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On the road to resilience in Ethiopia

In the vital fields of flood prevention and water supply, roads offer incredible potential to enhance and enrich the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.

A NERC-supported research project led by Dr Frank Steenbergen of the Roads for Water Consortium is helping to drive this remarkable revolution.

In Tigray province in Ethiopia, 80 per cent of the population are farmers, cultivating crops and rearing livestock in some of the toughest conditions on earth. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, the building of roads represents one of the biggest public investments and a staggering 5.5M km have been constructed to date. Roads however pose a significant challenge to farmers in rural communities.

The Roads for Water Consortium looks to design roads to help control and harvest water for communities that need it most. Working closely with regional government, universities, organisations and the communities themselves, the initiative focuses on delivering flexible ways of turning roads into water management devices. Through innovative methods, water can be channelled to irrigate crops, stored for later use or allowed to soak into the soil to boost crucial groundwater reserves.

Around 1.1M Ethiopians have already benefitted, with a 20 per cent rise in income levels recorded in roadside communities.

"Integrated thinking on road building and water management really works: for instance, it helped Ethiopia withstand the 2015 drought – one of the worst ever experienced, and the effects of that year's El Niño.” Dr Frank van Steenbergen, Roads for Water Consortium.

The Roads for Water Initiative started from the UPGRO Catalyst Grant supported by NERC, the ESRC and the Department for International Development (DfID) and is led by Frank at the Netherlands-based social enterprise MetaMeta together with Tigray's Mekelle University who are now supported by the Global Resilience Partnership.

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