Blog Image


Climate Risk, Safety Nets, and Household Welfare

This blog focuses on our Fieldwork in Tigray in 2010, which was the fifth round survey to the same 15 communities in the region. Students in our joint Master Program in Development and Natural Resource Economics with four African universities (Mekelle University and Hawassa University in Ethiopia, University of Malawi, and Makerere University in Uganda), funded by NORAD, carried out the fieldwork and will use the data for their MSc-theses. In addition PhD-students and staff use the data in their reseearch on a range of policy issues related to climate risk, land management, land law reforms, food security and safety nets, and household behavior and welfare.

Photos from first fieldwork location, Mahoni, Raya Azebo district, southern Tigray

Activity update Posted on Sat, June 05, 2010 15:20:04

The pictures can be viewed at:

Climate Risk, Household Responses and Welfare Effects

Activity update Posted on Sat, June 05, 2010 10:29:56

Tigray is situated in the drier northern part of Ethiopia and belongs to the African Drylands in the Sudano-Sahelian region. The average annual average rainfall goes from 200 mm in the northeastern lowlands to 1000 mm in the southwestern highlands. High rainfall variability is one of the basic characteristics of the area, the Coefficient of Variation for annual rainfall is 28%, compared to 8% for Ethiopia on average.

Households have learnt to adjust to this risky environment over decades and centuries. When we think about possible future climate change and how best to respond, there is a lot to learn from studying existing responses to climate risks. Households have a number of well developed ex-ante as well as ex-post strategies to handle climate risk. However, with increasing population pressures some of these strategies are less efficient than before. Households have therefore become increasingly dependent on safety net programs and other institutional arrangements to reduce their vulnerability and harmful effects from climate shocks.

In our first baseline survey in 1998 we found that selling of livestock was their main response to climate shocks in form of droughts. Other commonly stated coping responses in decreasing order of importance included Food-for-work (FFW), borrowing from relatives, cash for work (CFW) and other employment locally or elsewhere in Ethiopia, and borrowing from others than relatives. Some stated that selling of trees was an important response. Very few stated that they would use cash or bank savings, beg for help from relatives or reduce expenditure.

However, their first response, selling of animals, is costly due to the covariate nature of such shocks. Livestock prices tend to decline substantially while food prices tend to go up. The total costs to the households are therefore much higher than the value of crop loss due to drought. Alternative buffer stocks or safety net or rainfall insurance systems may therefore be preferable. When we again asked about this in 2003 after a drought year, participation in Food-for-work had become their most important response to drought.

Investments that reduce the dependency on rainfall, such as irrigation, may also reduce the vulnerability. Improvement of roads also leads to better market integration and reduced local price volatility. Alternative savings mechanisms, like in credit and savings institutions do not have the same risk as saving in form of livestock. Several of our students will study a number of effects of climate risk, such as how it affects household subsistence production, asset dynamics, and consumption smoothing. This is also linked to how the productive safety net program helps households to protect themselves against these risks. Our 5-round household panel data is well suited for this type of analysis.

Rural health reforms in Tigray 2006-2010

Activity update Posted on Sat, June 05, 2010 10:27:05

A rural health reform has been introduced in Tigray since 2006-07 by establishing health posts in every tabia (municipality). At each health post there is a female health extension agent who have received one year of training in advance. The reform furthermore includes a considerable number of health packages that are provided at tabia level where relevant. These include malaria prevention (where malaria exists), first aid, sanitation, environmental hygiene, personal hygiene, waste management, nutrition training, HIV/Aids testing and treatment. Treatment for most of the health problems is given free to households.

As an example of an impact, we found only in one of the 17 communities surveyed in 2006 that a small share of the households had dug toilets and this was under a pilot health project. Now, four years later this has been implemented in all communities. The same community where we found the pilot project now has 85% of the households covered with toilets. Now 15 tabias in Tigray have been declared as feces -free which requires that all households have dug toilets and environmental and personal hygiene have created a clean environment.

We found malaria to be a problem in 6 out of 17 sites in 2006 and we will resurvey these this year. At that time we found that insecticide-treated bednets had been distributed only in one of the locations where a severe malaria-outbreak came in 2005-06. All households then received free bednets. Under the new reform, all who are living in malaria-risk areas should have been given bednets. They say that there has been a reduction in malaria since then due to the bednets as well as treatment. They fear, however, that the reduced prevalence will cause households to stop using the bednets. This will be investigated by one of our students through our survey.