Tobias Schmitz:Perhaps you can explain your role within the WASH Road Map and the Call to Action for our readers?
Jean Lapegue: Action contre la Faim (ACF) is co-leading - alongside with the French Water Partnership - the advocacy initiative known as the 'WASH Road Map '(WRM). This initiative will take advantage of the UN 2023 Water Conference to launch a Call to Action by members state to act on the chronic lack of capacity and resources of the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector to respond to the ever more frequent and complex humanitarian crisis. This issue has now been on the table for nearly ten years: it was first expressed by Doctors without Borders (MSF) in 2014 in a document entitled “Where is Everyone?”. In October 2017, based on the questions raised by MSF, the Interagency WASH Group, and the Global WASH Cluster invited nearly twenty key WASH agencies to reflect on the key challenges and opportunities for the sector, especially in relation to humanitarian settings. This effort was facilitated by URD, the Urgency Rehabilitation and Development group, in the form of a study, called “Global study on the capacity of the WASH sector to respond to emergencies”, which was officially presented to the humanitarian WASH sector Emergency Directors in June 2019. Through this process, the sector identified five key recommendations. The first was to refocus the WASH sector in survival and protection. The second was on the quality of the WASH response and the need to focus on the most inaccessible places (such as the East of Ukraine or the east and north of Burkina Faso nowadays). The third recommendation was to enforce robust protocols (such as the 2018 SPHERE Standards) in order to have an effective response. The fourth was the absolute necessity to have a timely and adequate financial support to WASH interventions. The last recommendation was about the connecting the humanitarian response and the broader development agendas, toward peace, known as the Triple Nexus.
Tobias Schmitz:When you talk about the protection of infrastructure, what does that mean? It could have several connotations in terms of conflict, climate change, etc. And when you talk about the protocols, what does that mean to someone who is not familiar with the sector?
Tobias Schmitz: What is the WASH Road Map ambition?
Jean Lapegue: The WASH Road Map consists of over 30 contributing humanitarian organisations representing the diversity of the sector: global platforms (such as Sanitation & Water for All), national platforms (e.g. the French Water Partnership), Red Cross movements (IFRC, ICRC); UN agencies (UNICEF, IOM, UNHCR), International NGOs such as Care International, training centres such as Bioforce and IHE Delft and research institutions such as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and finally development cooperation agencies such as SDC. The Road Map has an aspirational objective to, by 2025, have the capacity and the resources to deliver qualitative WASH responses at scale anywhere and anytime. This is obviously aspirational because it does not only depend on the sector itself, but also on external partners and especially on donors.
This vision was developed in 2020, and we are currently in the midterm review of our strategy. We strive to deliver high quality and accountable responses which are rooted in preparedness and resilience. There is also an ambition to extend beyond strictly humanitarian responses and to include more long-term work on the sustainable development goals. Currently, the Humanitarian WASH sector acknowledges that its responses fail to meet the humanitarian needs for reasons including a lack of capacity, sometimes the absence of national preparedness plans, and definitely a chronic lack of funding.
Tobias Schmitz:You mentioned earlier that the WASH sector is not delivering fast enough. You also mention both capacity and preparedness as areas which would need strengthening. Could you speak a bit to these issues?
Jean Lapegue: At the current rate of progress, by 2030, the world will only reach 81% of water coverage, 67% of sanitation coverage and 78% of basic hygiene infrastructures (handwashing) coverage. On water, sanitation and hygiene, the sector needs to move four time faster than today if we want to achieve our Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets 6.1 & 6.2 commitments. This is even more critical in fragile contexts, where progress needs to be accelerated by a factor of twenty three on water access, by nine on sanitation and by five on handwashing facilities.
The progress on SDG6 also reflects many other inequities, for example in rural areas, or even at regional level (70% of people in sub-Saharan Africa lack safe drinking water). The analysis of the sector’s weaknesses is contained in the WASH Road Map strategy and can be grouped in four blocks. The first is about information and knowledge management: the crises are ever more complex and the fields of interventions are broader. This is due to the overlapping of different crises such as conflict, climate change, Covid 19, etc. We need to respond to this by developing sources where we can find key information for decision making (this is also why we have research organisations as part of the WRM). The second is about capacity development and the professionalisation of the sector. Here, because the context is getting more complex, the range of skills needed is getting broader including environmental health, climate, etc. Currently there is a strong emphasis on localisation, and this requires capacity building of our local partners too. The third challenge is about coordination and partnerships: there is a strong need to integrate with other sectors (especially public health) as well as to merge humanitarian response with the longer vision of development agendas. In terms of coordination, there is still a need to support the national and sub-national levels. The last point is about the funding and advocacy for WASH.
Tobias Schmitz:if we look forward to the UN Water Conference 2023, with this detailed background, what is it that you would like to emphasise in the run up to the conference and what are realistic objectives that the sector can set itself?
