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Assessing Water and Conflict in Mekelle, Ethiopia: From Centralized to Decentralized Water Sources

Mekelle, Ethiopia

Featured image for the project, Assessing Water and Conflict in Mekelle, Ethiopia: From Centralized to Decentralized Water Sources

Searching for clean water supply by the IDP Community in Mekelle (Source: Damage Assessment Report for Water Supply and Sanitation Service System, Mekelle, Tigray; Mekelle Town Water Supply and Sanitation Service Office, January 2022)

This project focuses on a geospatial assessment of water access after conflict in Mekelle, Tigray, Ethiopia. We examine the pre and post-conflict waterscape with a specific focus on internally displaced people (IDP). IDPs are housed in public schools and religious centers where water access points are limited. Identifying where the water system is damaged will help to prioritize water projects to serve IDPs as well as identify the water supply needs of Mekelle. 


Water supply provision is seriously affected due to the conflict and rehabilitation in water sector is seriously hampered. Understanding how the conflict impacts water provision in Mekelle helps to support the rehabilitation efforts through public offices. This can be achieved through proper documentation of the pre and post conflict water supply. The Mekelle City Water Supply and Sanitation Office can use this information to properly allocate water to the host community and the IDP. There are some attempt to document the damage due to the conflict, however such documents shows some bias that need triangulation for proper rehabilitation efforts. 


About the Community

This is a citywide project that includes a partnership with Mekelle University, local government, and IDPs and the organizations that oversee the IDP sites. The university is the lead in updating geospatial data on the water supply system after the conflict and assist the city and community to prioritize water supply needs. A pre and post water supply assessment using geospatial tools will complement the Damage Assessment conducted by Mekelle municipality. Students will engage in data collection using mobile apps and standardized data collection protocols. 

Mekelle University was a city partner in the U.S. State Department Secondary Cities project that collected baseline geospatial data for emergency preparedness, human security, and resilience. During the conflict in 2020  an estimate of up to 250,000 people from various parts of Tigray, Ethiopia has displaced to Mekelle. That is a lot burden to the already low performing water supply system in Mekelle. Coupled with the destruction and lack of maintenance during the conflict, the water supply deficit is amplified. How the water supply is performing under these communities during the post-conflict should be properly documented? Though it is difficult to address the whole problems related to water supply in Mekelle, in this project, the target communities are Internally Displaced People (IDP), and communities at informal settlement and out fringes in Mekelle City. Responsible actors in this project includes the Mekelle University, Mekelle City Water and Sanitation Office, and Tigray Bureau of Water Resources and Mines. International and Local NGOs will also be communicated in due process. Hence, rehabilitation efforts are hampered due to lack of sufficient information on existing working and damaged infrastructures. On the top of that, due to the current conflict in Tigray, several people are displaced from various places of Tigray and now sheltered at IDPs, mainly in Mekelle. Though there are limited IDP sites mainly designed for sheltering Internally displaced people, most displaced people are sheltered at Governmentally owned School compounds. These schools lack the basic infrastructure to support IDPS. There are several challenges at IDPs related to Health, Nutrition, Education, GBV, Social and Economic integration, etc. though, the major challenge be Water Supply. The Schools have limited facility in these regard as it was not designed for this purpose. Most challenges of the target community are communicated to the major actors in uncoordinated manner in a form of personal complaints, which in turn can result in the less responses from the respective governmental and non-governmental actors. We believe that during the post-conflict crises, besides the limited capacity of local actors to respond efficiently and effectively, lack of capacity, skill and knowledge of the target community regarding the communication of their challenges can result a continuation of existing challenges in water scarcity and sanitation. Efficient and effective response to address the challenges of the target community in Mekelle requires a proper documentation and coordinated communication of these challenges to policy makers and donors. Supporting the community through scientific problem solving approaches is more important and in that regard lessons learnt from Community sciences-based initiatives are crucial. In that regard working with Thriving Earth Exchange can be an excellent opportunity to address the challenges and provide scientific solutions to the target community in Mekelle. 


About the Project

The university partner will develop an open data approach to enhance availability of water data and develop geospatial tools for water planning. The partners involved in this project include local government technicians and students to engage in water data collection (i.e., water supply points, damaged wells, springs).  

The focus of the water data assessment is twofold: 1) assessment of water supply for IDP locations (schools and religious centers); 2) pre-post conflict assessment of water supply system for Mekelle to complement the city’s Damage Assessment Report. 

Deliverables include an updated water system geospatial database, a data dictionary of water resources/water provisioning systems for Mekelle, an analysis of water availability for Mekelle residents with an emphasis on IDPs; and geospatial training for water planning. 

