By Konjit Teshome
First published by Ethiopian Observer January 15, 2019
Once upon a time, one of Ethiopia’s beautiful and famous Lakes, Lake Haramaya, was a source of life for human beings and animals and a home of beautiful birds in the eastern part of the country. Recreational events, marriage ceremonies and public Holidays were held around the Lake.
Now, it is a dried Land. Kids are playing football, animals grazing grass, agricultural practices clearly seen over the dried Lake’s Land.
Lake Haramaya located in the eastern highlands of Ethiopia, which is administratively situated with Haramaya Wereda of Eastern Harerghe Zone, in Oromia regional state. The watershed is situated at a distance of 505 km from Addis Abeba and 14 km NorthWest of Harer town. The watershed covers almost 50km. In its heydays, the Lake boasted 14m depth and seven km length, according to Tena Alamirew’s research in 2011.
The lake was the only source of drinking water for residents of Haramaya and nearby towns mainly, Aweday and Harer. It served for agricultural and industrial purposes. For more than 35 years, the lake served the three town’s residents until it dried in 2005.
Research confirmed that Lake Haramaya dried up due to over pumping of the lake and groundwater, environmental degradation and climate changes.
Kedir Abdurehman, 37, born and raised in Haramaya. He used to swim in Lake Haramaya. Now standing on the dried Lake’s land, remembered how the lake was totally lost.
‘’This place was very wide and beautiful. The lake was full of water. We used to swim in the lake. Animals can drink water from the lake. Gradually, the volume of the Lake’s water decreased. Finally, disappeared fully in 2005’’ he said.
He remembered how people, even those who lived far from the lake, were pumped an unlimited amount of water from the lake
The disappearance of Lake Haramaya heavily affected the residents of Haramaya Woreda and other neighboring towns. Nowadays, for local residents, it is very hard to get water.
Abdi Mume, 52, resided near the dried Lake Haramaya, explained in the local language, Afan Oromo, through translator, how they are struggling to get water.
‘’Since Lake Haramaya has disappeared, we can’t get water easily. Now, we have to dig deeply around 20m to get water. Life becomes very hard’’ he said.
Abdi understand that Haramaya University is doing something to bring back the Lake, but didn’t know what will happen. He said, ‘’If the university’s effort can bring the Lake, I am always cooperative in anyways’’.
One of Ethiopia’s oldest government higher education institutions, Haramaya University, is located near Lake Haramaya. The university still uses Lake Haramaya as a teaching-learning demonstration. The university has been blamed for the loss of Lake Haramaya for doing nothing as it is located near to the Lake and home of many agriculture researchers.
In 2012, the University came up with a project which aimed mainly to restore Lake Haramaya. For many, it was unbelievable. Some doubted and some others questioned it.
Prof. Kebede Woldetsadik, Vice President for Community Engagement and Enterprise Development of Haramaya University, explained about the project. ‘’Seven years back, after various researches have been done, we came up with a project which mainly aimed to restore Lake Haramaya. We believed that if active environmental conservation and restoration works can be done, it is possible to bring back Lake Haramaya’’.
The project needed more than 200m Eth. Br (more than 7 million USD), according to Prof. Kebede. But it wasn’t easy to get the money from national institutions and foreign sponsors. ‘’The stakeholders also can’t contribute any amount of money. Thus, we decide to run the project with our own limited budget’’ he said.
The project, entitled ‘’Lake Haramaya Watershed Rehabilitation Project‘, which mainly aimed to restore Lake Haramaya, engaged all stakeholders including the local communities, Oromia region, Harer and Aweday towns. But, the idleness of stakeholders led the project as one of Haramaya University’s tasks, and opened a new office, ‘An Integrated Lake Haramaya Watershed Development Office’. Eba Muluneh is a technical coordinator at the office and researcher. He said the project contained seven main components.
‘’Due to financial problems, the University forced to focus only on three of the seven components, namely, Soil and water conservation, Crop production and productivities and Enhancing product and productivity’’ Eba explained.
In 2014, after two years since the project started, the unexpected result achieved. The dead Lake Haramaya breathes again! Water comes to the dried Lake Haramaya!
The recovered amount of water was 20 %, according to Prof. Kebede Weldetsadik. He said ‘’our university measured that, out of the lake’s 600hec total size, 50hec can be covered by water’’.
The result was encouraging for Haramaya University. For the local people, it was like a miracle. The resurrection of Lake Haramaya celebrated highly by the local people. The celebration for the resurrection of Lake Haramaya didn’t stay long. Within less than a year, the lake is dried again.