Jean Lapegue: This event is unique by itself: it is the first UN Conference on water in 46 years, so the governments are nearly not speaking to each other on Water and Sanitation under a UN umbrella, which may seem delirious in view of the challenges that we have currently (COVID, climate change, transboundary issues and conflicts). The conference is not expected to have major political outcomes, although it is anticipating a review of the progress on SDG 6 and it is a way to highlight issues which are lagging behind in the sector. The Humanitarian WASH Road Map sees it however has an opportunity to challenge governments on the critical issues of the WASH sector presented above, by calling them to action on the five points summarized below:
Focus efforts towards those living in Fragile, Conflicts and Violence (FCV) settings. They are the most impacted by the multiple burdens of conflict, climate change, poverty, and hunger. A special focus should be on countries with no progress on the achievement of SDG6. It is only by including the most vulnerable that we can hope to reach the SDGs.
Further support humanitarian WASH response and coordination to deliver predictable, effective (timely) and sufficient survival WASH responses and safeguard the lives and health of those living in FCV areas.
Build/rebuild sustainable and resilient WASH services that can withstand crises. Building back better and adapting existing systems, from infrastructures to communities, should be systematic especially in countries most exposed to multiple risks (climate crises, conflicts, natural disasters).
Actively promote the effective implementation of International Humanitarian Law obligations relevant to the protection of WASH personnel and UN Security Council Resolution 2573 (2021), including by promoting the identification and exchange of good practices in the protection of WASH infrastructure during armed conflict, supporting data collection on attacks impacting WASH infrastructure, and facilitating access to the equipment, spare parts and consumables required to restore and maintain WASH services.
Support the request to the UN General Secretary to nominate as soon as possible a UN Special Envoy for Water to establish a recurrent intergovernmental, UN-hosted, mechanism to discuss global water issues and to ensure the achievement of SDG 6 and all water-related SDGs.
UN Security Council encourages all efforts to protect objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and civilian infrastructure that is critical to enable the delivery of essential services in armed conflict, upon request, to meet the basic needs of the civilian population, including by:
(a) Protection of civilians operating, maintaining or repairing these objects, as well as their movement for the purpose of maintaining, repairing or operating such objects; and
(b) Allowing and facilitating safe passage of equipment, transport and supplies necessary for the reparation, maintenance or operation of such objects.
Water is a vital resource for human survival, and it is essential for economic development. As a country that is largely below sea level, the Netherlands understands the importance of water management and innovative solutions for flood protection and water supply.
This is however a rather abstract statement, while dealing with water in the Netherlands (and the world) was, and is,also a story of real people. Let me briefly share such a story.
Two days from now, it is exactly 70 years ago that the Delta of the Netherlands was hit by a devastating flood. On that cold winter’s day,a north-western storm surge breached many dykes and swept away everything. 1800 lives were lost, including that of my great grand parents, who lived in one of the hardest hit places.
The individual losses formed the bigger story of the 1953 floods. A story that led to a worldwide humanitarian response and the realization at policy level that investments on water management needed to be ramped up. This led to the Delta Plan and huge investments in water infrastructure for decades to come. The Delta Plan has kept us safe ever since.
The Netherlands is a world leader in managing water, in developing and sharing knowledge through institutes such as the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, and in convening stakeholders to debate and plan collective action to solve collective water challenges. The UN 2023 Water conference, which is hosted jointly by the Netherlands and Tajikistan, is an important moment and the first time on 46 years that water has been discussed at member state level since the Marl Del Plata conference in 1977.
Currently, stories in Kenya and the wider region revolve around water scarcity. The long drought has hit hard. Lives and livelihoods are lost. The Netherlands supports Kenya in strengthening the management of this scarce resource by applying a broad river basin or landscape approach. Well managed landscapes contribute to resilience, food security, more sustainable livelihoods and stability. Managing water-related risks is a major challenge in Africa, as in Kenya water resources are often scarce and there is high vulnerability to climate change. In addition, the water resources subsector is underfunded, the institutional framework is not complete yet and capacity needs to be strengthened.
In addition to water scarcity, it is important to address the increasing frequency and severity of floods and droughts, which has a major impact on agriculture, health, and economic development in the region. This requires a holistic approach, with different measures such as early warning systems, disaster risk reduction measures and development of resilience infrastructure.
There is also a great need to increase access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in the region for better human well-being. Essential steps still need to be taken to achieve universal access to these basic services. Financing of the SDGs also needs to be improved. Innovative solutions are needed to cover the existing financing gap. This is also a key priority of the Netherlands. As we look forward to the UN 2023 Water conference, co-hosted by the Netherlands, it is clear that water is a critical enabler for a broad range of Sustainable development Goals.
However, although water professionals may be convinced of the fundamental role of water as a driver of change, this does not mean other stakeholders in society are aware of this. This makes water a ‘whole of government’and ‘all of society’ responsibility, and not just thebusiness of the water minister. The importance of this is not always well understood by the public. Intensive regional capacity building workshops designed to train journalists on water issues, such as that developed by The Water Diplomat, can support the increase in public understanding of the central role of water in our world..
