Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Water and Land Ressource Center is about to launch a new database for Ethiopia

The Water and Land Resource Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a 1 year old independent institute affiliated to Addis Ababa University, in close collaboration with the ministry of agriculture and the ministry of water and energy. The Resource Centre is supported  by the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), capitalizing on the 30 years of hydro-sedimentology data collected in 7 smaller watersheds in Ethiopia (one in Eritrea) by Professor Hans Hurni and colleagues from the university of Bern, Switzerland.  

Prof. Hans Hurni (University of Bern, Switzerland) and Dr. Gete Zeleke, director of the Resource Center

The objectives of the center are much broader than just data management. It has four components:
1. Establishing an open access and modern resource database and information management system.
2. Establishing learning watersheds to demonstrate  sustainable water and land  management by using combined efforts of research and development actions.
3. A collection of hydro-sedimentology and land management data observed in observatories and learning watersheds.
4. Improved capacities at all levels involved in water and land management.

In this context of database and information system management, the center is about to launch a new database on land and water management, called WALRIS (Water and Land Resources Information System) . It is a web based database which initially will allow to consult, visualize and use the 30 years of data generated by Center for Development and Environment of University of Bern in collaboration with the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Agriculture Research Institutes at different levels. It is also planning to  gradually make non-commercial and openly available spatial and non-spatial data from the ministry of agriculture, the ministry of water and energy and from other research and academic institutes available. 

The following movie shows how the geo-database will work.  

The center  has been organizing  itself  since mid-2011  as part of the phase one of the project. A stakeholder meeting took place this week to plan phase II. In this phase, the CGIAR has been recognized as a key partner to link up with. IWMI is already in discussion to discover where the synergies are, both in data collection and sharing. There is definitely scope for other CGIAR centers to join the effort on land and water management and make use of the web-based GIS platform to make our data better accessible to others. 

You can find more information about the center under :
and feel free to contact Dr. Gete Zeleke for discussing potential collaborations with the CGIAR :

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Teddy Afro a hero? : a reflection on freedom of speech and the future of Ethiopia

Recently two major events have triggered me to have a closer look at broader issues than rural areas in Ethiopia and start off the concept of wildcard in my blog, these are blog posts with opinion pieces that do not relate to rural areas.
Firstly, i lost an Ethiopian friend who felt offended because of a facebook post, in which i was questioning the source of the money for all the new huge flat screens in Addis Ababa airport (where there is no money for toilet paper or soap or decent wages) showing only the defunct minister president Meles and praising him. I still don't understand what is offending when I ask about where the money comes from, but i was told to keep freedom of speech for my own people, and not express my opinion in Ethiopia (sorry, this is just a trigger to look more closely at it and report about it). The second event is Teddy Afro's concert this week end, in which he clearly called upon people to not shut up! A pretty amazing event, i hope to put into perspective in this post.
Teddy Afro @Ghion
Still today, months after the funeral, Meles pictures are everywhere in Addis praising a great visionary man. To European eyes this Meles cult is just strange and difficult to understand. There is no doubt, MP Meles has been an amazing man who has done a great job in fighting poverty, in sustaining economic growth, getting foreign aid or in implementing food safety net ( Despite of these positive aspects, i think one should not look away, many webpages are blocked in Ethiopia (i could not access Al Jazeera website anymore for at least a month when Meles passed away), it is said that dissidents are in prison for nothing, some people have died in very suspicious car accidents... Also international news (BBC, Aljazeera, the Economist) gave very good retrospective on who Meles was, his great achievements and his shadow sides (an example is
As Meles passed away, there was a window of opportunity for change, but nothing really changed, no later than yesterday i read in the local news paper that the parliament has refused among others to take freedom of speech, the future of dissents on to the agenda (The Capital). Today's Ethiopia, despite of the recent MP change, is felt by many to be ruled by a elitist minority ethnic group leaving the majority out, and a country in which one is not allowed to express one's opinion. (Interestingly, the new MP Haile Sesalegn said in an interview with the Reporter that there is no reason to be afraid to speak up in Ethiopia, it is all in people's minds : so let's see how long my blog will be accessible from Ethiopia).
Teddy Afro @Ghion

But the time has come for a change, rather than look back and cry for a man that did good and bad, it is time to look forward. Ethiopia is a country full of potentials. It is the water tower of Africa, it can produce energy, it has fertile soils which could feed the world if water was well managed. Rather than importing manufactured goods, Ethiopia could enhance small manufacturing enterprises, moving slowly it mainly agricultural population into more small industries, developing the economy even further. There are plenty of young people looking for new opportunities.
the crowd at Ghion
Also Ethiopia has inherited an amazing culture and traditions. Building a future for this country means to understand the past (unpolished) history to keep and cherish its fundamental value. But by no means this implies being stuck in the past, as it sometimes seems when one crosses this country. One needs to be able to do the subtle steps between modernity and tradition. More freedom is needed to give creative space to people to discover how modernity can be combined with these traditional values. What Ethiopia needs is not a revolution but an aware society that can love its traditions but is not afraid of speaking up, of re-adjusting the traditions to emerging challenges, of pointing at what could be improved : a society seeking for new ways on how to go further as a united country in which all ethnic groups deserve equal respect and equal rights. This country needs people with the feeling of owning their own future and fate. Only a freer Ethiopia will allow to unlock the potentials that this country and its individual have.

