Short Communication

Climate and Water Resilience in the Upper Blue Nile / Abay Highlands


The Global Water Program organized an international scientific workshop on Climate Resilience in the Blue Nile Highlands, held in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, designed in a spirit of true international collaboration, bringing leading East African scientists, development specialists, and policy makers together with climate experts from around the world to address the pressing challenge of climate resilient development.   

Abay Farmer
Many Abay farmers use a single-blade plow

Climate change is bringing higher temperatures and changing rainfall patterns to the highlands of East Africa. The region depends heavily on rain-fed farming, and prevailing poverty combined with steep, erosion-prone terrain make the population highly vulnerable to changing weather patterns. At the same time, many traditional practices and new techniques offer opportunities for enhanced resilience. Local scientists have particular insight into these opportunities. They understand grazing patterns that impact vegetation and the hydrologic cycle, for example, and know what climate adaptation strategies are worth exploring, i.e. which are likely to be accepted by society.

The study of the impact of climate change on East Africa and the resilience of East African societies to these changes presents a rich opportunity for true intellectual partnership between scientists and government agencies in Africa and their counterparts in the United States and other developed countries. So, with support from the JHU Global Water Program and collaborators at Addis Abba University, I organized a workshop from July 8 – 11, 2011, inviting scientists and development experts from Africa, America, and Europe, as well as Ethiopian policy makers and education leaders. Our goal was to enhance substantive collaboration between climate scientists, crop and livestock specialists, disaster response organizations, development agencies, health experts, and policy makers to advance climate resilient development.

Ethiopia Group
U.S. and Ethiopian graduate students who participated in the conference, standing on the bank of the Blue Nile

The outcomes of this conference were many. Participants formulated an inventory of adaptation strategies and experiences relevant to the region, drew plans for evaluating their efficacy in different contexts, reviewed available climate information and analysis tools, identified data needs, and listed priorities for capacity building efforts. We formed new collaborations to enhance ongoing climate resilience and disaster response projects in the region, and we designed integrated research plans to advance the demonstration of climate resilient development strategies in the Abay Highlands.

The JHU GWP will pursue these collaborations in a continuing effort to bring advanced climate analysis and environmental monitoring tools to regional adaptation initiatives. Collaborations like this have the potential to build climate analysis capacity in East African countries and to enhance dialog between and among scientists and policy makers. Also, by engaging African and American university students in all aspects of the collaboration, we are working with our partners in the region to train the next generation of climate leaders.

Participating Institutions

  • Addis Ababa University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • University of Wisconsin
  • Bahir Dar University
  • University of Connecticut
  • Boston University
  • Ethiopian Ministry of Science & Technology
  • Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority
  • Ethiopian Mapping Authority
  • Ethiopian Geological Survey
  • Ethiopian National Meteorological Agency
  • Ministry of Water and Energy of Ethiopia
  • Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture
  • United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • United States Department of State
  • International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
  • The Sustainable Land Use Forum (SLUF)
  • Climate Change Forum – Ethiopia
  • Forum for Environment, Ethiopia
  • Amhara National Regional Administration
  • UNDP
  • International Federation of the Red Cross / Red Crescent
  • Red Cross Ethiopia
  • GIZ
  • The World Bank


Climate adaptation, climate resilience, watershed management, collaborations

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of Johns Hopkins University or the Johns Hopkins University Global Water Program.