Just as journalists have brought climate change from the back pages to the front pages of news over the past 15 years, a concerted effort of awareness raising is needed to transmit the key narrative on the fundamental role of water in life itself, in all our economic activities and in the achievement of all our social goals.
The media is a key vehicle in achieving this aim, acting as a knowledge broker to communicate the complexities of water policy, water management, and water institutions to a broader audience. Through SIWI, the Stockholm International Water Institute, we supported several years ago a series of workshops for journalists from Nile countries, who cover developments around the shared waters and shared benefits from the Nile. One of the unexpected outcomes of those workshops was that the journalists continued to interact in a network, exchanging and verifying information among them. Benefiting the quality of their reporting. I hope such dynamics may develop in this group as well.
It is great that Africa 21 and The Water Diplomat are organizing this workshop to empower journalists and youth to be key players in this effort, raising awareness of the importance of water and helping to secure a sustainable future for all. I am confident that the present workshop will provide valuable insights and skills for all participants. We are looking forward to seeing your work on water back in the media, and I wish you eniovable and fruitful conversations during this event
Available data indicate significant benefits in integrating climate change coordination with good practices established for water management. Integrating water into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)agreed under the Paris Agreement is a practical and urgently needed tool to achieve this.
Water plays a crucial role in climate change and drought in Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance because climate change affects the water cycle by altering precipitation patterns and increasing evaporation, leading to more frequent and intense droughts. Drought, in turn, exacerbates the effects of climate change by reducing water availability for agriculture and increasing water scarcity, leading to food insecurity. The over-extraction of water from underground aquifers and rivers for drinking and irrigation contributes to water scarcity, exacerbating impacts of drought.
Furthermore, climate change and drought also increase the frequency and severity of water-borne diseases, affecting the health and well-being of populations. Therefore, managing water wisely and reducing the impacts of climate change is critical to mitigate the impacts of drought in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Representing the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation, Simon Thuo, speaking to journalists during a workshop on water issues for East African journalists organised by The Water Diplomat and Africa21 in Nairobi recently, said NDCs include measures to increase the resilience of communities to the impacts of climate change and drought, such as improving access to clean drinking water and water-saving technologies.
Many NDCs from countries in the Greater Horn of Africa region include specific measures to improve water management and reduce the impacts of climate change on water resources. Citing some examples he said;
“Ethiopia's NDC includes a focus on increasing water storage capacity through the construction of dams and increasing efficiency of irrigation systems to reduce water loss while Sudan's target is to increase the use of renewable energy in the water sector and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the sector by 20%. Kenya's NDC on the other hand includes a target to provide access to safe and clean water to at least half of its population by 2030.”
Unarguably, implementation of these NDCs can help to reduce the impacts of climate change and drought on water resources and improve the resilience of communities to these impacts but they are marred by lack of funding, limited technical capacity, political instability and lack or poor coordination of NDCs programmes, Thuo emphasized.
Thuo’s presentation further elaborates that these initiatives have helped to increase water availability for agriculture in the Horn of Africa, resulting to improved resilience of communities to the impacts of climate change notably, long periods of drought.
These success stories demonstrate the potential for NDCs in improving water management and reducing the impacts of climate change. They highlight need for sustained efforts and investment to ensure implementation is successful and results in meaningful outcomes, he added.
International Water Law and Transboundary Water Cooperation
The revised requirements for the quality of and access to drinking water across the European Union entered into force on the 12th of January. The EU Drinking Water Directive provides an update on the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) from 2000 which set the minimum requirements for freshwater quality and quantity across the EU. The changes in the legislation are a response to the first ever citizen’s initiative submitted in 2013, which gathered more than 1.6 million signatures in support of a review of EU legislation on the context of the recognition of the human right to water. The Commission launched a public consultation and came to the conclusion that the WFD needed to be reviewed in four key areas.
Firstly, the list of substances to be monitored needed to be updated to include additional pathogens and chemical substances in the water. The WHO recommended adding enteric pathogens and legionella as well as six new chemical parameters to the list of controlled pollutants. In addition, a ‘watch list’ mechanism was introduced to respond to concerns about the effects of emerging compounds such as endocrine disruptors, pharmaceuticals and microplastics.
A second area for review was to extend the risk analysis beyond monitoring to include a risk reduction approach to the management of the whole water value chain from the catchment area through to abstraction, treatment, storage and distribution to the point of compliance. This approach is preventative in nature both from the point of view of quantity (abstractions) and quality (reducing pollution risks).
Thirdly, improvements in communication and public provision of information on water have been introduced in the updated directive. This includes providing consumers with up to date and easily accessible information on their water consumption patterns, as well as the results of water quality monitoring, all of which is intended to increase consumer confidence in the water supplied to them.
