Executive Summary

Situated in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a geographically diverse developing nation occupying 1.1 million square kilometers of land. Of the nearly 83 million people living in Ethiopia, about 68.3 million people, or 82.4% of the population, live beyond city limits, and about 79% are employed in the agricultural sector. While Ethiopia is undergoing urbanization, the overwhelming majority of people still live in rural areas. Ethiopia’s population is growing with an annual growth rate of 2.1%.

Ethiopia is considered one of the most important biodiversity hotspots of the world, but also one of the most degraded. The country faces many environmental challenges including declines in soil fertility and water quality, loss of biodiversity, deforestation and soil erosion. These issues can cause significant consequences for Ethiopian citizens, since much of Ethiopia’s population is dependent upon on the environment as their primary source of income. Additionally, social, political and economic challenges within Ethiopia can contribute to, and be exacerbated by, environmental degradation. Poor infrastructure, recurrent droughts, famines, and periods of political unrest serve as additional challenges for the management of environmental resources within Ethiopia. The way in which environmental issues are addressed in the coming years will have a significant impact on the well-being of the Ethiopian people, as well as surrounding nations whose ecosystems are interconnected with that of Ethiopia.

This report is comprised of six chapters, and begins in the first chapter by exploring the historical and current context of environmentally-focused public institutions and their interactions with environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ethiopia. Environmental stakeholders in government, in academia, and in the NGO community all appear to agree that formal environmental policies in Ethiopia are well-written and praiseworthy, but that on-the-ground implementation of policies remains incomplete. In this context, environmental NGOs have demonstrated some capacity to help fill the environmental policy implementation gap. The key informant interviews and reviews of literature, relevant federal institutions, and environmental policy laws presented in this first chapter thus highlight the roles of environmental NGOs in Ethiopia, while also providing a context for the following chapters’ exploration of more specific environmental issues.

The second chapter addresses deforestation, a substantial contributor to economic and environmental concerns ranging from global climate change to local food and energy scarcity. Due to the combined stresses of population pressure and limited access to alternative resources, Ethiopian forests are under significant strain. This chapter draws upon a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis of forest cover within four Regional States of Ethiopia to explore the relationships between governance institutions, access to forests, population pressures, and changes in forest cover over time. Spatial analyses are supplemented by a quantitative analysis of household tree-planting behavior as reported in the Ethiopian Rural Household Survey (ERHS).

The third chapter examines livestock production systems and their environmental implications. Ethiopia is heavily reliant on agriculture, with livestock estimated to contribute to the livelihoods of 60-70% of the population. The Ethiopian livestock herd is the largest of any African nation. Consequently, livestock help perform a wide variety of functions for Ethiopians and are among the most important commodities of the country. However, livestock also contribute to erosion, soil degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and deforestation. This chapter explores the production systems for livestock in Ethiopia using GIS, a review of literature, and interview data. The value and production of livestock are quantitatively analyzed, as are their environmental effects through quantitative and qualitative data.

The fourth chapter identifies mechanisms involved in lake management and water quality issues in Ethiopia through a literature review, case study comparisons, and interviews. Lakes in Ethiopia are often adjacent to one or more urban areas, as well as agricultural lands, and plots of other resource users who draw their livelihoods from the lake and surrounding land. These anthropogenic forces threaten the water quality of the lakes that they rely on. Lakes are a crucial example of a natural resource upon which humans depend, yet one that may become degraded beyond repair if proper policies are not in place and enforced.

The fifth chapter focuses on waste management in Ethiopia, a sector that is concerned with water quality and health. Ethiopia’s waste management problem is exacerbated by the influx of people moving to urban centers since densely populated areas are more susceptible to health risks and contagious diseases. This chapter focuses primarily on the relationship between disease and the removal and storage of human waste and household waste in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and the resort town of Bahir Dar, and the institutions that are involved.

The final chapter of this report explores Ethiopia’s energy sector and the potential for a more sustainable future through rural electrification and renewable energy. The current energy regime in Ethiopia is heavily reliant on traditional biomass fuels, which has resulted in major environmental impacts, including deforestation, land degradation, decreases in agricultural productivity, and greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change. These patterns are further exacerbated by Ethiopia’s growing population’s increased energy demands. Through spatial analysis, a literature review, and case study comparisons this chapter explores Ethiopia’s renewable energy options and examines alternative technologies’ feasibility for increasing access to electricity in rural areas of the country.