WASH/IWRM Program Increases Agricultural Productivity and Improves Livelihoods

With funding from grants by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and The Coca Cola Africa Foundation from 2011 to 2017, the Millennium Water Alliance (MWA), in conjunction with one of its implementing partners Catholic Relief Services and local partner Water Action, has been implementing integrated water resource management (IWRM) activities in rural northern Ethiopia. MWA has been piloting this approach since 2003, but was able to expand and intensify activities since 2012 with the support of its donors.

As the population grows and more pressure is placed on soil, an integrated, longer-term initiative is necessary to implement WASH programs sustainably. IWRM is a holistic approach that helps to ensure the integration of natural resource management with productive and domestic uses of water. The IWRM approach encompasses the broad scope of water demands, including time, geography, and multiple uses, such as small-scale irrigation, raising livestock, and fish farming. MWA is using similar approaches, tailored for the local environment, in its programs in Kenya and Latin America.

Project objectives

  • Improve access to water for more than 650,000 people over six years (overall program)
  • Develop microsheds and buffer zones around protected watersheds
  • Develop mechanisms for soil erosion and degradation mitigation
  • Build community capacity in understanding the benefits of IWRM and support implementation of community-based IWRM initiatives
  • Enhance local government capacity in IWRM interventions
  • Form and train environmental clubs on basic tree nursery management in schools and communities


  • The Ancharo watershed in the Kalu woreda in the Amhara region in northern Ethiopia has noticed a dramatic shift in agricultural productivity, particularly related to sorghum yields
  • There is now more water available for both men and women community members to explore entrepreneurial endeavors. Female farmers have begun to utilize alley cropping, in which an agricultural crop is grown simultaneously with a long-term tree crop to provide annual income while the tree crop matures
  • Female savings and internal lending groups have also been established and trained on using run-off water for productive purposes, as well as nursery groups


  • The Ancharo watershed is in an extremely rural area of Kalu woreda, so the infrastructure is not completely reliable: road access can be poor, especially in the rainy season
  • Getting the local government on board with a plan to support the sustainable management and equitable use of water resources was difficult at first, given that the impact would take some time to manifest itself
  • Most WASH programs are 2-3 years, often not long enough to see results in conservation/IWRM activities. Such activities can require long-term, physical changes to the environment. Communicating the benefits of this approach to donors and implementing NGOs is essential for IWRM to become institutionalized

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