Fourth, there was a need for harmonisation of the rules with regard to the products that come into contact with water – such as pipes, treatment chemicals and filter media. The European Chemicals Agency is now entrusted with the evaluation of substances and compositions for materials that come into contact with water intended for human consumption.
The proposal to renew the EU Water Directive was accepted by legislators in 2020 and entered into force in January 2021. However, the requirement was that EU member states should transpose the requirements into national law such that countries comply with its provisions by January 2023.
The Regional Workshop on Monitoring, Assessment and Information Sharing in Transboundary Basins in Central Asiawas held in Astana, Kazakhstan on the 1st and 2nd of February 2023. Organised by the International Water Assessment Centre jointly with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the workshop aimed to promote exchange between participants from different countries in the region on the topic of monitoring, assessment and data exchange. The workshop also aimed to support further cooperation between the countries in the protection and beneficial use of water resources.
The workshop was attended by experts from five Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - who represent national government or river basin organisations, scientific institutions, or international organisations.
It was noted at the workshop that effective joint water management of water resources underlies sustainable development in Central Asia. In the context increased water scarcity, the impacts of climate change, and growing anthropogenic pressure on water resources, a coordinated approach to the monitoring and exchange of data on the status of water resources is seen as being essential.
Existing problems in the region include a heritage of insufficient attention to environmental safety and lack of institutional capacity, which have led to the degradation of ecosystems and the pollution of water bodies. As a result, water quality has declined, and measures are needed to ensure joint management and protection of water resources, including a system for the monitoring, assessment and sharing of information, based on international experiences.
With the awarding of major contracts, Lesotho and South Africa are satisfied that phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) is now underway. The LHWP is a multi-phase international project between Lesotho and South Africa established through a treaty signed by the two countries in 1986. Phase I involved the construction of a 185-metre-high dam and augmenting South Africa’s freshwater supply by transferring water from the Maluti mountains into the Vaal River system through a 48 km long tunnel and a tail pond. Already augmented by water supply from from Mohale dam, completed in 2002, contracts have now been awarded for the construction of the Polahali Dam and the Polahali Transfer Tunnel, which suignal the commencement of phase II of the project.
The Polahali dam is to be constructed at the confluence of the Senqu and Khubelu rivers. The dam is designed as an additional supply dam which will augment the supply of the existing Katse dam, also in Lesotho and part of the LHWP phase I. Through the Kaste dam , which has enabled the transfer of almost 18 billion cubic metres of water to South Africa since 2004. Through phase II of the LHWP, the annual supply capacity will increase from the current 780 million mᶟ to 1.2 billion mᶟ. A 38 km transfer tunnel will enable water transfer through gravity flow to Katse Dam. Additionally, phase II will enable the addition of 80 MW of electrical power to the existing 72 MW produced at the Muela hydropower plant.
Additionally, a Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Scheme is envisaged by the Orange-Senqu River Commission (ORASECOM) on behalf of The Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Lesotho, The Republic of Namibia and the Republic of South Africa for Lesotho’s lowlands. This would involve the construction of a dam on the Makhaleng River and a 712 km bulk water conveyance system.
The government of Japan has announced its intention to release wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean within the next six months. In April 2021, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had already announced the proposed release of 1,23 million mᶟ of water into the Pacific Ocean. On the 13th of January this year, the Japanese government announced its intention to start releasing the water into the ocean during the first half of the current year. The government stated that regulators had deemed it safe to release the water, a process which will be independently verified by the International Atomic Agency (IAEA). A separate IAEA task force, which was established to review the safety of the treated water stored at the Fukushima plant, released its third report on its monitoring process in December 2022. The details of the planned release are yet to be clarified, but it is believed that the water will be pre-treated prior to release through an advanced liquid processing system which captures 62 different kinds of radionuclides but will still contain tritium.
Although the plans to release the water have been in existence for almost two years, the decision has met with significant opposition from fisheries cooperatives in Japan as well as from China and South Korea. On the 13th of January, China Daily reported that the dumping of nuclear wastewater is a violation both of the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter – one of the first global conventions to protect the Marine environment - and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as the discharge would not take place in inland waters.
The accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant took place in 2011 following a tsunami triggered by an earthquake. Radioactive material was released into the atmosphere and into the water: primarily the water that was used to cool the facility, and the groundwater that penetrated the reactor. The wastewater is currently being stored in a series of tanks which are close to their full storage capacity of 1.37 million mᶟ and which are expected to be full of contaminant by mid-2023
Water in Armed Conflict and other situations of violence
The politics of water in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin has been marked by different periods of cooperation, confrontation, and compromise between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq since the early 1920s. For decades, factors such as, inter alia, global geopolitical contexts (e.g., the Cold War), regional conflicts (e.g., the Syrian Civil War), national developmental aspirations (e.g., rapid agro-industrialisation), and water policies (e.g., hydraulic mission) have shaped the nature and direction of transboundary water relations in the basin.
