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Citation Information

Type Working Paper
Title Water in food security assessment and drought early warning: experience from sub-Saharan Africa with a special focus on Ethiopia
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2011
URL http://r4d.dfid.gov.uk/pdf/outputs/ripple/working-paper-21.pdf
This paper is based on a literature review on the role of water in drought preparedness, early
warning systems and responses. Literature reviewed includes vulnerability assessment reports and
evaluations of drought responses from sub-Saharan Africa over the last ten years, as well as insights
gathered from interviews and a workshop with relevant stakeholders in Ethiopia in the form of a
country case study.
Food security is intimately linked to water availability and access, especially in sub-Saharan Africa
where rural livelihoods centre on agriculture and livestock production. Food security is an outcome
of people’s ability to securely access and utilise adequate quantities of food from either their own
production or purchase, and these opportunities are influenced by access to water. Water has an
impact on food security through three main pathways, which interconnect and thus contribute to
cycles of poverty, ill health and food insecurity.
1. Lack of access to an adequate quantity and quality of water for domestic use (particularly for
hygiene) is a leading cause of water-related disease, which is a major driver of malnutrition as
it reduces the body’s absorption of nutrients.
2. Lack of access to the necessary water for livestock watering, irrigation and small-scale
productive purposes (for which ‘domestic’ water supply is often used) reduces the
opportunities for own food production and/or income generation.
3. Lack of adequate nearby water sources results in a long time being spent in daily water
collection, principally by women and girls, which reduces the time available for work or
education and can also negatively affect health.
These effects are most pronounced in drought situations, as water supplies are reduced as a direct
result of drought. Lack of adequate water supply – a situation common in rural Africa – is closely
correlated with the incidence of malnutrition, and lack of water has been shown to undermine other
efforts to protect health and livelihoods in a drought. Drought is a frequent occurrence in many parts
of sub-Saharan Africa (including the Horn) and may intensify or become even more frequent under
climate change. This demands that drought preparedness efforts, early warning systems and
emergency responses become more effective at protecting livelihoods from the damaging effect of
successive droughts. Historically drought responses have centred on food aid, which has helped to
save lives but has not prevented asset losses resulting from the direct effect of drought itself or the
adoption of last resort coping strategies, both of which undermine livelihoods in the short and longterm.
In the last decade or so a livelihoods-based approach has increasingly been adopted, which aims
to understand the sources of vulnerability of different groups in the population, and target
interventions to prevent the worst impacts of drought on their livelihood (e.g. prevent distress sale
of livestock or other productive assets), and/or to support the rebuilding of livelihoods after a crisis.
This means increasing attention to understanding how non-food aspects, such as agriculture, markets,
health and – critically – water supply, contribute to food insecurity, and developing responses beyond
the provision of food or cash.

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