Watershed Managment Project Coordinator
|Friday, 04 March 2011 05:50|
“Conversations”is a series of interviews with ENTRO staff shedding light on their respective projects and activities. Today’s “Conversation” is with Dr. Solomon Abate, Regional Project Coordinator, Watershed Management Project, ENTRO.
Dr. Solomon what are watersheds?
A watershed is an area with a common confluence point through which rain water passes. Watersheds are also known as hydrologic units or drainage areas. Watersheds are units with biophysical and social components which, dynamically interact with each other creating a whole system. Human activities make use of the various components within the watershed system and impact each other as well as the whole system. One needs to understand the nature and dynamics of these interactions in order to make sustainable interventions that restore or enhance the biophysical as well as the social environment.
How did you get interested in watershed management?
By training I am an agricultural engineer.After graduation from college, I started working as Soil and Water Conservation expert in the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia. My responsibilities in that capacity focused on averting soil degradation through conservation measures. Through my experience over those years, I realized that you cannot undertake soil and water conservation without looking at the whole watershed, because a watershed is made up of components, like the soil, the vegetation, the people in it, all of whom interact with each other. Unless you look at that interaction in its entirety, you cannot isolate the physical components and try to prevent the degradation of that component. People are at the center of watershed management. That is why I felt that watershed management is a more appropriate way of dealing with environmental problems, and became interested in promoting watershed management as an approach to environmental management.
How are these (environmental ) problems you mentioned relevant to cooperation of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia on the Nile.
At a macro level, these three countries share a common watershed. The condition of this watershed in the long run determines the development outcome of each country. So, it is in their common interest to protect and enhance the condition of their shared watershed.
As I said above, the interaction of the various watershed components does determine the productivity of that watershed, so if you don’t protect it, a number of things will go wrong. The first of which is the immediate loss of productivity due to land degradation which creates poverty, and poverty in-turn becomes the root cause of environmental degradation.
A watershed is a system, so whatever negative event occurs in one part of it does have an impact on the other parts. Other consequences of unprotected watershed include, floods, sedimentation and siltation of structures etc. If there is a degradation of resources in the upper catchment there will be a shortage of resources in the whole watershed that would cause and/or aggravate conflicts over resource us. If we want to maintain and sustain the functioning of the watershed as a system, it is very critical to address the system as a unit and that is why EN cooperation becomes important. Watershed management requires looking beyond political boundaries and think of watersheds as integrated ecological systems.
How does watershed management address these problems?
Watershed management, by looking beyond the symptoms and addressing the root causes (e.g through improved livelihoods) consequently improves the watershed condition. That is what our watershed management program focuses on.
You can address the root causes in many ways: through direct interventions, which increase
watershed communities’ productivity thereby increasing their income; by providing better social services (health, education); by providing opportunities based on the resources available; by promoting the idea of environmental rehabilitation and encouraging governments to formulate conducive environmental policies that would enable practitioners to do better land management and sustainable work.
What does watershed management actually consist of ?
Watershed management basically consists of: a) taking inventory of the status of the resource base and identifying challenges, opportunities and constraints for developing the watershed. This aspect essentially refers to the more visible symptomatic dimensions such as land degradation, deforestation etc. b) analyzing the underlying root causes for watershed degradation which, by enlarge, are caused by livelihood activities. This aspect includes analysis of policies, institutions and programs.
Can you tell us which are the most important watersheds in EN?
There is no such thing as most important in terms of watershed, all watersheds are important in their own right. All watersheds have different characteristics, different components, different problems and we address those problems as they are, we can prioritize but there is no such concept as one watershed being more important than the other.
Given the magnitude and nature of the problem we want to address based on available resources, we can prioritize and we can even break down the watersheds into smaller watersheds; but these are merely implementation strategies or approaches, not classification in terms of importance.
Which are the watersheds ENSAP is currently involved in?
We are working in the eastern Nile part of the Nile Basin. For ease of strategic intervention we have subdivided the major drainage areas into four sub-divisions known as sub-basins. The Baro-Akobo -Sobat, Abbay, Blue Nile, Tekeze - Atbara, and the main Nile (which is the sub-basin area starting in Khartoum after the meeting of the White and the Blue Nile) basins. These four sub-basins cover the whole of the Eastern Nile.
What do you mean when you talk about basins and sub-basins and why is it important to break down the Nile into basin and sub-basins, and how is this distinction important for the projects and the people living within these sub-basins?
It is a matter of terminology and convenience. A watershed’s surface area depends on the location of the point of confluence; the surface area could vary from thousands of square kilometers to one or two hectares, depending on where you take the point of confluence. For example if you take the Mediterranean as a point of confluence the area of the watershed would be thousands of squared kilometers; where as if you shift the point of confluence to, say, a point just the Blue Nile meets the White Nile, the watershed surface are would them be significantly smaller perhaps only hundreds of squared kilometers.