Indeed, monitoring the average monthly and annual flow data of the Euphrates and the Tigris at major points, including at shared borders, has been an integral part of each riparian country’s water policy. Despite this, they have often released data in a restricted or selective manner, disseminating contradictory figures that only partially reflect the hydrological processes taking place in the basin.
There is still no consensus, for instance, on the annual average flow of the Euphrates and the Tigris issuing downstream from the Turkish border. For different periods of time, estimates for the Euphrates have ranged from 28.1 billion cubic meters (BCM) to 30.5 BCM, 31.4 BCM, 31.43 BCM, 31.8 BCM, and 32 BCM. Estimates for the Tigris, on the other hand, have varied from 16.8 BCM to 18.87 BCM, 21.3 BCM, 22.1 BCM, and 24 BCM. Nevertheless, ample studies indicate a general trend of declining water supply of both rivers due primarily to the effects of climate change, major hydraulic infrastructure projects developed in the basin, and both.
Differences between the estimated flows, as well as further changes in the flows, carry contentious consequences for basin politics. In domestic politics, the figures determine how riparian countries utilise water for irrigation, energy generation, and industrial and domestic use. In international politics, the figures inform how the countries develop their foreign policy towards each other and international third-party actors. Therefore, the accuracy, comparability, and transparency of the flow data is of crucial importance for the development and advancement of cooperative relations on and through water.
Global Surface Water Data: Reflections
In our PeaceRep project on the implications of changing surface water patterns in the Euphrates-Tigris Basin for water governance in Iraq, we take a fresh approach to overcome the barriers concerning data availability, consistency, quality, and use when studying the basin. We primarily use the Global Surface Water Explorer, the open-source water dataset developed by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, to map the location and temporal distribution of water surfaces in the basin between 1984–2021. The tool displays natural and artificial water surfaces that are visible from space, and provides data on surface water occurrence, surface water seasonality, surface water recurrence, and so on.
We then crosscheck this data with official hydrological data released by the governments of Turkey and Iraq and with non-official data released by international institutions such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN Economics and Social Commission for Western Asia. We finally triangulate this data with primary data collected through interviews with Turkish and Iraqi governmental officials, non-governmental experts, academics, and journalists.
Using the Global Surface Water data with other quantitative and qualitative data sources has provided us with certain advantages that might also benefit researchers studying not just the Euphrates-Tigris Basin, but also other transboundary river basins around the world.
The Global Surface Water data has allowed us to better understand the hydrological context of key events in the history of transboundary water relations, and establish stronger linkages between the hydrology and hydro-politics of the basin. It has allowed us to interpret important milestones, such as the filling of the Atatürk Dam in the late 1980s, the beginning of irrigated farming on the Harran Plain in the mid-1990s, the control of water infrastructures by ISIS in the mid-2010s, and the opening of the Ilısu Dam in the late 2010s, from a new perspective.
The Global Surface Water data has provided us with the opportunity to delve deeper into the dynamic relationship between (natural and anthropogenic) hydrological changes in the basin and the trajectory of politico-diplomatic relations between the riparian countries. It has helped us bring more accurate explanations as to why some official bilateral and trilateral meetings on the rivers (e.g., the Joint Technical Committee meetings, High-level Strategic Cooperation Council meetings) and unofficial talks (e.g., informal expert meetings, Track II diplomatic efforts) have succeeded while others have failed.
The Global Surface Water data has also given us the chance to validate the power of hydraulic infrastructures in (re-)shaping nature and (re-)distributing power not just where they are initiated, but well beyond that. It has allowed us to revisit the basin wide political and ecological implications of huge ‘project bundles’ such as the South-eastern Anatolia Project (GAP) in Turkey, as well as individual dam projects such as the Mosul Dam in Iraq.
Overcoming the problem of contradictory, ambiguous, and missing data on the surface flows of the Euphrates and the Tigris can be an important breakthrough for the future of transboundary water relations in the basin. With its crucial contribution in this regard, the Global Surface Water data can validate or debunk the claims made by upstream and downstream countries about how much surface water is available in their territories, how much surface water flows through their borders, and how much water is stored behind their reservoirs. This, in turn, can create an environment conducive to transparent and good faith negotiations on issues concerning water- and benefit-sharing. The opposite can happen too. Therefore, as our preliminary findings also show, the release and circulation of open-source surface water data has a disruptive power, carrying the potential to change the status quo in transboundary settings. We expect that a more rigorous mapping of changing surface water flows to Iraq will allow us to more accurately examine the nature and extent of issues related to water governance across borders, regions, and sectors.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa is worsening after five consecutive below average rains. Combined with insecurity and economic volatility, WFP states, the impact of the drought on food security has been devastating.
WFP estimates that 22 million people across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are acutely food insecure because of drought. In its situation overview for the Horn of Africa, the International Office for Migration (IOM) estimates that more than 36 million people are affected by the drought, and that more than 2 million people have been forced to move.
