Call edition 2012

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Gully-erosion induced by road construction: a case-study in the highlands of Ethiopia

Edith LUYTEN student laureate


°1977 Belgium
Licence in geography, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (B), 2000

Ravijnvorming als gevolg van wegaanleg: een gevalstudie in het hoogland van Ehtiopië

Desertification is a serious problem in Ethiopia. Due to the combination of high population pressure and low technical development, the balance between man and nature is very unstable. An ill-considered exploitation of the environment will quickly ensue irreversible landdegradation. An understanding of the processes and mechanisms of desertification is of utmost importance for the prevention and mitigation of the damage and the eventual sustainable use of the land resources.

Road construction is essential for the development of a country. Roads are the blood circulation of a country, they regulate the import and export of economic goods, people and ideas. However, in developing countries road construction also has a dark side. Especially in hilly country road tracks are often the onset of gully-erosion, a very spectacular, aggressive and irreversible kind of soil erosion which can bleed a region to death.

This study investigates gully-erosion induced by road construction in an area of the Ethiopian highland province of Tigray. The population in this region highly depends on agriculture for its living. Due to the presence of steep slopes and the particular climatological conditions, soil erosion is already a major problem, reducing the productivity of agriculture. This problem is enhanced by the construction of roads, which, for their part, are needed for the commercialization of the crops. Moreover, the farmers are in a vulnerable position because, as long as the road itself is not threatened, no help can be expected from the official 'Road Authority'. Therefore, farmers have to rely on themselves to solve the problems. Here again, an equilibrium has to be reached.

The study clearly shows where and why road construction induces gully-erosion. A number of practical and simple measures is proposed to prevent gully-erosion in the future. It is important to minimise the interception, concentration and deviation of the water and to use methods to spread the water concentrated by the road, by improving the infiltration in the soil rather than leading the water directly on the unprotected lower slopes.

report by Prof. Dr. Morgan De Dapper, Department of geography, Research unit 'Physical geography, geomorphology & geo-archeology of Mediterranean and tropical areas', Universiteit Gent, Belgium