May 31st, 2009
Taken from the abstract:
Ethiopia’s Environmental Conditions Today and Twenty-Five Years from Now
By Shibru Tedla
Translated by Yonas Admassu
The link to the full version
Environmental Problems in Ethiopia:
What are they? Profile of Ethiopia’s Natural Resources
In order to better understand Ethiopia’s environmental problems, one would do well to have an idea of the profile of the environment. The highland parts of Ethiopia have an elevation of 1800 meters above sea level, and their climate is suitable for living. While the highlands get an annual rainfall of 700-2200 mm, the lowlands get an annual rainfall of 200-700 mm. There are also regions that get no rainfall at all. In order to grow crops and plants, a region with an annual rainfall of at least 700 mm is required.The area of the country’s arable land has been estimated varyingly (indicating such wide differences as 12-60% of the country’s total land mass). However, when we take into consideration the estimates provided by the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority, 51% of the land mass is believed to be cultivable, while the remaining 49% is said to be uncultivable.Forty years ago, 3.37-4.4% of the country’s land mass was covered with dense forest. During that period, also, the area covered with bushes and undergrowths was estimated to have been 22% of the country’s total land mass.It is known that Ethiopia has huge water resources. While 0.66 % (7500 square kilometers) of the land is covered by lakes, the country has 12 major river basins.The total volume of water handled by these river basins annually is estimated to be 111 billion cubic meters. It is, moreover, estimated that the country has no less than 2.56 billion cubic meters of underground water. Of the water draining in the major river basins, 75% (82.5 billion cubic meters) goes to benefit neighboring countries. In other words, the annual per capita contribution of water to these neighboring countries of Ethiopians amounts 1250 cubic meters (125,000 litres).This draining water resource, combined with the country’s topography, is believed to be the country’s major wealth, since it represents a huge source for hydroelectric power generation. The slopes of the basins are also considered big resources. We all know the value of salt-free water for the development of agriculture.
Biodiversity resources (plants and grains):
Ethiopia has a huge pool of biodiversity. The plant biodiversity especially provides a rich source for the population’s medicinal needs. Ethiopia also has an equally huge pool of biodiversity in grains. An example or two of the uses of biodiversity will help clarify the importance of the resources. A barley species found in Ethiopia has saved the barley species used in California’s breweries from extinction. A barley species found in the Simien Shewa area in the middle of the last century was found to be resistant to a virus that almost destroyed California’s barley production. The gene that helped the barley resist the virus was extracted from the Ethiopian barley species (biodiversity resource) and was grafted onto the California barley species, resulting in a healthy, California barley, thereby, saving the State’s brewery from sure bankruptcy. This gene has, consequently, become the main agent in the brewery’s capacity to make an annual profit of 156 million US dollars.
Ethiopia’s Environmental Problems
If 85% of Ethiopia’s population, which lives in the rural areas and is engaged in farming and cattle breeding, cannot feed itself, we can simply decide that the magnitude and nature of the problem has no indicator and forget the whole thing.However, we shall be forced to look into some of the details. The main and visible environmental problems in Ethiopia, as well as in other developing countries, are the following:· Population increase;· Soil erosion by water and wind;· Degradation of soil fertility and decrease in productivity;· Deforestation and soil exposure;· Inability to improve the contribution of the agricultural sector to growth; the sector’s stagnation and, in fact, degeneration;· Lack of appropriate policies, strategies, and regulations, or inability to implement those that are available.In order to even better understand the problem, we need to probe into the nature of rural life in Ethiopia.
What does the life of the majority of Ethiopians look like?
Because of the poverty it wallows in, the majority of the country’s population relies for its energy on wood and/or cattle dung; on forests for its supply of medicines; on rivers and springs for its water supply; on wood cut from forests, grass mowed from the fields, and mud taken from the soil in order to build its huts; on cotton and hide for its clothing. The land on which it produces its food is farmed year in year out without any break; the animals it uses either for farming or as food sources sustain themselves through their own effort by grazing the surrounding lands, with no care and protection from anywhere. Because of such poverty, the majority of our people completely rely for their livelihood on what nature provides. Consequently, the plants that are cut down, with no replacement at all; the land that is being farmed, without any break, year in year out; the domestic animals that breed without any human care and protection; the wildlife hunted down without any compassion; all these constitute a complex of reasons for the country’s environmental crisis.
Let us look into some of the concrete problems in some detail:
Farm and soil management
The majority of Ethiopian farmers inhabit the dega (highlands) and the woinadega (mid-highlands). The farming technology they use and the types of crop they cultivate render the land vulnerable to erosion both by rain and wind.The water that drains in this manner from every plot of land turns into streams and rivers flowing away with a full load of fertile and rich soil. When the soil is thus washed away by flooding rivers, it is not only the soil that the country loses, but also the microbes that sustain the fertility of the soil. Because of shortage of farming land, the slopes of the river basins as well as those at the foot of mountains and hills are cultivated thereby contributing to the washing away of soil from farms.
Depletion the Earth’s vegetation cover
Trees are cut down, without replacement, for fuel, for the construction of houses, for making farming equipment, etc.
Population increase (in relation to the sectors people engage in)
In reality, increase in population size does not result in environmental crisis in and of itself. If, however, a given community of people is hostage to poverty, it will negatively affect the environment. To the extent that the size of the population increases, the demand for additional farm plots, huts, and fuel wood increases. This situation will result in the depletion of the country’s biodiversity resources. If the livelihood of the majority of the population depends essentially on natural resources accessed from land, every time the population increases, to the same extent will increase the grumbling and lamentation in every household, as well as the number of mouths that go unfed as the days go by.