Across these three most drought affected countries, the WFP is collaborating with some 130 partner organisations and has more than doubled its humanitarian assistance since mid-2021, delivering food relief to 8.8 million beneficiaries every month. Over 2023, the WFP is calling for USD 2.4 billion to help avert a major humanitarian crisis and continue to supply aid to the 8.8 million beneficiaries currently receiving support. Similarly, IOM continued to scale up its response in the region, reaching over 1.3 million people, with a particular emphasis on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and health services. IOM has reached almost 700 000 people with water services
Since 2016, only two of the 12 rainy seasons across the lowlands of Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya have been normal. According to the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO’s) State of the Climate in Africa 2021 report, the rate of temperature rise across Africa is approximately 0.3°C per decade from 1991-2021. This is faster than the global average. African rainfall is highly variable and influenced by factors such as El Niño, La Niña, and the Indian Ocean Dipole. During 2022, La Niña persisted for a third year, which, combined with the Indian Ocean Diploe, contributed to drier than normal conditions for East Africa.
Researchers at the India desk of the World Resources Institute have published a working paper on the effects of expanding built up areas on water bodies, plant cover and permeable open space. Urban areas all over the world are expanding, leading to the expansion of built-up areas at the expense of natural infrastructure that supports the functioning if the water cycle. Although it is widely recognised that current forms of urbanisation can aggravate water scarcity, lead to over-abstraction of groundwater and increase the risk of flooding, few studies have yet attempted to clearly identify pathways for improved sensitivity of urban planning to water issues. For the authors, using scientific evidence to accurately identify the correlations between urbanization, loss of natural infrastructure, and increasing climate shocks and stresses, creates options for the state and municipal authorities to strengthen urban planning and development in the future.
India in particular is a rapidly urbanising country, whose urban populatio9n is expected to double from 400 million people in 2018 to around 800 million in 2050. The researchers estimate that 70-80% of the infrastructure needed to support this change is yet to be built. The question, therefore, is what impact this will have on natural infrastructure. The study made use of open source, high resolution satellite imagery to estimate the changes in built up area across India’s 10 most populous cities between 2000 and 2015. The researchers also attempted to draw conclusions about changes in groundwater recharge potential.
The cities included in the study were Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, and Surat. The trade-offs between the expansion of built-up areas and paved surfaces on the one hand, and ‘blue cover’, ‘green cover’ and recharge zones on the other hand are brought into focus across two types of regions. The study looks both at effects on regions that are located between 0-20 km from the city centre and those on regions located between 20-50 km from the centre.
It was found that the area located at 20-50 km from the centre develops particularly rapidly: in the period between 2000 and 2015, there was an increase in built up area of 134% as compared to the zone located at 0-20 km from the centre, which expanded by 44%. About 44% of this new development is located in areas with high and very high recharge potential. An estimated 300 billion litres of water is now diverted away from aquifers. Therefore, urban planners need to be sensitised to the importance of natural infrastructure in order to maintain urban water security as well as the integrity of the water cycle
The global water cycle is changing due to the influence of global warming. This is a key conclusion of the Global Water Monitor Summary Report 2022. The report states that overall, over 2022, a so-called la Niña pattern persisted in the Pacific Ocean for the third year in a row. La Niña is a weather pattern that forms part of a cycle that lasts between two and seven years and lowers the temperature of surface ocean waters on the tropical west coast of Latin America.
During 2022, the persistent la Niña phenomenon resulted in above average rainfall in southeast Asia and Oceania and below average in the Americas. The northern and eastern Indian ocean were also warmer, leading to heatwaves and a wet monsoon in India and Pakistan. The Global Water Monitor summary report for 2022, released on the 7th of January, is a first ‘demonstration’ report on key elements of the global water cycle. The report is produced by a consortium of public and private research and development organisations which have a shared goal of providing global information on climate and water resources. It provides summary overviews of global and regional trends in precipitation, air temperature and humidity, soil water availability, river flows and water volumes in natural and artificial lakes.
Comparing these trends with the averages in the period 1995-2005, the authors noted that global air temperatures above land were 0.56°C above the 1995-2005 average, making 2022 the seventh warmest year on record since 1979. 27 countries experienced unusually high temperatures, especially in Europe, parts of the Pacific, the Middle East, Central Asia and China. Air humidity above land was lower than the 1995-2005 average for the twelfth year in a row, by 18%. Soil water content was 3% above the global average compared to the baseline period , and the number of times soil moisture records were broken was 58% above the 1998-2005 average.
The authors note that there appears to be a trend towards increasing global river flows: overall average river flows were 14% above the 2001-2005 average. There also appears to be a trend towards more record river flows from about 2010 onwards. The number of times record river flows were recorded was 20% above the 2001-2005 average. Water storage in freshwater lakes increased by 1.2% relative to the 1995-2005 average.
