ADDIS ABABA - Lake Tana is immense. From a shoreline too distant to see, waves move across the lake, bringing warm, humid air to the city of Bahir Dar in northwest Ethiopia. Further inland, farming communities irrigate their crops — wheat, corn, potatoes, onions — drawing from a reservoir fast-filling with silt. Up in the highlands, the earth is scarred with deep cracks, and household wells run dry.

The Tana watershed in northwestern Ethiopia, a region home to the Blue Nile River, was historically known for its water abundance. But today, things look different outside the coastal city of Bahir Dar. Reservoirs are filling with silt. Wheat, corn and potato farmers struggle with increasingly erratic rainfall. Wells are running dry.

Yezina Alemneh is one of many local residents who needs to walk long distances to wait in line for well water. “I have finished my studies, so I can wait in line to get water,” she said. “But the students… they can’t reach school on time.”

While some causes of the region’s water woes are locally driven — a growing population, an expanding economy, insufficient investment in wells and sewage systems — many are increasingly fueled by climate change, nature degradation and international trade. The story of the Tana watershed lays bare one of the fundamental inequities in water management: While water problems are felt most acutely at the local level, their drivers are increasingly global.

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