This issue’s Column features the Eastern Nile Irrigation and Drainage Study Project (ENIDS) Regional
Project Coordinator (RPC), Mr . Ayalew Negussie
Q. For starters, would you please tell me a bit about yourself – about your academic background, your work experience?
I obtained my first degree in Agricultural Engineering, from Alemaya Agricultural College, Addis Ababa University, in 1980. My Masters of Science is from the Institute of Irrigation Studies, Southampton University, UK which I obtained in 1989. I first worked as graduate engineer in Amibara Irrigation Project, Awash valley, on a project financed by the World Bank, African Development Bank and Government of Ethiopia as counter part to the International Consultant in design, construction supervision, and later on in the same project as a water management engineer until 1988. From there I went on to the UK to pursue further studies in irrigation engineering. Upon return I joined the then Ethiopian Water Resources Development Authority (now Ministry of Water Resources) as Head of Project Operations and Water Management Department. There I worked until 1997. Later I left the Ministry to join the biggest private investment group in Ethiopia, Medroc Ethiopia, as Technical Manager and engineer of three subsidiary agriculture companies. All in all, before I joined ENTRO in December 2007, I had worked in various management capacities in water and agriculture domains, both in the pubic and private sectors for over 27 years.
Q.I forgot to ask you about where you are from and your marital status?
Oh yes, I am an Ethiopian, fifty-one years old, married and I am the father of three daughters
Q. I realize you brought quite an impressive experiential knowledge to ENTRO. Tell me, how did your experience in both the public and private sectors inform your work at ENTRO?
Indeed, my public and private sector experience has been of invaluable advantage when I started work at ENTRO, even later on. My public sector experience in Ethiopia has clearly brought me face to face with most aspects and challenges of formulating a coherent water sector policy including: Integrated Water Resources Management and development; sub-basin Master Plan studies; planning, study, design, implementation of irrigation projects; operation, maintenance and management of irrigation projects; reservoir operation for Hydropower and Irrigation, flood control (Koka Dam). All these experiences, one way or the other, made the learning curve at ENTRO less steep and shorter. That is to say, I was able to grapple with the salient issues of water resources development fairly easily, even though here my planning horizon, both in the spatial and temporal senses, had to expand, taking the long term and the entire Eastern Nile sub-basin in its entirety. My background in the private sector also proved a critical complement in that it enabled me to appreciate the vital role private capital, management and organization and associated efficiency gains thereof play in the development of the agricultural water sector, which also is an important consideration in the context of inter-riparian cooperation among Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.
Q. How do the public and private sector experiences come together to inform your current job at ENTRO?
First, let me explain what my job consists of. As Regional Coordinator for ENIDS, I am responsible for the supervision and implementation of three critical sub-components of the Project i.e. Engineering Study, Cooperative Regional Assessments (CRA) and a Pilot Study on improving water use efficiency and productivity in Ethiopia and Sudan. Both sets of experiences – i.e. public and private – have had considerable positive contribution toward the discharging of my responsibilities.
Q. What does “supervision’ and “implementation” here mean? I understand there are no irrigation projects that are being implemented by ENTRO.
That is right. Implementation here actually refers to the preparation of studies and assessments pertaining to irrigation in the Eastern Nile. The supervision part refers to my role as coordinating and supervising international consultancy work worth over $2.8 million USD.
Q. Please detail these three components of your project?
The first component is the Engineering component, which consists of two phases - the Diagnosis Study (phase 1) and the Feasibility Study (Phase 2). The 1st phase (Diagnosis Study) undertook preliminary investigation of the water resources, soils, topography, social, environmental and cost and benefit analyses of potential irrigable areas in Ethiopia and Sudan. This preliminary investigation covered a total area of 760,000 ha in four potential irrigation schemes in Sudan and 620,000 ha in 23 potential irrigation schemes in Ethiopia. The Engineering study ranked these schemes on the basis of social, environmental, economic/financial criteria. All these were concluded in the first phase of the Engineering Component. In the 2nd phase – (feasibility study) - two irrigation schemes with a total of 15,000 hectares, 7500 ha each in Sudan and Ethiopia were studied to detailed feasibility level i.e. investment ready level. These schemes were studied in terms of soils and land suitability, topography, availability of adequate water, crop suitability, social and environmental assessment and cost and benefit analyses i.e. basic elements of a feasibility study have been concluded.
