Surrounded by shimmering heat, like being inside a
Moroccan spa, in an arid part of Oromia Regional
State, lies the renowned Lake Beseka, with its
expanding territory, a story known for decades.
The scene of swimming, basking, and idle men along
the banks draws the eyes towards the Lake, with
birds also covering its shores. Located along the
transit corridor connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti in
Metehara Town, 200 kilometres East of Addis Abeba,
trucks line up along the Lake waiting to be washed
while drivers relax in small hotels within the
After driving from Djibouti for more than five
hours, Abdi Salim, 53, a petroleum tanker driver on
the route, stopped at Metehara for a rest before
progressing in his journey to Addis Abeba three
weeks ago. Like fellow drivers, he has witnessed the
growing expansion of the Lake over the years. When
the water overflows onto the highway, which divides
the Lake into two, he is forced to drive through it.
This time around, the water level of the Lake
totally covers the asphalt road and makes it
impassable. The flooding caused a delay of traders
and passengers and also drowned the Ethio-Djibouti
Railway Line. The urgency of the situation led the
local administration and the federal government to
take a swift measure. Graders and trucks moved up
and down on the shore of the Lake to construct a
detour in the shortest time possible.
The uncontrollable flooding of the Lake has been a
headache for the Town’s administration. Abdi and his
friends used to pay 50 Br for youngsters to clean
their tanker. Living in a semiarid area, youths in
Metehara walk long distances in search of water.
After the expansion of the Lake, the cost of car
washing was reduced to 30 Br.
“My truck is constantly kept clean since the washing
price along this Lake is affordable with its
expansion,” Abdi told Fortune.
The expansion of the Lake has also created a means
of income for youngsters like Degsew Kassaye. Degsew
makes an average income of 150 Br a day from
cleaning vehicles. Due to his cleaning job, he is
able to pay his rent, buy food, assist his family,
and save the remaining.
Due to the acidic nature of its water, Lake Beseka,
among the Rift Valley lakes of Ethiopia, cannot be
used for agricultural practises. The Lake bears
similar features to salt water lakes in neighbouring
Kenya, which, despite their nature, have turned out
to be major tourist attraction sites. Kenya has
included such lakes in its national park system,
built accommodation, and earns a foreign exchange
For instance, Nakuru National Park, located in
central Kenya, lies along Nakuru Lake, a saltwater
Lake with flamingos and other water birds. Known for
its sanctuary for endangered black rhinos, the
National Park charges a fee of 40 dollars to 80
dollars for foreign tourists. The park is the most
accessible park next to Nairobi National Park and
receives a high number of visitor numbers, around
100,000 a year, according to Kenyalogy, Kenya’s
safari guide website.
Like its Kenyan counterpart in Nakuru, Lake Beseka
is a renowned Lake in Ethiopia with its ecology of
birds and wildlife, as it is located a few
kilometres away from Awash National Park, but has no
decent accommodation for foreign tourists. The Lake
is neither identified as a tourist attraction site
by the local or regional tourism bureau.
Residents around Lake Beseka, like Hassan Omar, a
semi-pastoralist and farmer of sorghum and maize,
said that its only benefit to locals is its
provision of water for cleaning and bathing. Women
of the area take the Lake as a blessing because it
has saved them from walking long distances in search
of water for their consumption. But, for Hassan, who
has lived in the Metehara area for more than 35
years, the Lake’s only service is as a location for
refreshment after his tiresome ploughing.
Four years ago water covered the
Ethio - Djibouti highway only during seasonal
floods; now the overflow of Beseka forced the
federal government to construct a detour.
“Since the Lake supports no life, I prefer to cool
my mind by swimming, bathing, and basking with
friends,” said Omar carrying his swimming shorts
with a smile on his face.
Despite being a prime spot for residents for their
leisure time, Lake Beseka has slowed the economic
growth of Metehara Town, due to its unpredictable
expansion and flooding, according to Negese Negash,
mayor of Metehara Town. The flooding has destroyed
properties on 100ht of land allocated for
“Investors fear establishing businesses in Metehara
Town due to the expanding Lake, which has resulted
in the slow development of the Town,” the mayor told
Fortune. “Methara, which used to be a booming centre
along the highway, is losing her name.”
