Combining groundwater mapping with capacity building

To strengthen climate-resilient WASH in northern Amhara

Selamawit Yetemegn, Anina Stauffacher, UNICEF WASH Ethiopia
06 December 2018
Alamerew Salilew, junior geologist at the Regional Bureau of Water, Bahir Dar, Amhara
Alamerew Salilew, junior geologist at the Regional Bureau of Water, Bahir Dar, Amhara


Sekota Woreda, Wag Himra Zone, Northern Amhara region – Alamerew works as a junior geologist in the regional bureau of water of Amhara. With a smile and excitement, he shares his experience about the training he has received as part of the groundwater mapping project: “I am very happy that I participated in the training. I am quite impressed by the many different and complex geological structures I saw in the field area. We went to the field in August, rainy season for Ethiopia, but it looks like during summer, there is hardly any rain and I feel deep empathy for the communities having to walk several miles and queue for long hours simply to fetch a jerrycan of water”. Alamerew was selected from his team to take part in the training compiling an inventory of the physico-chemical and hydrological parameters of the water sources in Wag Himra Zone, northern Amhara. Wag Himra Zone is a two day-drive from Bahir Dar, the regional capital where Alamerew is based at.

Wag Himra is one of the most arid areas in Amhara region, with a rugged topography. Some of the areas are inaccessible by motorized vehicles. Access to drinking water is one of the biggest challenges the zone faces due to lack of adequate surface water, and low drilling success rates because of the lack of detailed geological information and maps. Many of the shallow boreholes in the region are seasonal and don’t provide water all year or during dry spells. Alamerew although from the Amhara region himself, didn’t know Wag Himra area well and he did not expect the entire zone to be that arid: “The community faces hardship living in such environment. During our fieldwork, they were very welcoming and cooperative. They walked long distance with us to guide and locate some of the water sources. It is my strong wish for them to have a reliable source of water that can ease their burden.” Drought is one of the major natural hazards affecting livelihoods in Ethiopia.

The inventory work of existing water points is part of the EU-funded RESET II project improving access to climate-resilient groundwater in drought-prone areas. The mapping is supervised by UNICEF and conducted by an international and Ethiopian joint-venture in close collaboration with the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity (MoWIE) as well as the Regional and Zonal Water Bureaus. The project lead hydrogeologist for Wag Himra Zona, Addis, stayed 30 days in the field and travelled to all the six woredas of the zone to complete the water point inventory. As part of the capacity building, Alamerew joined her and together they made inventories of the different water sources, springs, hand dug and shallow wells and boreholes. They measured parameters such as pH, temperature, total dissolved salts, electrical conductivity and static water level. Alamerew particularly appreciated the practice of measuring pH, total dissolved salts and electrical conductivity. He was quite shocked by some of the results as some of the measurements showed high level of salt and pH, way above the recommended levels.


Alamerew, junior geologist from the Regional Bureau of Water (on the very right) takes measurements as part of his on-the-job training within the climate-resilient groundwater mapping project, Wag Himra Zone, Amhara
Alamerew, junior geologist from the Regional Bureau of Water (on the very right) takes measurements as part of his on-the-job training within the climate-resilient groundwater mapping project, Wag Himra Zone, Amhara

UNICEF Ethiopia is using satellite images and GIS in conjunction with conventional exploration techniques to reduce the time and resources required for groundwater prospecting, and to improve borehole drilling success rates. The data collected by Addis and Alamerew is currently being used as part of the ground truthing of maps produced using the satellite data in harmonization with existing geological maps. Within the groundwater mapping project, detailed hydrogeological and groundwater suitability maps of eight drought-prone areas across Ethiopia, including Wag Himra Zone in northern Amhara, are under development. The applied approach is based on past mapping successes [1, 2] improving the drilling success rate in Ethiopia. In the ongoing EU-funded project, UNICEF is planning to drill 16 boreholes - 2 per project area - in areas where suitability maps show a high chance of groundwater availability. In addition, the developed maps will be shared with the water sector to serve as a reference for future WASH interventions.

Alamerew states: “The development of hydrogeological map of Wag Himra Zone is very good as it increases our understanding of the area and increases the probability of productive well drilling. Sometimes, the bureau of water or NGOs dig wells and low yields are encountered; and other times there is no water at all. I would suggest similar studies for other arid areas in the region such as Armacheho, Metema, Quara and Kemise where we have difficulties in finding productive groundwater sources.” As the project progresses, the on-the-job training continues during field studies. Training by international and Ethiopian contractors on the cutting-edge methodology using satellite data in combination with conventional groundwater exploration techniques is planned. Combining on-the-job training with a training workshop aims to maximize the capacity building of geologists at different governmental levels. Alamerew graduated in Geology from the University of Gonder three years ago, and since then he has been working at the regional water bureau being involved in suitability mapping, and supervision of siting and drilling of deep boreholes in Amhara region. He has an interest in pursuing a master’s program in hydrogeology. Alamerew is keen to be involved in the capacity building activities of the mapping project “I am interested to be involved in the next phases of the project as it will give me an opportunity to learn on the job and develop and refine my skills.”

The groundwater suitability maps are currently being finalized and will serve as a basis to choose target areas for more detailed studies. In 2019, detailed fieldwork including hydrogeological and geophysical studies combined with on-the-job capacity building is planned to subsequently site 16 boreholes. These boreholes can serve communities even in times of recurring drought. The project aims to provide access to climate-resilient groundwater to 82’000 people in drought-prone areas across Ethiopia with more than 3.5 million indirect beneficiaries living in the groundwater mapped Woredas. Developing knowledge and promoting understanding of groundwater resources in Ethiopia as part of the climate-resilient WASH programme aims to break the cycle of emergencies and to strengthen the resilience of communities in drought-prone areas.

1. ACACIA WATER (2014) Improving the drilling success rates in Afar and Tigray Regions – remote sensing component. UNICEF-UNESCO, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
2. KETEMA A., LEMECHA G., SCHUCKNECHT A., KAYITAKIRE F. (2016) Hydrogeological study in drought affected areas of Afar, Somali, Oromia and SNNP regions in Ethiopia; Part 1: Remote sensing and overlay analysis. Publications Office of the European Union.