Let us have a closer look into the ways of the country’s rural life.
When the number people in rural communities increases, the commodity supplied to urban centers will be fuel wood instead of grains. The grain the farmers produce will not even be sufficient for their own consumption. The fuel wood and charcoal the rural population supplies to the market is not a by-product of trees that they themselves have planted, but gathered and cut down from natural forests. The source for the rural population’s cash needs will be naturally grown bushes and forests. The energy sources for the farmers’ own cooking needs will be cow dung, manure, maize stalks and wheat stalks. If the grain stalks, dung and manure that are supposed to farm inputs are used as fuel instead, the fertility of the soil and the land will degenerate, resulting in the decrease of land productivity.When the bushes and forests available in the different areas are completely cleared and depleted, the fuel supplied in the market will be animal dung instead of wood. The dung that ought to have been used as fertilizer will become the major source of the rural population’s cash needs. When drought occurs while the rural population is in this state, the people will be exposed to the lashes of hunger. The farmers that already are shoulder-deep in the mire of deprivation will altogether sink in that mire when drought occurs. When the size of the population increases, to the same extent will the land area needed for farming expand. The land area on the slopes or river basins and the wetlands adjacent to water bodies, which were not supposed to be cultivated to begin with, will be cleared and used for farming. Grazing land will be crowded. At present, grazing land for cattle in the highlands and mid-highlands of rural Ethiopia has been greatly reduced. As a result, domestic animals do not get adequate fodder, in which case both their productivity and energy will diminish.According to the estimates of experts and professionals in the field of natural resource management, by the year 2004 (G.C.), all grazing land in the highlands will be fully appropriated for cultivation. This area is domicile to 70 percent of all domestic animals. Any additional grazing area cannot be made available. Similarly, in the year 2017 (G.C.) all arable land in the highlands and mid-highlands will be cultivated. After that there will be no cultivable land in these regions of Ethiopia.
Land tenure insecurity
Because the Government runs the administration of rural land in Ethiopia, the farmers, who are the direct beneficiaries of the land, do not feel secure about their holdings. There has been much debate, and various positions have been taken, on this issue. However, the problem requires immediate solution.Although, in some regions, better opportunities have been created for farmers to feel secure about their holdings, it has become clear that there still are some situations that need to be improved.
Due to the absence of regulations and mechanisms by which to prevent the cultivation of river basin slopes, lack of any effort to protect and nurture farm plots, lack of a system as to what type of particular grains and food plants should be produced/sown, and where they should be sown, it has not been possible to properly manage and use the country’s natural resources, including, of course, land.
Air and water pollution
The fuel that we use in each household for cooking pollutes the air inside each hut. Because of the polluted air as a result of the smoke emitted by the wood and dung fuel, many children have fallen victims of lung diseases, and will continue to do so.Because people are left free to relieve themselves of human waste, such as excreta and urine, at any time and any place, these waste matters have been responsible for the spread of many contagious diseases. Because, especially, human excreta and urinary waste stand a greater chance of polluting our potable water, children will be exposed to dysentery. Because of the combined effects of this and other similar situations, 170 children for every 1000 births will die before they reach the age of five.
Damages caused by development activities (projects)
Development activities (projects) implemented at different times have caused damages to the environment. The main source of the damages is the fact that the projects were undertaken without the appropriate feasibility study.In order to better understand the situation, let us look into the damage caused by the development project undertaken at Abijata.Because of the production of Soda Ash at Abijata, the type and amount of the chemical contents of the water has been altered. Because of this change, some of the small plants and animals inhabiting the waters of the Lake have completely disappeared, while others have diminished in number. The number of fish thriving on these plants and animals also has diminished. Consequently, the number of fish-eating birds has diminished. Lake Abijata, which was estimated, according to the bird count done 30 years ago, to be home to 12,000 pelican couples, thousands of fish-eating birds, flamingoes feeding on smaller fish and plant life, now finds itself in a very tragic situation. It is now said that thousands of pelicans and flamingoes have migrated and settled in Kenya.
One dominant issue here in Ethiopia is that of eucalyptus. Many a debate and discussion is still going on regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the eucalyptus tree. It was in the belief that eucalyptus will solve the problem of shortage of fuel that Emperor Menelik had 15 eucalyptus species imported from Australia in 1896 (G.C.). Of these 15 species, only two are seen in several regions in great numbers. While one group is of the position that, because a single, well developed eucalyptus tree consumes 400 litres of water a day, it will contribute to the depletion of the ground water reservoir of the surrounding environment, another group argues that, but for the fact that ‘Mother’ Menelik brought eucalyptus, presently the people of Lasta, Agame, Gayint, Berenta, and Bulga would have honed their axes and felled every tree of the Congo jungle. That eucalyptus causes damage to the environment is not a new revelation. Because of the bad news that eucalyptus depletes the water in the area it grows, Emperor Menelik had ordered every eucalyptus tree to be uprooted and disposed of.But that was not to happen, for the tree’s fundamental advantage had an edge over the Emperor’s orders. I think the secret lies in how to cultivate eucalyptus. If one were to take into account where each tree is to be planted, at what distance from another plant, and when it will be harvested, the damage, if any, the tree would cause would be minimal. Whether we like it or not, at present, when considered from the vantage point of the utility the tree provides, eucalyptus still remains the exemplar as far as trees go. All farm equipments, the roofs, walls, doors of houses, beds, chairs, fuel, all these and more are products of the eucalyptus tree.