Q. Can you tell me which schemes ranked most attractive in Ethiopia and Sudan?
The most attractive schemes in Ethiopia are in the Tana-Beles and Baro-Akobo sub-basins and in the Sudan Kenana Irrigation Scheme.
Q. Tell me about the second component of your Project?
The second component is the Cooperative Regional Assessment
Without the full cooperation of the three countries the study can not happen. Further, when the study is concluded and after all the deliberations, the countries own the processes and agree on the study outputs themselves i.e. about the findings. This is the foundation for a truly working partnership among the countries in the irrigation sector. The R- refers to the regional aspect i.e. to the Eastern Nile context, meaning to the three countries – Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan together. The A refers to Assessment i.e. to the nature of the study outputs, which take certain principles as the basis i.e. eco-system, social and inter-generational sustainability; equitable utilization and no significant harm; linkage and synergy among study outputs; contribution to sustainable transboundary and national institution building. As you know, we have elaborated these aspects when your office – Social Development and Communication Office -SDCO- prepared a dedicated booklet on the CRA entitled “Profiles in Regional Cooperation: CRAs”
The Cooperative Regional Assessments – the CRAs – will ultimately guide the selection of projects, bringing consensus among the countries regarding the scale, scope and actual formulation of projects; develop methodology for quantifying the benefits and costs of irrigation projects, viewed from the EN sub-basin level; propose cooperation mechanism including institutional and legislative reforms needed in order to harmonize the different national approaches and ensure compatibility among the development objectives of the three countries. The Irrigation and Drainage Study CRA is conducted in three phases.
Q. Which phases – will you elaborate?
The CRA study consists of three phases, actually subdivided on the basis of the task each phase is supposed to accomplish. Thus we have one phase dedicated to preparation of regional guidelines for selection and assessment of irrigation and drainage projects. The purpose is to develop cooperatively i.e. generic guidelines that maximize regional benefits (e.g. in terms of increasing water use efficiency and water savings) from irrigation and drainage projects, no matter where in the EN the scheme is planned and implemented. The second phase of the CRA is tasked to conduct transboundary distributive and institutional analysis. The objective here is to assess the various challenges and opportunities as well as the costs and benefits that will accrue across the three countries as a result of alternative irrigation development scenarios. The third phase is the finalization and conclusion i.e. identify the institutional and legislative reforms required to develop long-term cooperation framework to undertake proposed irrigation and drainage works.
Q. This sounds quite a formidable task. Tell me, what have been achieved so far through the CRAs?
Remember we are doing the CRA in parallel with the other studies mentioned above. The CRA dealt with, among others, with levels of cooperation. For example, such issues as the requisites for active collaboration (e.g. the adaptation of national plans and projects), for joint action (e.g. joint investments and institutions); the processes of cooperation (e.g. strengthening cooperative institutions without imposing undue costs and delays for undertaking national plans) – all such issues have been addressed by the CRA. Further, through review of consistency among respective national plans and appraisal of he institutional cooperative mechanisms required ensuring coordination thereof (software) and actual projects on the ground (hardware), attempt has been made to identify those entry points that give win-win benefits to the three countries. Three regional consultation workshops i.e. consisting of experts of the three countries have been conducted in which the findings of the studies have been reviewed to develop common irrigation development agendas.
