Where will aid for drought work the hardest ?

GMA Ethiopia Appeal

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The East African food crisis, caused by drought, is unprecedented. Some say it commenced in July 2011, others before then, but it has certainly not stopped – and is now worse than 1984. The government, charity and NGO aid system are once again moving to supply food – though much remains to be done. All good. BUT in future, drought and food shortages could be significantly avoided by early interventions. And for any mitigation today, small scale irrigation could certainly be improved. Irrigation water from boreholes is a particularly valuable source, as Ethiopia has around 20 billion cubic meters of sub-surface water.

As a social enterprise Global MapAid is committed to encouraging key local stakeholders to make maps that will show gaps where boreholes for irrigation of small farms could be improved. In 2019 with our UK partners Parallel we have started with a scoping study of boreholes across the entire country.

In 2020 we have begun collaborating on an irrigation borehole project to model optimal drilling locations (MODL) using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning with our partners at the Water Technology Institute, Ethiopia, and George Mason University, USA.

The main objective is to review research on sustainable irrigation and Ethiopian agriculture, to develop Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning models and empower local leaders with AI&ML and GIS toolkits. The project plan includes visiting Ethiopia to evaluate ground water potential.


It begins and ends with real people, mostly women farmers like Esset and her husband Woubshet who with their 3 children, have had their lives ruined by lack of water and whose access to irrigation finance and technical support are truly poor. Smallholder farming families like them make up over 90% of the agriculture employment, which overall accounts for more than 80% of employment in Ethiopia. But today in Ethiopia, there is a hidden problem, less than 10% of the suitable land is irrigated, according to several Ethiopian agriculturalists.

Every 10 or 15 years there is a multi-year East African drought. However, this time, probably as a result of climate change and El Niño, the drought has been on-going every year since 2011. In other words, an unprecedented 7 years of drought in a row.

This has now resulted in at least 18 million people surviving on aid based feeding schemes, and some 700,000 starving.

A large degree of this suffering could probably have been avoided if more land had been irrigated in the first place. Ethiopia does have large ground water resources that could be tapped sustainably.

As a result of Global MapAid’s earlier economic mapping in Ethiopia, we have made friends in the government university system who will lead a project for an irrigation borehole support map, focused on understanding where boreholes for irrigation are successful and why. We have also teamed up with several local agricultural NGOs and charities, so that together we obtain well rounded perspectives.

As guests, our plan is to encourage and help Ethiopia to see its own situation, starting with boreholes for small farms, so that smart aid can be applied more precisely where it is needed.


Looking ahead, we believe the first vital step to solve such a problem is to THINK. But before anyone can think, we need to KNOW.

Added to existing boreholes data, we also need know where land may be suitable for new boreholes in the future. We need to research and map current general support and specific economic irrigation support and also map this for the entire aid sector, and you, so that we can all see what is happening, for the farmers.

This will mean thoughtful feedback loops can occur with support going to where it is needed most. We are also aware of the helpful work of other agro-development organisations and therefore will not duplicate their work – and we will also continue to share our work with them.

The alternative is allowing the problem to continue without seeing where sustainable irrigation solutions could be placed.

So, your donation will add to our existing fundraising efforts to enable an Ethiopian university team, to carry out and lead the mapping.

And when the job is done, our Ethiopian team will help other African countries to offer them encouragement to build their own teams for similar activities.

“We are doing the best we can for our people.” Local aid worker, male, Ethiopia.

Map section showing micro-credit intensity, vital for irrigation.

Thanks to friends and strangers who have given so generously

Global MapAid is grateful to our corporate partners, who have provided advice and support in various ways, including gifts in kind, connections and software and cash.

In other ways we have been helped by the kindness of friends, and sometimes of strangers, across the UK and the world, to whom we are also grateful.




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