Water is an important ingredient in sustaining and increasing agricultural productivity. Even though Ethiopia is called a water tower country, the recurrent droughts coupled with erratic water supplies in Ethiopia have served as a reminder that water is a limited resource which must not be taken for granted. The threat of climate change augments the need to make the production systems resilient to the risks which a changing climate brings about. Understanding the sensitivities of Ethiopia’s water resource system to changing climate patterns is an important step towards increasing risk resilience of agricultural production systems.
Water is beneficial for human beings and ecological abundance only if it is managed in an integrated and sustainable manner, disregarding a fragmented management for short-term needs. In times of growing water scarcity, a uniform and consistent system needs to be created to monitor the impacts of water-related initiatives. It is also important that political and strategic decisions on water resources be based on accurate data regarding water availability, demand and actual use. This requires regular monitoring of the advancements in water resources management. In order to meet the needs of water demand while maintaining the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems, a sustainable framework for water allocation in all river basins of the country is essential.
Irrigation development in Ethiopia dates back centuries while the construction of modern irrigation schemes was started in the 1950s. Thousands of irrigation schemes have been developed, although insignificant compared with the irrigation potential. However, many of the developed irrigation schemes are not operating to their full potential while some others are not functional at all due to factors related to hardware and software problems as well as shortage of water. In Ethiopia, agriculture is estimated to account for more than 90 percent of all water withdrawals, which makes accurate data on agricultural water withdrawals a crucial prerequisite for water resources management. However, accurate and up-to-date information on irrigation is not available. The irrigated area under different water management practices, the amount of water abstracted for crop production, contribution of irrigation for national economy, investment in irrigated agriculture and other related aspects are not known. Moreover, uncontrolled water abstraction for irrigation is common and this does not only cause mismanagement of the scarce water resources but also leads to uncontrollable environmental problem.
The ever increasing use of water for irrigation puts a great pressure on the local hydrology and ecosystem. Competition for water is becoming critical, and environmental degradation related to water use becoming serious mainly due to poor irrigation water management. Hence, while the sustainability of irrigation schemes is becoming a concern, the challenge is to increase simultaneously land and water productivity on sustainable manner in the face of the limited availability of land and water.
The prerequisite for the sustainable water resources development is the knowledge and the availability of water related information and data stored in friendly database system that is easily accessible by the public for development activities. It is on this basis that this FAO-supported Agricultural Water Management Information System (AWMISET) funded by the Italian Development Cooperation was initiated and developed. It is mandatory that this agricultural water use data should be integrated with other sectoral water uses and available water resources in order to enable comprehensive water balance study and make appropriate water allocations for different purposes.