Q. Can you elaborate more? Please state the actual findings, by way of illustration?
Let me begin with the challenges. First, there is water scarcity in the Eastern Nile as far as irrigation and drainage development is concerned. In plain language, it means there will not be enough water to satisfy the growing demand for irrigation, not to speak of the other sectors. The three countries have unilaterally planned ambitious irrigation expansion. If you add all the water requirements of the planned irrigation expansion of the three countries together, it emerges that the total demand is beyond the capacity of the Eastern Nile to provide. Second, to complicate matters, there are transboundary water agreements to which all three countries do not belong, a challenge that requires to be met. Third, the existing irrigation and drainage systems on the Eastern Nile on the whole are characterized by backward irrigation and drainage and agricultural technologies which result in poor water use efficiency and productivity. Fourth, irrigation management is also very inefficient, with little involvement of end-users i.e. farmers in operation, maintenance and management of irrigation and drainage schemes. That is to say, there are no significant Water Users Associations.
As in most aspects of life, along with the challenges, however, there are opportunities. Let me cite four such opportunities. First, the countries can increase irrigation water availability, if they cooperate. Significant amount of water can be saved through, for example, upstream water conservation infrastructure, such as through the envisaged Joint Multipurpose Project. Second, shifting from unilateral to Eastern Nile (meaning the three countries together) irrigation planning areas of joint water saving can be identified and agreed upon. Third, even more, through harmonization of policies and regulations and tripartite agreement on water allocation, water use can be rationalized toward more efficiency gains. Fourth, increasing water use efficiency and productivity of existing irrigation systems (through rehabilitation and modernization) can result in significant water savings. Finally, building capacity (in planning, operation, maintenance, use, -- management) and experience sharing at all levels will result in optimizing irrigation water use. All this will be possible, only and only if the countries cooperate. Six levels of cooperation have been identified in this regard.
Q. What are these levels of cooperation?
These canvass several layers. These levels of cooperation range from the simplest information sharing up to the more complex harmonization of existing national policies and strategies. Further, cooperation through projects that offer win-win benefits has been proposed. For instance, the three countries could cooperate to: undertake baseline survey and detail review of the irrigation sector in each country to enhance joint planning, to create joint data base for information exchange, for irrigation expansion and rehabilitation and modernization of existing schemes. They could also formulate a regional program for new expansion; for identification and study of poor performing schemes and to improve productivity/efficiency; for implementation of fast-track projects presently under feasibility studies, mentioned above; for capacity building and awareness creation of policymakers, professionals, Water Users Associations; for expanding water availability studies and for creation of a more enabling environment for private sector investment, regional trade and Public-Private-Partnerships, the so-called PPPs. You see, there are so many possibilities and opportunities that lie beneath the insurmountable-looking challenges and problems. We need to focus on these if we want to make a breakthrough, while being realistic and appreciative of the challenges and problems EN irrigation and drainage development faces.
Ultimately, the only path and way out is cooperation. This seems self-evident, but it is also complex and challenging to internalize.
Q. Quite interesting. I got carried away – almost forgot to ask you about the third and last component of your project.
Component three is a pilot study on improving water use efficiency and productivity in selected existing irrigation schemes in Sudan and Ethiopia.
Q. Why was it found necessary to launch this component?
Actually, this component was not included in the original design of the project.
Q. If so, why then did you find it necessary to include it? Do you mean the importance of this component emerged during the course i.e. after you started the project?
In a way, yes! You see, the components of the projects were undertaken concurrently so that the output of one becomes the input for the other. Such is the case when we identified and envisaged the components. The CRA study, among its many findings as discussed above, has been its highlighting of the potential for and importance of improving water use efficiency and productivity on existing irrigation schemes for addressing the challenge of water scarcity facing the EN sub-basin. We identified and included this component i.e. the pilot study following this lead (from the CRA). The pilot study was undertaken in three small scale irrigation schemes in Robi/Oromya, Geray/Amhara and Gereb Mhiz/Tigray in Ethiopia; and on Rahad Irrigation Scheme in Sudan.
Q. How large were the schemes selected for the pilot study (in Ethiopia and Sudan)?
In Ethiopia the total of the three schemes is around 800 ha and the Sudanese scheme is 50,000 ha.
