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Drainage and river basins

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Ethiopia is naturally endowed with rivers of considerable number and size. The major rivers are international. They flow beyond the boundaries of the country to the arid regions of neighbouring countries carrying not only water, but also fertile soil.

Most parts of Ethiopia are drained by major rivers flowing eventually into the ocean (exoreic drainage). Therefore the western parts of the country are drained by major rivers like the Abay, Baro and Tekeze; and also the south-eastern region is drained by the Wabi Shebele and the Genale.

There are also areas without organized surface drainage (areic). Such areas are found in the eastern coastal parts of the Harerge. They are characterized by semi-arid and arid climatic conditions and the precipitation is not sufficient to given rise to an integrated system of drainage.

Endoreic drainage is characteristic of the rift valley region. Rivers draining these areas have no outlet to the sea. The major river in this area of internal drainage is the Awash, and there are also several smaller streams discharging into the lakes.

Ethiopia forms a water divide between the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean and so it is called the “water tower of North East Africa.” The direction of flow of major rivers is guided by the general relief slope of the land.

The north-western highlands and their associated lowlands are generally inclined westward and hence drain towards the Mediterranean. The south-eastern highlands and their linked lowlands drain towards the Indian Ocean. The Ethiopian rift valley forms a series of closed drainage basins.

Many Ethiopian rivers have cut deep gorges reaching to a depth of 1,000 metres or more and having a width of ten to fifteen kilometres. They are frequently interrupted by falls and rapids and as a result are not navigable. Only the lower Baro River in the south-west is navigable and then only during the rainy season.

Marked seasonal variation of rainfall also affects river flow. During the rains, the run-off is rapid and river flow is strong, in strong contrast to the limited flow in the dry season.

Nevertheless, many rivers have considerable potential for the generation of hydroelectricity which, in some cases, can be linked to the development of irrigation schemes.

Keywords: Ethiopia, river, Abay, Baro and Tekeze, Wabi Shebele, Genale, Awash,

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