Guinea has announced its intention to rejoin the Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Senegal (OMVS) in October, reversing a decision taken by the government to withdraw from the OMVS in July. On the 18th of Jully the government of Guinea had announced that it would suspend its participation in the river basin organization, noting with c
oncern that its strategic interests had not been sufficiently taken into account. More specifically, Guineans decried the delays in implementing the Koukoutoumba hydroelectric dam. This project is a proposed 294 MW hydroelectric dam to be built across the Bafing River, a tributary of the Senegal River which was originally to be financed by the China Exim Bank. An assessment asessment out by the Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment found that the proposed dam, which was to be constructed in the Moyen-Bafing National Park in Guinea, could be expected to cause involuntary resettlement of thousands of people and impact important biodiversity areas, including chimpanzee habitats in and around the Moyen Bafing National Park.
On the 19th of October, during an extraordinary session of the Conference of Heads of State of the OMVS which had been called specifically to discuss the situation, the Conference decided to appoint the candidate proposed by the Republic of Guinea to the position of Deputy High Commissioner of the OMVS. The Conference also shared the need with the Council of Ministers responsible to oversee the joint management of the OMVS, to expedite Guinea’s participation in the other institutions of the river basin organization.
The OMVS is well known internationally as an example of successful water diplomacy and cooperation between countries on the joint management of the shared waters of the river basin. Amongst other things, this track record led to Senegal, where the OMVS has its headquarters, being chosen as the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to host a World Water Forum, i.e. the 9th World Water Forum, dedicated to "Water Security for Peace and Development".
Farmers in Chihuahua State in Mexico have approached the government to reserve water for irrigation rather than releasing it in order to comply with a treaty obligation to share water with the United States. In 2020, protestors occupied the site of the La Boquilla Dam to protest an impending release of some 36 million m³ of water from the reservoir. Technical reports of accumulated water deliveries from Mexico over the past five years showed a shortfall which, under the terms of the Treaty, was to be met by the 24th of October. Mexico has reportedly relied on waters downstream of the dam to meet its treaty obligations rather than making us of reservoir water.
The Treaty, which dates from 1944, sets out the principles for the allocation of the waters of the Rio Grande between Mexico and the United States and establishes an International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to apply the terms of the Treaty and settle differences between the countries that arise as river conditions fluctuate. The amount of water reaching the flow of the main channel of the river that is to be released to the United States by Mexico at least once every five years is well defined. However, in terms of article four of the Treaty, in the event of extraordinary drought or serious accident to the hydraulic works on the Mexican tributaries of the river, preventing Mexico from adhering to the terms of the agreement, Mexico reserves the right to make up this deficit in the course of the following five-year cycle.
World Food Day, observed annually on the 16th of October, is dedicated to raising awareness on global hunger and to stimulating collective action around food production and food security. Water was central to the theme for 2023, which was:” Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind.”. In its publication in honour of World Food Day, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations focused on one key aspect of water, i.e. SDG 6.4: By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.’ This is the specific target within SDG 6 for which FAO is the custodian agency within UN Water.
The publication highlights the fact that 2,4 billion people currently live in countries which experience water stress, and 10% of the world’s population lives in countries with high or critical water stress. Agriculture plays a central role on global water use, accounting for 72% of global water withdrawals. This means, the report argues, that changing the ways we produce our food, fibre, and other agricultural products has the biggest potential for impact on water stress. It is also the area where failure to act will manifest itself most clearly. Without action to increase water use efficiency, our water withdrawals are on course to increase by a third by 2050. And already, because of population growth and economic growth, global per capita water availability has declined by 20% over the past two decades.
In order to respond effectively, the report argues, partnerships are essential, whereby governments need to collaborate with researchers, businesses and civil society organisations on solutions that guarantee water security for future generations. This requires evidence-based decision making, primarily focused around the topic of producing more food with less water, i.e. ‘more crop per drop’. In addition, however, it also involves preventing the degradation of water bodies and water quality and restoring damaged land and water ecosystems. Similarly, limiting global warming is an important part of the solution.
FAO’s work in this area is multidimensional. For instance, FAO maintains Aquastat, which is the organisation’s global water information system and - according to FAO – the most quoted source on water statistics. Also, the WaPOR portal is a site dedicated to the monitoring of the productivity of water in agriculture: an essential tool to help improve water use efficiency. In the sphere of water governance, which FAO also deems essential to improved water management, an extensive study of water tenure systems is currently underway to better understand systems of how water security is regulated both formally and informally. This follows on the heels of a similar study conducted by FAO on land tenure which resulted in the much cited voluntary guidelines on land tenure. FAO also hosts the rather long winded Global Framework for Action to Cope with Water Scarcity in Agriculture in the Context of Climate Change, abbreviated as WASAG, to build partnerships around improving water use in agriculture.
Water in Armed Conflict and other situations of violence
Through a report shared with the Global Observatory on Water and Peace, The Water Diplomat has been made aware of the daily struggle for water that the citizens of Gaza experience Ahmad used to be based in the north of Gaza but had to move south due to bombardments which led to the halting of water supplies in his neighborhood. It was assumed by his family that moving to the south would mean increased safety, but this has not been the case. In the beginning, obtaining water for his family in the south was relatively easy. However, after the displacement of 1.1 million people from the north, obtaining water has become more and more difficult. The supplies which existed in the south were already insufficient before the region had to cope with the influx of internally displaced populations. Long queues have formed close to sources such as water tanks which have been supplied by UN agencies, the Red Cross, and non-governmental organisations. Ahmad spends hours out on the streets to obtain water for his family, and he takes turns with his brother to fetch water to share the security risk of being out on the streets where he could be exposed to attack.
