Ethiopia has over 12 million pastoralists that raise livestock, and move their herds in search of fresh pasture and water supplies. These populations are vulnerable to environmental pressures that threaten their livelihoods and can increase the risk of conflict over resources. Water security is a particularly acute challenge and, as such, pastoralists have developed complex water use patterns to support both human and animal welfare. In this context, there are fundamental questions over the appropriateness of conventional water access indicators used by government and multilateral agencies to adequately capture such complex practices. In short, conventional indicators are considered to poorly reflect actual patterns of pastoralist water use which leads to a misunderstanding of pastoralists' water-related resilience strategies and vulnerabilities to risks such as climate change, conflict and poverty. This results in water programmes and policies that too often exacerbate rather than improve the resilience of pastoralists to deal with such water security risks.
An ESRC-DFID research project called "Water-security in Ethiopia and the Emotional Response of Pastoralists (WEEP)" (2017-18) set out to shift thinking about how to monitor and evaluate the success of water programmes for these groups. Instead of trying to capture complex water use patterns through an infrastructure or service based approach, the research explored the role of water in shaping emotional well-being. This led to the development of a novel experience-based indicator of pastoralists' water-related emotional well-being. The new tool was used to understand water security as experienced by different household members including men and women, and those away from home tending livestock. As indicators tend to drive water sector strategy, developing improved indicators is one of the best ways to ensure research impact. The tool development is being published in open access journals and links are accessible from this page. The partners involved are interested to work with implementing organisations on potential applications of the method.
The research was led by Dr Paul Hutchings at Cranfield University, with partners IRC, the International Water Management Institute, Friendship Support Association and Oxfam Ethiopia.