Q. What were the major findings of the pilot studies?
The findings pointed out the following: (a) overall all the schemes – compared to world average standards - performed poorly in terms of water use efficiency and productivity (b) the underlying cause for the poor performance – though enumerated in detail and is unique for each scheme – nevertheless on the whole pertains to improper design, construction, operation, maintenance and management of the schemes; siltation of channels and reservoirs; substandard farming and irrigation practices; lack of extension and research services; poor institutional arrangements particularly absence of WUAs (c) old and aging infrastructure due to inadequate and deferred maintenance (d) lack of finance for maintenance, operation and purchase of farm inputs, without which water productivity will be below standard.
Q. What are you major concerns regarding the sustainability i.e. the continued usefulness and relevance of [the gains/products] your project?
I believe the Eastern Nile Irrigation and Drainage Study Project (ENIDS) has scored significant achievements. I consider the 2.8 million USD spent on the studies including the Cooperative Regional Assessments (CRAs) so far as upfront investment to advance Eastern Nile cooperation. All this will be in vain, however, unless, for example, the CRA recommended measures are not implemented; unless the investment ready projects that have been prepared are implemented. In this regard a project proposal has been put forth for Phase two of ENIDS, which would follow up the implementation of the above Phase I recommendations and projects.
Hence there is a need to fund Phase 2. The African Development Bank (AfDB), which provided the USD 2.8 million grant for Phase I has indicated concerns about the sustainability of the project output. Ultimately, ENTRO is the custodian of the outputs of the project, and hence of its sustainability.
Q. Would you have what one would call key messages and who would you like them to be addressed to?
This is a tough one. All the same, I will take a shot at it. Let me start with the challenges. There is water scarcity in Eastern Nile. Demographic and development-induced demand, coupled with the impact of Climate Change, will make this challenge all the more pressing for all three Eastern Nile countries. Hence, ONLY through cooperation, can this challenge be ultimately overcome. None of the three countries i.e. Egypt, Ethiopia or Sudan is likely to be able to overcome this challenge through unilateral action. That is why I completely subscribe to the notion that Eastern Nile cooperation is not an option, but a necessity. Hence, the three countries need to build joint i.e. regional institution and capability; a transboundary policy on irrigation on the basis of inclusive, tripartite agreement needs to be crafted. The three countries will need to implement, for example, the recommendations of the ENTRO-commissioned study on Climate Change by MIT Professor El Fatih el Tahir, particularly the one referring to ENIMIS (Eastern Nile Irrigation Management Information Systems). All this takes me to the outlining of opportunities that lie behind the challenges. There is opportunity to save water and increase efficiency from existing systems (irrigation schemes, reservoirs, etc.) and thus increase availability, avoid future scarcity and reduce potential tensions and conflicts and build overall win-win situation for all three countries. Finally, who do I address these messages to? Well, to all concerned, particularly national policy makers, to ENCOM (Eastern Nile Council of Water Ministers of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan) and of course to ENSAP/ENTRO!
Q. Looking back at your experience in your capacity as ENIDS Regional Project Coordinator, what new perspectives have you gained? Anything new you acquired? Are you leaving a change person? In what respects?
Oh yes, I leave a changed person. I believe all my fellow RPCs – irrespective of whether they are from Egypt or Sudan or Ethiopia – I believe all will concur that once you joint ENTRO, you do not leave the same person. You are changed. You acquire a unique, if you like, special vantage from which to look at Nile – the REGIONAL DIMENSION. Further regular interaction with Eastern Nile colleague teaches you to disregard the political borders and look at the river as one-integrated hydrologic system, as a unit. I should also add the inter-cultural dialogue and understanding which comes with the experience. All this adds up to a feeling of having a shared destiny, tied together by this historic and mighty river system we call Nile (Abbay in Ethiopia). Yes, I also realize that Eastern Nile is well-endowed, but also faces risks- risks which put premium on visionary leadership, informed and knowledge-based policy making. I also learned that development partners have critical roles to play in Eastern Nile cooperation, but never a substitutive one for responsible and insightful decision making on the part of the three countries.
This has been an enlightening discussion. Thanks a lot. Once in ENTRO, you will always remain in the ENTRO family - a resource. All the best in your future endeavours!!
Wubalem Fekade, Ph.D.
Head, Social Development and Communication Unit