Roads: Instruments for Rainwater Harvesting, Food Security and Climate Resilience in Arid and Semi-arid Areas

  • Frank van SteenbergenEmail author
  • Kifle Woldearegay
  • Marta Agujetas Perez
  • Kebede Manjur
  • Mohammed Abdullah Al-Abyadh


With an investment of 7–10 billion USD in sub-Saharan Africa, the development of roads is a major factor in the change of landscapes and the drainage patterns. Thus, roads often act as conveyance systems, but the impact is often negative, leading to erosion, waterlogging and flooding. These impacts come down hardest on the more vulnerable and least resilient, such as poor female-headed households. Yet these negative effects can be turned around and roads can be made into instruments for rainwater harvesting, food security and climate resilience. In this regard, there is a variety of techniques that can be used—ranging from simple interventions in the area surrounding the roads to modified designs of road bodies. What drives the transformation of roads is a change in governance too—better coordination between road builders and water resource and agricultural departments and closer interaction with roadside communities. This chapter provides evidence from Yemen and Tigray region in Ethiopia, where road water harvesting has systematically been introduced in all districts since 2014. The chapter describes the process of promoting road water harvesting, the techniques used, the potential of road water harvesting to increase resilience and the hydrological and socio-economic effects.


Road water harvesting Erosion Ethiopia Yemen 



The support of Netherlands Scientific Council (NWO) under the program ‘Feeder road development for inclusive productive employment’ in preparing this paper is acknowledged as well as the Global Resilience Partnership Program ‘Connecting Roads, Water and Livelihoods for Resilience’. All the collaborating institutions mainly Tigray Bureau of Water Resources, Tigray Bureau of Transport and Road Construction, Tigray Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development, REST, Amhara Bureau of Agriculture, Oromia Bureau of Water Mines and Energy, Oromia Bureau of Road Transport and Ethiopian Roads Authority are highly acknowledged for their relentless support.