We sometimes consider the Eastern Nile as a basin, and the subdivisions in it will be called sub-basins, such as the four sub-basins mentioned earlier. Dividing into sub-basins or sub-watersheds is important for management purposes, the different drainages have different characteristics so by dividing them you can have a better understanding of the peculiar characteristics of specific drainages.
What can local people living in the watersheds expect from the watershed project? Is there any room for them to take part in your projects as owners of the watershed?
The local people definitely would expect to see immediate benefits, so unless you can show them benefits on the ground, they may not support the project. Anything less than immediate benefits may not stimulate, especially the most deprived and vulnerable, to support the project. Therefore we strive to involve the communities starting from the identification of the project, through designing and implementation. We are also working to include locally available knowledge, augmented by expert knowledge. If communities are given the opportunity to be part and parcel of the project design, they will feel ownership, and ownership results in sustaining the benefits the project is expected to generate while preserving the environment.
Experience shows that on needs to address the immediate survival needs of inhabitants, in order to lay the foundations for long-term watershed management. Projects with long term gestation periods, such as forestry plantations, fail to meet this criterion, though in the long run such interventions will also be required.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
The first challenge one would expect from a multi-country program such as ours, is the diversity of interests in a project that goes beyond political boundaries. However, in the case of the Eastern Nile, we have been lucky. This is one of the earliest projects appreciated by all three countries equally.
The other challenge was to move away from the commonly held perception of watershed management as basically a physical structural intervention process such as building terraces, which limits the approach to addressing symptoms only.
We basically had to redefine watershed management problems as livelihood issues. We overcame this challenge through organizing workshops; study-tour visits within and outside the region; and assembling lessons learned.
The third challenge pertains to availability of data. Whatever little data was available, it was at country level. Our project, however, requires data and information that describes the system as a unit, be that at basin or sub-basin levels. So we had to start from scratch when it came to assembling and analyzing the required data. On the other hand, countries desired to see immediate action on the ground. This is understandable given the magnitude and immediacy of the problems in the Eastern Nile watersheds. To overcome this challenge, we had to design two parallel but complimentary sub-projects: a) the Fast Track Projects– focusing on identifying and designing immediate project interventions; b) Co-operative Regional Assessments ( CRA’s), which concentrate on generating data and analyses.
What would happen if there was no watershed management project at ENSAP?
If you don’t manage the watershed, then the environment would be damaged, which is what we are seeing today. As a result of lack of a coordinated understanding and management of the system, there is serious degradation and consequently damage to the ecosystem. Hence the various potential benefits of the watershed are now diminishing . The consequences of such events are far reaching, affecting even the water yield of the Nile river itself. The various floods we had, the sedimentation, the lack of land productivity and the level of poverty within the watersheds, are all results of unsustainable management of the watershed. Some of the poverty levels that we see in the upper part of the catchments here in Ethiopia is mainly a result of lack of resource degradation. Nevertheless the population keeps growing and if you want to maintain a balance between the population growth and the resources we need to sustain the watershed properly.
Can you give us an example where watershed projects, similar to the ones you are running, have been successful? In Africa?, Asia?....Latin America? What was the secret to their success?
There are a number of successful projects both within the Eastern Nile and in Africa in general. There are some, although isolated and at a small scale, successful watershed projects in Ethiopia, some of which we visited with other Eastern Nile partners. Elsewhere In Africa , Kenya is a good example. The most successful project globally however is the Loess Plateau project in China, which the EN watershed management group actually visited. I have not been there but I have read the documentation. I think that project really changed people’s attitude concerning watershed management programs and what they can achieve.
The secret of the successful watershed projects was that they did not fix the symptoms but rather concentrated on root causes, livelihood issues. They consulted with the affected people and identified their immediate needs, and aspirations and tried to meet them. The also did not rush into implementation of the project, they proceeded slowly in order to design projects tailomade to address their needs.
What do you envision for EN watersheds in 10 years?
The water we are now sharing can only continue to be available if the environment and the ecosystem are healthy. I believe that the idea of maintaining the ecosystem for the benefit of everybody is a catalyst and foundation for cooperation. That is what I believe and I mean it. We cooperate because there is a resource which we would like to manage and share, and unless we manage it properly it will shrink making sharing that much more difficult . Watershed management, therefore, is indispensable for insuring the sustainability of the Nile itself.
I think that realization of this among top level EN policy makers has really taken hold in the last two years. So what remains are the small projects that we are now designing, that will show benefits at the grass root level which will help us also gain the trust and confidence of communities. I am sure that we will be successful and I think that in ten years or so watershed management will have shown significant positive impacts. I expect that the policies concerning watershed management and the environment will be harmonized throughout the three countries. I see watershed management becoming a binding activity, helping the nations to grow stronger. After all, without the basin the survival of our countries itself would be in question.
Hisham Abdel Rahman, DCO
Taken from Nile Flow Newsletter
|Last Updated on Monday, 22 August 2011 12:51|