The report also analyses regional trends and noted a severe heatwave followed by massive flood in Pakistan, a severe heatwave followed by a strong monsoon in India, a very wet monsoon in south Asia, flooding followed by a heatwave and flash drought in China, the failure of both rainy seasons in Somalia, intense rainfall causing flash floods in South Africa, a very wet rainy season and widespread flooding in Nigeria, a summer heatwave and flash drought in Europe, a multi-year drought in the western USA, heavy rainfall, floods and landslides in Brazil, a multi-year drought in the Paraná-Paraguay River Basin, a wet year with widespread flooding in Australia, and water scarcity in Kiribati.
Satellite data have provided evidence that European groundwater is under pressure since the droughts of 2018, 2019 and 2022. In 2020, Eva Boergens and others, publishing in Geophysical Research Letters, quantified the water shortages in Central Europe caused by the droughts of 2018 and 2019. In 2018 and 2019, Central Europe experienced a deficit of 112 Gigatonnes and 145 Gigatonnes respectively (112 and 145 billion m³). these represented 73% and 94% of the natural annual variation in precipitation between summer and winter. These measurements are made possible by two satellites involved in the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission that has collected data since 2002. The authors state that ‘satellite gravimetry is the only remote sensing technique available today that provides quantitative estimates of water storage changes at regional to global scales’.
Since that time there has been no significant rise in groundwater levels. The Institute of Geodesy at the Technical University of Graz in Austria come to this conclusion after analysing more recent satellite data. In 2022, a prolonged drought led to low river levels across Europe, with temperatures above 40⁰C across southern Europe and shortfalls of rain across central and southern Portugal, Spain; southern France; central Italy, Switzerland, southern Germany; a wide area across Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and large areas in the western Balkans.
Groundwater supplies 65% of drinking water in the European Union and 25% of agricultural water supply across the 27 member states.
On the 23rd of January Xylem Inc., a water technology company, together with Evoqua Technologies Corporation, a company specialising in advanced water treatment technology, announced that they have entered into an agreement under which Xylem will acquire Evoqua in an all-stock, transaction with a value of US $ 7.5 billion. This development makes Xylem the world’s second largest water company in the world after Veolia: Xylem’s expected annual turnover is estimated at US $ 7 billion as compared to Veolia’s almost US $ 31 billion from last year following its acquisition of Suez Lyonnais.
The acquisition is seen as a response to the rise in the level of risks presented by global water problems, requiring a comprehensive range of technologies and innovative responses, adding Evoqua’s advanced water and wastewater treatment capacities and network of professionals to Xylem’s leadership on the world stage. In addition, although utilities tend not to attract a lot of attention from investors, there has been increased pressure inside the United States to provide solutions as the drought in the west of the country imposes cutbacks in water consumption. Washington-based company Xylem is seen as responding to this pressure by extending the range of options it has, amongst others in the field of wastewater treatment.
“Solving the world’s water challenges has never been more urgent. Our acquisition of Evoqua creates a transformative global platform to address water scarcity, affordability, and resilience at even greater scale,” said Patrick Decker, president and CEO of Xylem. “The combined company delivers an unparalleled portfolio of advanced technologies, integrated services and application expertise across the water cycle.”
Africa's population is projected to reach 1.6 billion by 2030, which translates into a need to transform and improve the investment outlook for water security and sustainable sanitation for a prosperous peaceful and equitable society.
Currently, the level of financing for water and sanitation activities on the continent is said to fall far below the level required to meet the targets of the Africa Water Vision 2025; the Africa Union (AU) agenda 2063; and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This was stated by Andrew Takawira, a Senior Technical Advisor at the Global Water Partnership- Africa Coordination Unit, when speaking to journalists attending a Nairobi Workshop on water issues for East African journalists organized by The Water Diplomat and Africa21.
Mr Takawira said the current situation calls for huge investments in water to satisfy the social and economic demands facing the continent. To accelerate implementation and focus attention on the water projects, he said, the Continental Africa Water Investment Programme (AIP) was adopted by the Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government as part of Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa Priority Action Plan 2 (PIDA-PAP 2) during the 34th ordinary session of the African Union summit on 7 February 2021.
"Consequently, The Zambia Water Investment Programme was launched by the President H.E. Hakainde Hichilema, on 16 July 2022, during the African Union 4th Mid-Year Coordination Meeting of Heads of State and Government in Lusaka, in partnership with the International High-Level Panel on Water Investments for Africa," he added.
He further noted that the government of Zanzibar has signed a bilateral agreement with the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany for EURO 660,000 as part of support to the Zanzibar Water Investment Programme.
However, AIP report highlights some challenges facing its implementation including the fact that the role of water is not adequately reflected in national investment decisions, inadequate mutual accountability for tracking progress in water investment mobilisation, and unreliable data on water investments, to mention just a few.
The AIP supports countries in all sub-regions of Africa with 38 approved as initial beneficiaries in the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa Priority Action Plan 2 (PIDA-PAP 2). Other countries will be added on a rolling basis to ensure every country benefits.