The outcomes of this project will improve understanding and the unique needs of the water supply in Mekelle post-conflict. This approach provides a template for other impacted regions around the world experiencing conflict and damaged critical basic resource systems. 

The major activities planned in this project includes: 

  • Compilation and analysis of pre-conflict water supply systems and services in Mekelle, especially at the informal settlements and out fringe areas 
  • Assessment of pre-conflict water supply systems and services in Mekelle especially at IDPs, and the informal settlements and out fringe areas 
  • Document pre-conflict water supply systems and services through the use of geospatial tools and technologies 


Major actors in this community-based project includes: 

  • Meklle University: 
    • Coordinate the local project activity in Mekelle through involving academic staffs as part of the Community services, 
    • Attach relevant students to support the data collection and analysis process in the waterscape 
    • Facilitate the discussion among various stakeholders to address the main objective of the project 
    • Coordinate the link among the local stakeholders in the Meklle 
    • Provide relevant data, and progress reports to the lead scientist 
    • Colorado State University 
    • As the lead scientist and project coordinator manages the overall project activities and support scientific methods and approaches to address the challenges at the target community in Mekelle City 
    • Assign lead scientist to assist the analysis of data and publication in the project. 
  • Mekelle City Water and Sanitation Office 
    • As the main actor for the water supply aspects in Mekelle, facilitates the link between the various stakeholders/actors in our community-based project and the local community at IDP and the community at informal settlements 
    • Facilitates the provision of data, information, and documents published through the office 
    • Assign appropriate personnel to conduct reconnaissance survey 
  • Tigray Bureau of Water Resources and Mines. International 
    • Provides relevant data and documents related to the waterscape in Mekelle city 
    • Assign relevant personnel for the reconnaissance survey and collection of data 
  • Local NGOs will be a partner organization to this project. 
    • Provides relevant data and documents related to the waterscape in IDPs 


This project is expected to deliver the following outputs: 

  • A published report documenting the per- and post-conflict situation in the waterscape at the target community in Mekelle 
  • A geo database including the water supply services at the Target community as a result of the conflict in Tigray 

When completed the community will be benefited in terms of: 

  • Proper and scientific-based documentation of the challenges encountered in the community 
  • Coordinated communication of the challenges to major actors, decision and policy makers in the region and beyond to have an effective response. 


Such outcomes can help the community get proper attentions to solve the water scarcity and sanitation problems in the target community. 


Timeline and Milestones 

Briefly describe any key dates or milestones (if applicable), and the intended duration of the project. Thriving Earth Exchange’s baseline is approximately 12 months. (6-18 months) 


Months 1: Development of data collection standards; Training of student volunteers and local government on data collection tools 

Month 2: Data collection of water system; collection of existing water supply data 

Month 3: Discussions with IDPs regarding access to and availability of water 

Month 4: Development of geospatial database: creation of data dictionary of water supply data; comparison of pre/post conflict waterscape 

Month 5: Analysis of IDP access to water 

Month 6: Review and finalize deliverables: training materials, geospatial database and data dictionary; prepare scholarly paper for publication. 

Project Team

Community Leads

Danial Teka, Mekelle University, Project Lead 

Abrha Haile, Tigray Bureau of Water Resources and Mines, Team Member 

Ms. Simret Alemayehu, (1) Inquiry of Tigray Genocide Office, (2) Mekelle University, Team Member 

Assefa Weldu, Mekelle Water Supply and Sanitation Office, Team Member 

Community Science Fellow

Melinda Laituri, Thriving Earth Science Fellow 

Scientist Wanted

Mekelle University will oversee student volunteers to assist in data collection.  


As indicated under Section 2 and 3, this project will engage quite a wide range of actors to collect, analyze, and document the challenges in the target community. Students at Mekelle University will engage in the collection of data, staffs at the partner institutions will engage in the reconnaissance survey at the target host community and at the IDPs. The target community will engage in a frequent Focus Group Discussions to address their challenges and provide doable solutions. Situational assessments and scientific solutions need to be provided through engaging local scientists and others from the AGU. However, considering the limited resources that the project will have, at least remote engagement of the scientist is required.   


Desired Skills and Qualifications (bulleted list): 

  • Hydrologist with groundwater experience.  
  • Experience with water supply analysis and urban sustainability 
  • Knowledge and respect for IDPs and local culture 
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach, and engagement 
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns 
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in-person 


Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage. 


Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now! 

Collaborating Organization(s)

Meklle University, Colorado State University, Mekelle City Water and Sanitation Office, Tigray Bureau of Water Resources and Mines. International and Local NGOs will be a partner organization to this project.