This week end, Teddy Afro, the most popular Ethiopian singer gave an open air concert at Ghion hotel, in Addis Ababa with the title "the road to love". The whole concert was about love, but not only about love between a man and a woman, but also about his love for Ethiopia. He is a proud christian orthodox, but calls upon unity between Christians and Muslim and between ethnic groups. "We have gone through so many things together, but now i am afraid of what i see...". He also worries about the current economic situations and Ethiopia's dependency on aid "our soils can be so green, so why are we hungry?". He is calling for a change "We should not re-write history we should make history".
My movies from Teddy's concert, with some translations (made by my friends)

Teddy has been in prison some years ago officially for having created a car accident. But it is said that the real reason was his song "ah Yastesereyal" in which he says "after a fight of 17 years (the Derg regime), a new king came (Meles), but nothing has changed". It is also said that officials have forbidden him to sing this song in public. Saturday night, the most incredible thing happened : after 5 years of silence, Teddy stood in the middle of the stage in Addis Ababa and sung this song. The crowd literally went wild, and all my Ethiopian friends had this incredible light of hope in their eyes. Is it a hint to show us that despite of the recent events, nothing has changed in Ethiopia? Or is it just the announcement that a new era for Ethiopia is starting?

For me, like for many of my Ethiopian friends, Teddy is just a hero. He manages to mobilize 15000 people at Ghion hotel (without promising any benefits or using any kind of social pressure),  and millions of others who could not afford the ticket or the trip to Addis Ababa and spread his message of love, pride, unity, hope and fears for a better Ethiopia in a complex and changing society. It reminds me a bit of the Russian rock groups like Kino or DDT, whose song have shaped the spirit of young people during the perostroika time and called upon the young people to take their fate unto their own hands. Furthermore, Teddy manages this incredibly subtle steps back  and forward between modernity and tradition, being a proud "African from the shores of the Nile" and not closing eyes on what could be better in his country. He took his freedom to sing a very controversial song, with this strong message to all of us to not look away to not shut up but move on towards a united and freer future. In Ethiopia, time has come to "create history rather than re-writing it".

Monday, October 15, 2012

the magics of the washing machine

This is one of my favorite TED talks... and it fits pretty well on a Monday morning after having spent part of my week-end hand washing. (I am so grateful to have a cleaning lady that does the additional wash for me today).

In rural areas in developing countries, washing cloth takes a tremendous amount of time. Women need to carry water home for washing or carry all the wash to the water point. It is laborious work, which is also pretty bad for the back. As Hans Rosling mentions, women emancipation can only come if they get more time by doing household work more efficiently. He also mentions that this efficiency gain that all women around the world wish to have will create more pressure on the environment.

Some months ago i found this article about a pedal powered washing machine that could have similar effects described in Hans Rosling's TED talk, namely giving women more freedom and time for the children, without using more electricity, without additional pressure on the environment!

Convince yourself! 

It is definitely a technology worth to look at!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Art to integrate communities and their landscape?

Lately, I have been collecting qualitative data from rural communities in Ethiopia. I have discovered that participatory mapping is an interesting way to bring the communities, scientists and local government together to discuss issues and strengthen to the relationship between the different stakeholder to their landscape ( During my holidays in Switzerland I came across a not such a new concept, the landscape illumination projects by the Swiss artist Ueli Studer (  and realized that art can catalyze in the developed world the same way the participatory mapping does in the developing world.
Ueli Studer is a Swiss artist who illuminates interesting human made or natural landscape structures during one night, mostly with candle light. 
Viniterra, illumination project on the Biel Lake Switzerland (picture taken from
His newest project is planned in Davos, Switzerland and I had a chance to follow him in his preliminary steps : identifying the landscape structures that are worth pointing out and that through illumination give a new perspective on the landscape of the spectator. 
Tot Alp in Davos : a  landscape shaped by tourism
A whole team, constituted of Ueli himself, my father, a geologist and a film maker who documents the “making of“ took off to the “Tot Alp”in Davos to study the geological structure of an Alp on which nothing grows due to the mineral concentration in the soil. 

