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My new role at Cranfield University this year is to drive forward a novel and very exciting project known as WEEP (Water-security in Ethiopia and the emotional response of pastoralists). WEEP has immense potential to 'break new ground' in understanding the everyday and ongoing challenges of water security for pastoral communities in Ethiopia.
The primary objective will be to focus on understanding how the emotional well being of pastoralists is shaped by water access and other water security issues. This may sound like a strange idea but high levels of risk from water security has been shown to have a detrimental impact on emotional well being. Conversely negative emotional well being has been shown to exacerbate resource struggles such as poor governance and conflict and shape the future management of critical resources; therefore I believe emotional well being has significant potential to improve water security alongside more commonly used water-security based indicators.
The premise extends from an increased recognition of the complexity of issues surrounding water security, especially in rural areas, which has driven the calls for a holistic approach to water security and its impact on livelihoods. More commonly referred to as 'Multiple Use Services (MUS)', MUS shifts the concept of water security beyond the fundamental ecological approach to encompass other vital dynamics such as socio-cultural and political processes.
In many ways, this new project is seen as an extension of this agenda as it seeks to take a holistic approach to understanding both the causes and effects of water insecurity through a focus on emotions and well being.
Water Security in the Afar Region
Ethiopia has 12 million pastoralists mostly in the eastern and southern regions whom face many challenges in their livelihoods. Challenges pertaining to water security include pressures from climate change, poorly managed water infrastructure, conflict over resources, contested land ownership and a drive from the government to shift from traditional pastoralist livelihoods towards more settled agro-pastoralism. The study will be undertaken in the southern Afar region more specifically in the Dulecha Woreda which is approximately a five hour drive north-east from Addis Ababa. The landscape is characterised by either steppe or desert, and livelihoods are heavily-dependant on the climate. Annual rainfall variability and one distinct rainfall season result in pastoralists moving to available pasture and water sources. Initial observations reveal both natural and infrastructural water sources in Dulecha. Natural water sources comprise rivers, ponds and wetlands accessed through local customs. Both men and women dig scoop holes in river beds to access water a few months after the rainy season. Hand-excavated ponds or wells are also used (gender not specified). Public infrastructure in rural areas include boreholes with diesel pumps, hand pumps, solar-powered pump systems and locally created dams to facilitate scoop holes. All pump systems to a varying extent suffer from poor maintenance or are defunct.
How these water sources are accessed can differ significantly depending on the specific needs of individuals, households, communities and wider social networks. This research promotes a strong focus on gender to account for the multitude of ways in which men and women use water differently. For example, broad observations of gender roles in Dulecha has highlighted the increased mobility of men to access water due to their role in livestock management and their ability to move livestock to water sources, whereas women are limited by their comparable sedentariness with responsibilities close to their huts and go through the arduous process of carrying water from its source back to their huts. Women also have limited capacity to improve their circumstances due to limited freedom to make livelihood decisions.
Studying and measuring emotional well being
Initial discussions about general well being have already been undertaken in the target villages and one of my most important tasks is to use the data to record those themes, which represent an emotional response. I will then use these themes to develop a methodological tool which will be used to measure emotional-well being for a quantitative survey to be completed later in the year. A second round of discussions will also be initiated before the survey to test the tool and to gather more information on emotional well being but more focused towards issues of water security.
I am really looking forward to working on this project and I am happy for anyone to contact me if they want any further information. I can be contacted on Sarah.J.Cooper@cranfield.ac.uk.
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