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Ethiopia Watersheds


Better land and water management are critical to improvement of human well being in the drought-prone Ethiopian highlands. High-population pressure, highly variable and unreliable rainfall, and steep topography have accelerated the process of land degradation in the largely unprotected watersheds of northern Ethiopia. Rapid deterioration in land quality has reduced the already insufficient food production of the region.

Ethiopia is a land of hydrological contrasts. Its uneven, often unpredictable distribution of water greatly impacts its efforts to address poverty. With its huge hydropower potential, Ethiopia has become a poster child for the dam industry, which contends that big dams are critical for ending its poverty. International donors are supporting the Ethiopian government's plans to build some of Africa’s largest dams to promote the export of agricultural commodities and hydropower. But most development analysts believe the rural poor need smaller-scale water projects more suited to meeting their immediate needs. Ethiopia's 12 major watersheds support a booming population, most of whom are small-scale farmers and pastoralists. These watersheds face ongoing degradation and erosion, making the livelihoods of rural communities who depend on them more vulnerable.

A better understanding of the hydrological characteristics of different watersheds in the headwaters of the Nile River is of considerable importance because of the international interest in the utilization of its water resources, the need to improve and augment development and management activities of these resources, and the potential for negative impacts of climate change in the future. Conflicting views of water resource utilization and ownership has been challenging the development of appropriate management of the Nile River Basin for the countries most dependent on its resources including Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Egypt’s agricultural production and domestic requirements depends primarily (99%) on the waters of the Nile River, withdrawing up to 55.5 billion cubic meters per year (Geith and Sultan, 2002); Sudan’s agriculture also relies heavily on these waters; while Ethiopia, at the Nile’s headwaters, is interested in further developing the water resources to meet development needs and attain “water security” through equitable sharing among the Nile countries (Yacob Arseno and Imeru Tamrat, 2005). Only 5% of Ethiopia’s surface water (0.6% of the Nile Basin’s water resource) is being 2 currently utilized by Ethiopia while cyclical droughts cause food shortages and intermittent famine (Yacob Arseno and Imeru Tamrat, 2005). The Ethiopian highlands are the origin, or source, of much of the river flow reaching the Nile River, contributing greater than 60% of Nile flow (Ibrahim, 1984 and Conway and Hulme, 1993) possibly increasing to 95% during the rainy season (Ibrahim, 1984). Since the Nile River discharge is highly dependent on the flow generated in the Ethiopian highlands, increases in utilization of water resources and management activities which alter discharge levels in Ethiopia may have a significant effect on overall flow of the Nile, and consequently become a considerable concern for populations in the regions downstream in Sudan and Egypt. Thus, a better understanding of flow characteristics throughout the upper Nile River’s basins in Ethiopia accounting for seasonal differences and different time and spatial scales is necessary.

Yeku Watershed

The Yeku Watershed lies between 12º30’46” and 12º32’14” North and 39º03’10” and 39º04’28” East, approximately 15 km south of the small town of Sekota in the eastern section of the national regional state of Amhara in Northern Ethiopia, or more specifically, in the Sekota woreda in the Wag-Himra zone of Amhara region. With elevations from approximately 2000 to 2400 meters above sea level (masl), the watershed immediately drains into the Yeku and Weleh Rivers, eventually to the Tekeze River, one of the tributaries to the Atbara River in northern Ethiopia which flows to the Nile River in the Sudan, north of the confluence of the Blue and White Niles.


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