Currently, USD $10-19 billion is invested each year in Africa, while at least USD $30 billion/year is required to achieve water security by 2030. There is therefore a need to close the gap by intensifying advocacy and, above all, action, said H.E. Macky Sall, President of Senegal, while launching the International High Level Panel on Water Investments for Africa, in his capacity as Chair of the African Union (AU) during the 9th World Water Forum held in Dakar on 25 March 2022.
NYANDARUA COUNTY, KENYA – Situated just a few kilometers off Kenya’s Sasumua Dam is 58 years old Phillis Wanjiru a mother of four children who has defied all the odds to grow crops throughout the year in rather Kenya’s harsh dry conditions.
The resident of Njabini Township in Nyandarua County on the South End of the Aberdare Mountains, Wanjiru grows Passion Fruits, Cabbages, Strew Berries, Pumpkins, Pawpaws, Guavas and Yams among others.
She uses her home made irrigation means of tapping rainwater and transporting it to a pond, a rather unique idea in the area.
“This is family land. We grow food crops and Cash crops throughout the year with my husband through water harvesting and irrigation,” said Wanjiru.
This was during a visit to her home by a group of East African Science Journalists who were there to see how she has managed to continue with farming despite the harsh and long dry spells in Kenya’s Central Region part without rainfall.
Using the 2.5 acres family land, Wanjiru harvests water from their house during the rain season and through locally modified means, she transports it to a water pond that was dug with the use of polythene bags.
The polythene bags help to keep the water for longer periods of time by preventing evaporation and draining.
It’s from the pond that she collects water that helps her irrigate the 2.5 acres of land to grow the different crops and rare some animals like cattle and sheep.
“I no longer have water stress since I started using water harvesting methods and the borehole.
“In 1993, they stopped us from getting water from Sasumua Dam,” She said.
To supplement her rain harvested water, Wanjiru dug a bore hole that supplies her water for home consumption as well as irrigation for the green house, she set up nearby for seed breeding and germination.
She sells her crops to Nairobi City markets and to the neighborhood of Njabini Township.
The Science Journalists excursion was sponsorsed by Africa 21 and the Water Diplomat.
Since the 27th of December 2022, following three years of drought which triggered exceptional cutbacks on water allocations throughout the Colorado River basin, the state of California experienced a series of intense moisture laden storms known as ‘atmospheric rivers’. Depending on the location, rainfall across California has been between 200% and 600% above normal. The result has been catastrophic, with 19 lives lost, roads swept away, bridges damaged, homes flooded, and flood watches in place for some 8 million Californians. In total, at the time of writing, the U.S, geological survey had reported almost 600 landslides across the state since the 30th of December.
On the 14th of January President Biden declared a major disaster in California, ordering Federal funding to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the Counties of Merced, Sacramento and Santa Cruz. Federal funding is also available for hazard mitigation measures across the state.
Atmospheric rivers of this kind can under normal circumstances be expected in California once in 150 years on average, although climate change is increasing the likelihood of such events. In California, flood control reservoirs exist in the Sierra Nevada upstream: nearly all the rivers draining from the region, which accounts for 60% of California’s precipitation, have been impounded by dams. However a recent study led by Xingying Wang at University of California Santa Barbara’s School of Environmental Science & Managementindicates that under current climate scenario’s, average precipitation during atmospheric rivers will increase by around 25%, but a much larger proportion will fall as rain than as snow, increasing peak runoff.
The reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada cannot sufficiently reduce the effects of atmospheric rivers such as have recently been experienced, and therefore other catchment management measures need to be considered, such as the protection of the upper catchment areas and introducing disincentives for settlement and other forms of construction on the floodplain. The floodplain can be of use to encourage increased groundwater infiltration and storage. In addition, disaster risk reduction measures are indeed necessary, as are insurance systems that can cope with such sudden emergencies.
New Zealand’s largest city Auckland has declared a state of emergency after unprecedented rainfall led to widespread flooding, damage to infrastructure and evacuations. On Friday 27th January, Auckland received 75% of its summer rainfall in a period of 15 hours. By 1 a.m. the meteorological service had observed a record 249 mm of rain, breaking the previous record of 161 mm from 1985. Residents of the worst affected areas were given the order to evacuate, and fire services received thousands of calls for help. The New Zealand Defence Force was called in to assist with emergency operations, as well as to take the Prime Minister Chris Hipkins together with Minister for Emergency Management Kieran McAnulty to survey the damage from the air. A series of civil defence centres
An Elton John concert was cancelled at the last minute, and close to 2000 people were stranded in Auckland airport overnight after the airport was flooded and international flights were cancelled. a flooded airport. Minister Kieran McAnulty announced the sending of water tankers to the area to ensure a supply of water of sufficient quality and urged residents to cut down on water use in order to reduce wastewater levels.
Heavy rainfall is amongst the most frequent severe weather hazards experienced in New Zealand, which is defined as rainfall of more than 100 mm in 24 hours. These are in general caused by the remains of tropical cyclones and Tasman sea low pressure zones making landfall.