Prof. Kebed said, ‘’the lake’s water can recovered because there was no human interference around it. People left the area because it was dried. But, when water is back in the Lake’s land, they also come back and surrounded the area, grabbed lands and took the recovered water for irrigation’’.
The number of hand and motor pumps used by local people was nearly 200 and 300, as Prof. Kebede mentioned. ‘’After the lake’s water recover, the number of water pumps increased ten times than earlier. Everyone discharged an unlimited amount of water to grow Khat, a dominant crop, which consume high amounts of water. Surprisingly, the recovered water didn’t stay for a year. The lake dried again’’ he explained.
There is still hope to bring back Lake Haramaya, according to Eba Muluneh. But he asked the local people’s cooperation. He said that it is impossible to do the watershed works properly while people are settled and doing agricultural activities over and around the lake’s area. ‘’Illegal settlers need to leave the lake’s land, and the area should be demarcated. This is the local administrator’s responsibility’’, he indicated.
Oromia region, East Harerghe’s Water Resource and Energy office’s head, Abinet Tessema, explained what his office, as a stakeholder, has done.
‘’We have staged many discussions with the local community members to create awareness. Many of them are pleased to cooperate. But some farmers, who surrounded the lake’s land, claim other agricultural land if they are going to leave the area. This is our challenge that we need to solve,’’ he said.
Moreover, the officer also revealed that his office is planned to train farmers on other income-generating practices within small land. He also recommends Haramaya University, to remove trees which discharge high amounts of water around Lake Haramaya and plant other native trees which can charge a better amount water.
Researcher Eba Muluneh, explained what his office is doing currently related to Lake Haramaya watershed rehabilitation. ‘‘Currently, we focused on soil and water conservation works, mainly, in the upper parts of the watershed. According to their survival rate, we select and planting endemic trees on hillsides, and achieved encouraging results’’.
Referring to his own research, which was a part of Lake Haramaya Watershed Rehabilitation project, entitled ‘Growth and survival rate of the native tree species of Ethiopia; Olea Africana and Hagenia abysinicca in the degraded lake of Haramaya watershed, Ethiopia’, Eba said that endemic trees Olea Africana and Hagenia abyisinicca were preferable because of their survival rate.
The study indicated that Olea Africana performs well at Damota watershed, accounting for 38% of survival rate followed by Tinike sub-watershed having a survival rate of 37%. Only 29% of the total planted Olea Africana survived at Bachake sub-watershed. Furthermore, about 55.6 % of Hagenia Abysinicca was survived at Damota sub-watershed.
Haramarchya University, via Lake Haramaya Watershed project has given deep attention to these endemic trees and grows the seedlings to use them as the main rehabilitation trees of the degraded lands of Lake Haramaya sub watersheds, explained Eba Muluneh.
But human activities over the dried lake’s land is one of the challenges to the watershed rehabilitation works. The groundwater is decreasing at an alarming rate because of local farmers continue over pumping groundwater.
If such kind of improper water usage continues, the groundwater may disappear in 2035, according to Eba Muluneh.
Lake Haramaya has been providing drinking water for Harer town, with a population of nearly 150,000, for the past 35 years. The loss of Lake Haramaya highly affected the people of the town. But the region has been blamed for not being supportive as a concerned stakeholder in the project which aimed to restore Lake Haramaya.
Munib Yonis, urban unit head, at Harer’s regional water supply and sewerage authority, argues that there were no clear directives given to his region or office. But he confirmed that his office and the region are very pleased to cooperate for the success of the Project.
‘’We are very pleased to play our part if clearly putted what is needed from us. We didn’t know specifically what our role is. We are not informed about the progress of Lake Haramaya watershed rehabilitation process as a stakeholder’’ he said.
In 2015, Dr. Mulatu Teshome, President of Ethiopia then, visited the project area and discussed with the stakeholders, including the local community representatives and researchers at Haramaya University. In his remark, he recommended the immediate need of law related to watershed development.
But, there were no immediate action.
When we were in Haramaya University for this report, discussion was held between the local community members, researchers and law professionals on a draft law of watershed.
Prof. Kebede Weldetsadik confirmed that the draft law will soon be effective after having discussions with concerned parties. He wants local administrators’ commitment to apply the law, once it is approved. He also said to overcome the financial problem; the university is going to see other income-generating alternatives.
Many researches, done by Haramaya University, indicated that it is possible to bring back Lake Haramaya. But, recommended the need of watershed law to control improper conducts of local residents.
This work was produced as a result of a grant provided by IHE Delft Global Partnership for Water and Development through Water Journalists Africa network.