  1. Abebe A, Lasage R, Alemu E, Gowing J, Woldearegay K (2012) Ethiopia: Opportunities for building on tradition—time for action. In: Critchley W, Gowing JW (eds) (2012) Water Harvesting in Sub-Saharan Africa. Routledge, UK.Google Scholar
  2. AFCAP (2011). Using ‘road works’ to enhance community water supply in Mozambique. African Community Access Programme, Phase 1 Final Report: Feasibility Study. Department of International Development, UK. Available at:
  3. Al-wadaey A, Bamatraf A (2010) Indigenous knowledge of water harvesting for sustainable rainfed farming systems in North Yemen. 10th International Conference on Development of Drylands: Meeting the Challenge of Sustainable Development in Drylands under Changing Climate—Moving from Global to Local. Cairo, Egypt on 12–15 Dec 2010.Google Scholar
  4. Bouma, J. A., Hegde, S. S., Lasage, R. (2016). Assessing the returns to water harvesting: A meta-analysis. Agricultural Water Management, 163, 100–109.Google Scholar
  5. Demenge, J., Alba, R., Welle, K., Manjur, K., Addisu, A., Mehta, L., Woldearegay, K. (2015). Multifunctional Roads The Potential Effects of Combined Roads and Water Harvesting Infrastructure on Livelihoods and Poverty in Ethiopia. Journal of Infrastructure Development, 7(2), 165–180.Google Scholar
  6. Desta L, Carucci V, Wendem-Agenehu A (2005) Community Based Participatory Watershed Development: A Guideline. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.Google Scholar
  7. Dile, Y. T., Karlberg, L., Temesgen, M., Rockström, J. (2013). The role of water harvesting to achieve sustainable agricultural intensification and resilience against water related shocks in sub-Saharan Africa. Agriculture, ecosystems & environment, 181, 69–79.Google Scholar
  8. Falkenmark, M., Rockström, J. (2008, May). Building resilience to drought in desertification‐prone savannas in Sub‐Saharan Africa: The water perspective. In Natural Resources Forum (Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 93–102). Blackwell Publishing Ltd.Google Scholar
  9. Folke C (2006) Resilience: the emergence of a perspective for social-ecological system analyses. Global Environ Change 16 (3): 253–267.Google Scholar
  10. Forman RTT, Sperling D, Bissonette JA, Clevenger AP, Cutshall CD, Dale VH, Fahrig L, France R, Goldman CR, Heanue K, Jones JA, Swanson FJ, Turrentine T, Winter TC (2003) Road ecology: science and solutions. Island Press, Washington DC, USA.Google Scholar
  11. Garcia-Landarte Puertas D, Woldearegay K, Mehta, L, Beusekom M, Agujetas M, van Steenbergen F (2014) Roads for water: the unused potential. Waterlines 33: 120–138.Google Scholar
  12. Greening T (2011) Quantifying the impacts of vehicle-generated dust: a comprehensive approach. Transport Research Support Program. Washington DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  13. Kelly C, Ferrara A, Wilson GA, Ripullone F, Nolè A, Harmer N, Salvati L (2015) Community resilience and land degradation in forest and shrubland socio-ecological systems: a case study in Gorgoglione, Basilicata region, Italy. Land Use Policy 46: 11–20.Google Scholar
  14. Knoop L, Sambalino F, Van Steenbergen F (2012) Securing Water and Land in the Tana Basin: a resource book for water managers and practitioners. Wageningen, The Netherlands: 3R Water Secretariat.Google Scholar
  15. Kubbinga B (2012) Road Runoff Harvesting in the Drylands of Sub-Saharan Africa: Its Potential for Assisting Smallholder Farmers in Coping with Water Scarcity and Climate Change. Based on Case Studies in Eastern Province, Kenya [MSc thesis]. Amsterdam, Vrije University.Google Scholar
  16. Massmann JW, Allen T (2003) A design manual for sizing infiltration ponds. Final Research Report, Research Project Agreement No Y8265, Implementation of Infiltration Ponds Research. Washington State Department of Transportation, Olympia, WA.Google Scholar
  17. Neal I (2012) The potential of sand dam crossings. Dams and Reservoirs, 22: 29–143Google Scholar
  18. Nemry F, Demirel H (2012) Impacts of Climate Change on Transport: A focus on road and rail transport infrastructures. European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC), Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS). Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.Google Scholar
  19. Nissen-Petersen E (2006) Water from Roads: A handbook for technicians and farmers on harvesting rain water from roads. ASAL Consultants Ltd. Nairobi, Kenya.Google Scholar
  20. Nyssen J, Poessen J, Moeyersons J, Luyten E, Veyret-Picot M, Deckers J, Haile M, Govers G (2002) Impact of Road Building On Gully Erosion Risk: A Case Study From The Northern Ethiopian Highlands. Earth Surf Processes and Landforms 27: 1267–1283.Google Scholar
  21. Nyssen, J., Frankl, A., Haile, M., Hurni, H., Descheemaeker, K., Crummey, D., Munro, N. (2014). Environmental conditions and human drivers for changes to North Ethiopian mountain landscapes over 145 years. Science of the total environment, 485, 164–179.Google Scholar
  22. Pretty, J., Toulmin, C., Williams, S. (2011). Sustainable intensification in African agriculture. International journal of agricultural sustainability, 9(1), 5–24.Google Scholar
  23. Reij C, Tappan G, Smale M (2009) Agroenvironmental Transformation in the Sahel: Another Kind of “Green Revolution.” IFPRI Discussion Paper (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, USA.Google Scholar
  24. Rosegrant M, Cai X, Cline S, Nakagawa N (2002) The Role of Rainfed Agriculture in the Future of Global Food Production. Food Policy. International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 127.Google Scholar
  25. Steenbergen F van, Tuinhof A (2010). Managing the Water Buffer for Development and Climate Change Adaptation. Groundwater Recharge, Retention, Reuse and Rainwater Storage 1–98. MetaMeta Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  26. United Nations (2011) Global Drylands: A UN system-wide response. Available at:
  27. USDA (1997) Ponds: Planning, design, construction. Agriculture Handbook 590. NRCS, Washington, USA.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank van Steenbergen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kifle Woldearegay
    • 2
  • Marta Agujetas Perez
    • 1
  • Kebede Manjur
    • 3
  • Mohammed Abdullah Al-Abyadh
    • 4
  1. 1.MetaMeta ResearchHertogenboschThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Applied GeologyMekelle UniversityMekelleEthiopia
  3. 3.Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural DevelopmentMekelle UniversityMekelleEthiopia
  4. 4.Road Maintenance Fund, Ministry of Public Works and HighwaysSana’aYemen

Personalised recommendations