The strategic sector cooperation between Denmark and Ethiopia on water 2023-2026

Danish Environmental Protection Agency in Ethiopia

The Strategic Sector Cooperation (SSC) on Water between the Danish Environmental Protection Agency and the Ethiopian Ministry of Water and Energy (MoWE) builds on the successful collaboration in the energy sector to establish a Strategic Sector Cooperation (SSC) programme on water, with the objective to develop the bilateral cooperation on various aspects of water supply and water resources development and management based on mutual benefit, equality and reciprocity.

In addition, the cooperation supports strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries and open doors for Danish private sector involvement.

Ethiopian environmental challenges

Ethiopia has a very diverse climate and landscape, ranging from equatorial rainforest with high rainfall and humidity in the south and southwest to desert-like conditions in the north-east, east and south-east lowlands.

The people of Ethiopia has always been exposed to high climatic variability. Today, Ethiopia is considered one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change due to its high dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources, and has relatively low adaptive capacity to dealing with the increasing adverse impacts of climate change. Recurring droughts and floods have resulted in severe impacts on Ethiopia’s population and infrastructure assets. Droughts have increased in magnitude, frequency, and impact since the 1970s. Overall, Ethiopia is considered highly water stressed. The ratio of water withdrawals to supply is 32 percent, which exceeds the SDG 6.4.2 threshold for water stress. Flash floods and seasonal river floods are also becoming more frequent and widespread. In short, Ethiopia is the 19th most vulnerable country in the world to impacts of climate change.

Even though Ethiopia in total is blessed with abundant water resources, these are distributed unevenly throughout the country, and within the population. The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (JMP) assesses, that only just over 12% of the population has access to safely managed water supplies (39% in urban and 5.2% in rural areas). Access to water unequally affects low-income and rural families. Low water access also exacerbates other inequalities, such as reducing the opportunities for economic development and fostering gender inequality. Women and girls are affected disproportionately by the lack of water: Since they are often made responsible for the task of fetching water, they contend with both physical hardship and physical insecurity when access is limited, and the time-consuming task may also affect girls school attendance.

Signing of the SSC September 9th 2023, by Habtamu Itefa, Minister for Water and Energy of Ethiopia, and Kira Smith Sindbjerg, Ambassador of Denmark to Ethiopia. Photo: Caroline Juel Fritzen.

The Strategic Sector Partnership on Water

The SSC was signed in September 2023. The agreement covers the three year period of medio 2023- medio 2026, with a possibility for extension for two additional phases, each of three years.

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency is the main Danish partner, supported by the Royal Danish Embassy in Addis Ababa and the 3VAND association of the water utilities of Aarhus, Odense and Copenhagen.

The main Ethiopian partner is the Ministry of Water and Energy (MoWE). A number of pilot activities takes place in two areas; in the city of Hawassa in the Sidama Region, and in the chartered city of Dire Dawa.

The two cities were chosen because both cities are experiencing water challenges, due to fast demographic growth and high urbanisation rate, and high industrial and agricultural development leading to water over-extraction. In addition to this, both cities are highly dependent on their groundwater resources, which provide 95% of Hawassa’s and 100% of Dire Dawa’s drinking water supplies. Moreover, these two pilot regions complements each other by representing two different agro-ecological zones, landscape profiles and institutional setups.

The Ethiopian partners in the Sidama Region are the Water, Mines and Energy Bureau and the Hawassa Town Water Supply and Sewerage Enterprise. The Ethiopian partners in Dire Dawa are the Agriculture, Water, Mines and Energy Bureau and the Dire Dawa Water Supply and Sewerage Authority.

Sector counsellor Sebastian Rodas Madeiros preparing for an online GIS workshop with DEPA expert Jakob Lanstorp, that took place at the premises of the Dire Dawa Water Supply and Sewerage Authority. Photo: Philip Grinder Pedersen.


The activities of the programme are arranged in 3 outcomes:

  1. Groundwater Management

  2. Water Supply

  3. Sharing and Dissemination

The Groundwater Management outcome covers a number of activities in Hawassa and Dire Dawa on groundwater data and databases, as well as identifying new well field areas and setting up a monitoring programme. The bureaus of the two Regions are the main Ethiopian partners.

The Water Supply outcome cover a number of activities in Hawassa and Dire Dawa on optimization of boreholes digitalization of pipe networks, Assessment of the existing technical installations, and SCADA automation. The component manager is from 3VAND and and the two Water Utilities are the main Ethiopian partners.

In the Sharing and Dissemination outcome, results and lessons learned from outcome A and B are disseminated via MoWE and the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Water Resource Management (WRM) sub-groups of WESWG. In addition, the programme is exploring and coordinating synergies with key partners working with groundwater mapping and water supply in Ethiopia, such as UNICEF, World Resources Institute, the World Bank, the EU Delegation, USAID and other key donors to Ethiopia, seeking to promote sustainable investments into the Ethiopian water sector.

Borehole in Hawassa. Photo: Peter Qwist-Hoffmann.


Philip Grinder Pedersen

+45 22 89 40 81