management would be better negotiated and improved respectively through these efforts. The overall sediment load will be better managed, and peace and welfare will be promoted in the region.
As could be learnt from the centre's schedule, it would, in its first phase, focus geographically on the upper Blue-Nile Basin and then to the Upper Eastern Nile Basin in its second phase and phase three may be towards the whole Eastern Nile Basin.
It is undeniably true that no one can counter argue on the decisiveness of such initiatives, what matters more is, however, the practicality and sustainability of the centre for organizing such workshops is not an end. It is not otherwise something new in the Ethiopian context.