The area is heavily used for tourism : it is reachable by cabins and half of the area has been flattened for the skiing routes and an artificial lake has been created as a water reservoir to create artificial snow. 
The artificial lake as water reservoir for artificial snow
Also different geological layer come together bringing white, black, red and green stones together, giving the feeling that one has just landed on Mars. The whole day was about understanding how the geological structures have emerged and which are worth illuminating. If the project takes place, it will involve the local government, the transport company that runs the different cabins in the area, the alpine club and the trekking guides of the area (locals) that would fix and light the candle, the tourism office that can promote an event and show the film of it to tourists. Finally, if possible the local population should be able to see the illumination from the valley bottom.
The geologist and the artist sitting in front of a clear geological cut
After this day, it is very unclear if the project will take place at the Tot Alp, mainly because no landscape structures that would show new insight could be identified, but also because it would be difficult to see the illumination from the valley. But with or without illumination, or with illumination on another location, a process to bring communities, stakeholders and scientists together around their landscape has started. 
Discussing the landscape
All previous illumination projects from Ueli such as Viniterra 1 and 2 ( have brought stakeholders, communities, farmers, scientists, tourism office and government together. Indeed, setting the candle often requires the authorization of the land owner, which is usually a farmer and the government. Also many volunteers, usually the local population meets up to light the candles. Also, a broader public can see from far away or even walk through the illuminated landscape, admire the landscape in a new perspective and learn about its structures. The discussions linked to the illumination of the landscape brings people together that otherwise would have not met and therefore shape the network and resilience within these landscapes.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

When will electrification of Ethiopian rural area become a reality?

No doubt, electricity can change livelihood of rural poor. Indeed, if they can easily get the energy to listen to the radio, to charge mobile phone which allow them the get information  from towns, for example about market prices ( . More an more development project try to get smartphones into rural area, giving farmers access to internet and to apps that allow them to access the weather forecast or agricultural best practices.
Access to electricity also allows to industrialize, work longer at night, allowing children to learn after dark, power the water pumps for irrigation.

Ethiopia is the water tower of East Africa and has potential to produce huge amount of electricity from hydro-power, and develop the rural area by electrifying even relatively remote areas (which for example is the current strategy for rural India to lift the rural poor out of poverty). Also Ethiopia is developing huge hydro power plant, such as the Renaissance dam ( ).
The Renaissance dam (image from
Whatever the negative impact of hydro-power plants can have on the environment, on displaced people, they are also a promise for a better future for many rural poor who suddenly could get electricity.  

It sounds like a promising bright future for Ethiopia, but the reality looks quite different. Last week the English version of the Ethiopian Reporter published an article on current power cuts and an in depth description of the power sector in Ethiopia. It explains why despite all these positive development why it is not such a promising future for rural area and why we face power cuts on daily base in urban areas : a result from increasing urban demand, subsidized local price and huge exports to neighboring countries...

Ethiopia: power outages electrifying the nation

By Merga Yonas

Ethiopia, a country known for its immense hydro-electric power potential is often is often quoted widely as the ‘Power House of Africa’. The potential is not only in hydropower; geothermal energy generation is also considered as a prospect. In view of that, in recent times the Ethiopian government has engaged itself in the generation of hundreds and thousands of megawatts of electric power. To the surprise of experts and observers the axiom that Ethiopia is the power house of Africa has not been practically realized on the ground. Reports show that in 2009 less than 10 percent of Ethiopians had access to electricity and the country was plagued with power outages.

Thus, in order to overcome this situation, the Ethiopian government has been embarking on building dams and generating electric power. In this regard, the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) anticipates to increase power to over 10,000 MWs by 2015. Since 2009, the Ethiopian government has completed projects including the Gilgel Gibe II Dam (420 MW) and the Tekeze Dam (300 MW) and in 2010 the Tana Beles Dam (460 MW) was inaugurated. With Gilgel Gibe III now under construction and expected to be finished in 2013 providing another 1870 MW, the largest project that is being undertaken by the Ethiopian government  is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile which is projected to produce 6000 MW when fully completed in 2017.

According to the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, the government of Ethiopia has undertaken feasibility studies to launch a new project again on on the Blue Nile basin in the area called Mendaia (200MW), Beko Abo (2100MW), and Karo Dodi (1,600MW). Meanwhile, other feasibility studies are being carried out for projects on the Tekeze River and on the Dedessa River to produce 450MW and 301MW respectively.

Despite the already completed and the massive hydroelectric project being undertaken in the country, power demand in Ethiopia is faced by power outages. Besides this, the country plans to export power to Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti and even Yemen or Egypt.