The flooding of the Lake has also affected
government institutions, like a wereda health centre
and Dandi Gudina Elementary School, run by the
Gudina Tumsa Foundation, which works in the area of
education and natural conservation. After the
flooding, the secondary school is closed and its
nine-hundred students have been forced to move to
one of the three elementary schools within in
The recurring overflow of the Lake has also affected
Metehara Sugar Factory, located near of the Lake.
Established in 1969 on 9,919 hectares, Metehara is
the biggest sugar factory in Ethiopia, according to
a report by the Ethiopian Investment Agency (EIA).
The factory has a current capacity to process
115,000tn of sugar annually, contributing 38pc of
the country’s annual production.
The factory reduced its production to 6,000tn of
sugar a day instead of its targeted 10,000tn after
its farmland for sugarcane decreased because of the
expansion of the Lake. The expansion also caused the
closing of existing roads and forced Metehara’s
trucks to take long routes to the factory. The poor
condition of the roads resulted in the falling of
sugarcane before reaching the factory, incurring a
The expansion of the Lake has an impact on the
future plan of the factory, too. Due to the high
demand for sugar for local consumption, the
Ethiopian Sugar Corporation had a plan to expand
sugar farms to boost production, but it is feared
that Metehara may not be in a position to increase
its production, due to the expansion of the Lake.
has had a history of expanding since the 1960s. The
Lake used to occupy three to five square kilometres
five decades ago, but it alarmingly increased to
40sqkm in 1998. Currently, the Lake occupies to
Three hypotheses have been forwarded to explain the
sudden expansion of Lake Beseka, according to a
dissertation titled Growing Lake with Growing
Problems by Eleni Ayalew.
The expansion is related to the climate of the
region, which could lead to an increase in water
inflow to Lake Beseka or reduce water outflow from
the Lake, the first theory claims. The second one
raises the possible effect of excess water from
irrigation practices at the southern edge of the
Lake. Changes in the hydro-geological regime of the
area might modify the amount of groundwater that
flows to the region and then to Lake Beseka, the
last hypothesis indicates.
Beyond finding the root cause of the expansion,
local residents, who are mainly pastoralists, remain
threatened by the recent developments of the Lake.
The flooding and expansion of the Lake has reduced
the grazing land for cattle, according to Tesfaye
Tadesse, director of ground water from the Ministry
of Water & Energy (MoWE).
The floods have also left eight families homeless
after their houses were swept away, leaving fear
among residents of the area. Among the flood victims
was Zinash Mekuria, a widow and mother of three who
has been living along the Lake, but whose house and
property were swept by floods.
Zinash, who make a living out of selling coffee in
the centre of Metehara Town, used to live on one of
the islands that used to exist along the Lake but
was forced to evacuate after her house flooded. She
later constructed another house a few kilometres
away from the Lake with the support of well-wishers.
“My house used to be at that centre where those
young boys are swimming,” Zinash said while pointing
a finger at the Lake.
To find a solution for this recurring problem, the
MoWE has, so far, spent 35 million to dig drain
channels, discharging water into the Awash River,
according to Tesfaye. This includes upgrading the
existing channel that has capacity of discharging
two cubic metres a second and building a new channel
of capable of releasing 2.26 cubic metres a second.
The 10.5km-long channels built to regulate the flow
of the water in order to save Awash River from the
high salt content of the Lake.
The discharged water from the Lake has been
regulated to be less than two per cent of the total
volume of the Awash River, freshwater which is being
used to irrigate the sugar plantations and other
farms downstream. The decision was reached after a
study conducted by the MoWE.
“The Water drained into the River Awash is not
harmful for consumption or irrigation,” Tesfaye told
Though, the MoWE is working closely with the local
administration and the Awash Basin Authority, which
took care of the monitoring systems of the Lake,
Tesfaye claimed that the rate of expansion of the
Lake is increasing and resulting in the pollution of
ground water due to its high fluoride content.
Such water can serve as fresh water if it passes
through a treatment plant, some have suggested. But,
for Tesfaye such a solution is farfetched, due to
its high cost. Treatment of a cubic metre of water
costs approximately one dollar, he claimed.
Though, the MoWE has been unable to establish a
plant, it is trying to train sugarcane farmers with
improved farming systems by avoiding surface
irrigation that involved channels. Instead of
channels, which contribute to a loss of water, the
Ministry has introduced drip and sprinkle irrigation
systems that use pipes.
Beyond providing such temporary solutions, finding a
silver bullet to solve the root problem seems
“It is hard to create a lasting solution for the
Lake, since the expansion involves global climate
change issue,” Tesfaye said.