Experts in the field argue that the distribution network in Ethiopia is being rapidly expanded with currently electricity being subsidized in the country. In order to repay the loans for dam construction, electricity tariffs would have to be increased, which in turn would reduce electricity demand per capita, which is already low due to the high level of poverty in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) has also predicted the power demand of the country would increase from 15 percent to 20 percent per annum.

Recent reports also show that Ethiopia has started exporting electricity to Djibouti, charging 70 dollar cents for a kilowatt hour (kWh), much higher than Ethiopia's rates that are pegged at 0.065 dollar cents. Over the past five years, the Ethiopian government had obtained close to 64 million dollars in grants from various sources to finance the transmission lines to Djibouti.

Ethiopia has also made an initial agreement with Kenya and Sudan to export to them 200MW and 500MW respectively. These projects that interconnect Ethiopia with Sudan and Kenya are being carried out with a multi-million dollar donation from the World Bank (WB).

The bottom line is that with all these plans of generating and exporting power, the local demand has been sky rocketing. Families, business owners, health stations and industries have been complaining regarding the excessive and unwarranted power blackouts.

In return, this power cut is followed with undesirable consequence, some among the public contend. These include, household equipment loss, threat on the life of patients, and from technological apparatus suffering exhaustion to the production interruption in some factories.

In Addis Ababa, areas like Gulele sub-City, Arada sub-City, Kirkos sub-City and other places have been facing similar predicaments. Residents in these sub-cities have been risking their daily routine due to the blowing up of transformers that leads to over 10 day power blackout as well.

Power cut has been continuing for the past two to three months. “Power will be out in the morning and might be back again in the afternoon then it might be out again for the whole night, Aytenew Debebe, a resident in an area called Sebseba Aderash located in the Gulale sub-City told The Reporter. Aytenew, though could not file this complaint to the responsible body, left the matter to the landlord who rented him the house assuming that he is the one who must complain.

However, he related how the response from EEPCo and the continuing power cut has been imposing great impact on him. Though the problem is technical, an employee of EEPCo came once in a while to fix it, but the next morning the problem is still there, Aytenew told The Reporter.

Aytenew, who is studying for his master's degree in Human Right at Addis Ababa University, said: “This morning until 8:00am there was light, but until now (2:00pm in the afternoon) I’m in a blackout.”

“I use computers [desktop] which don’t operate without electricity, Thus, while I want to stay home to work on various matters related to my study, I get pushed to use it out of my home because of power cuts,” Aytenew told The Reporter.

He noted that the power blackout has been creating “inconvenience” on his study. If there is light at night he says that he is forced to buy candles to get home, and sometimes he gets irate when his electric divider burns out due to power interruption. “These scenarios have been highly affecting me,” he says.

From Sidist Kilo down to Amist Kilo, located in the Gulale and Arada sub-City, the public has been facing persistent power cuts for about 10 days and after informing EEPCo for maintenance it took them more than a week to come and fix the problem, a resident of the area who requested to remain anonymous told The Reporter.

One transformer has been allotted to 500 households; thus considering its obsolescence and the responsible body remaining latent, solutions yearned for by the residents in the area.

After repeated requests to change the transformers  there is still no solution to the problem, the source explained. As a final attempt, the resident of the area signed a petition comprising 142 voices and filed it to EEPCo but still there is no solution.

At least, on a daily basis, there is a moment when the power blackout stays for over five or six hours, which could spoil the freshness meats and cheeses, Belete Ayele, salesman and purchaser at Central Super Market, located at the traffic junction of Wollo Sefer on the African Avenue Road, told The Reporter.

There are times when the supermarket ends in loss of power that makes unable to grind meats and cut cheeses, Belete said. Every day the supermarket stores about 100 kilograms of meat; thus when faced with power outages over four kilogram of the meat would go completely out of use.

Belete, in his late 40s, and living in Bole Gumuruk off the Ring Road, told The Reporter that a month back his television set  became a victim of the power cut, which cost him 80birr for maintenance. Likewise, there are cases around my neighbors where three refrigerators and some television sets became obsolete, Belete said.

Recently, industries in the country and EEPCo have discussed how to use the electric power, as the problem to some extent still exist, Muluken Haile, general manager with Ethiopian Association of Basic Metals and Engineering Industries (EABMEI) told The Reporter. Yes, there are cases where the power outage causes industries with large amount of finance and in material loss as well, Muluken added. 

During EABMEI stakeholders meeting held at Hilton on April 10, the association put forward in its presentation where power interruption is causing severe and expensive technical problems among other issues that the basic metal industries are facing. Thereby, the paper proposed as a solution that EEPCo should inform in advance to basic metal industries even when the short power interruptions occurs. Their (EEPCo’s) operation personnel need to recognize this, the paper concludes.

Repeated attempts made by The Reporter to contact officials from EEPCo was unsuccessful.