On the 12th of October, the Israeli Minister of Energy, Israel Katz, made the weaponization of electricity, water and fuel official government policy, announcing that neither electricity, water nor fuel would be supplied to the Gaza strip until the hostages taken by Hamas were returned. In addition, the Israeli government stated that there would be no humanitarian breaks to its siege of Gaza until the freeing of the hostages was realized.
Before the outbreak of violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank in early October, an average Israeli could look forward to accessing between 240 and 300 litres of water per day while an average inhabitant of the Gaza strip could look forward to 83 litres per day. After the 11th of October, the average quantity of water available daily in Gaza dropped to 7 litres per person.
On the 17th of October the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) had reported that water supplies were running critically low in Gaza and had dropped to 3 litres per person per day. Although the Israeli authorities restored the flow of one supply line providing some 600 m³ of water per hour to Khan Younis, this supplies only 14% of the population of the region. Furthermore, UNRWA reported that fuel supplies used to pump water (requiring 600 m³ of fuel per day) also dropped to critically low levels following the blockade of essential services. On the 16th of October, Gaza's last functioning seawater desalination plant ceased to function.
On 6 November, Reliefweb announced that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA together with UNICEF distributed restricted quantities of fuel which had been stored in Gaza before the hostilities to restore the functioning of 120 municipal water wells across the Gaza Strip, including in northern regions. This groundwater is brackish and not healthy for personal consumption. In northern Gaza, the two main sources of drinking water - a desalination plant and a water connection from Israel - have been shut down for several weeks. In the south, one of the two desalination plants is operational, alongside two pipelines supplying water from Israel.
In terms of international humanitarian law, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is an ongoing armed conflict and thus governed by the principles of humanitarian law. A key principle of this body of law is that the parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between combatants and civilians. Civilians may not be the target of attack, and nor is hostage taking permitted.
An Israeli airstike in early November directly targeted a public water tank that supplies several neighbourhoods east of Rafah. Also, a larger reservoir in Maghazi which supplies 60% of the water needs of the Jabaliya was dstroyed. In terms of Principle 6 of the Geneva Principles, water infrastructure and water-related infrastructure are presumed to be civilian objects and, in such case, must not be attacked.
The Gaza strip has limited water resources available for development. Its main water sources consist of only one source of surface water – the Wadi Gaza - and one groundwater source, i.e., the Gaza Coastal Aquifer. The main source of water in Gaza is the Gaza Coastal Aquifer which provides the water for a population of 2.3 million people. The safe yield of this shallow aquifer is estimated to be 50 million m³/ annum, but groundwater extraction is taking place at about 194 m³. As a result of the over pumping of the aquifer, there is currently saltwater intrusion from the coast. Some 96% of the household water from the aquifer is not potable as a result of the salt content. According to American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), only 3.8% of the Palestinian Water Authority’s 288 authorized wells tested within WHO health standards due to salinity, sewage, and chemical runoff into the aquifer.
Although Gaza used to have natural surface water, both the quantity and the quality of the water have diminished over time. Wadi Gaza rises in the Negev hills in southern Israel and extends for some 100 km northwards and used to flow through Gaza, feeding coastal wetlands in Gaza before flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. However, upstream diversions of the water source by Israel in the 1970’s decreased the flow of the Wadi, and inside Gaza the valley underwent significant urbanization without adequate infrastructure for the treatment of sewage. Therefore, over time the Wadi was subjected to accumulation of solid waste and increasingly the release of untreated wastewater and sewage. Between 70% and 80% of the wastewater of Gaza is released into the environment without treatment.
On October 20th, the Water Integrity Network initiated a petition to the United Nations through change.org to stop the weaponization of water in all forms of conflict. The ‘weaponisation’ of water is referred to by the authors Mihir and Emin as the use of water to gain leverage over an adversary : this can be achieved through the contamination of water, through flooding, through the restriction of access or through the destruction of water infrastructure.
The petition mentions that we have witnessed water being increasingly weaponised in conflict situations, including, most recently, in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the siege of Gaza by Israel. It notes however that these events are not the only situations in which water infrastructure, or the electricity infrastructure that is critical to the supply of water, has been deliberately attacked or abused by parties in a conflict. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and others have also seen attacks on water infrastructure.
“Water is a human right and should be protected at all costs, whether in situations of conflict or peace. To be without water is a brutal undermining of people’s rights to life, health and dignity,” says Barbara Schreiner, Executive Director of WIN.
The petition makes reference to international law, commencing with the human rights to water and sanitation which are derived from international human rights law and are based on the right to life and the right to health. It makes reference to principles of non-discrimination and the right to continuous access to water, stating “we believe that every individual, regardless of their location, religion, ethnicity, gender, or other difference, deserves access to clean and safe water at all times, in accordance with the human right to water. As signatories to this statement, we express our commitment to the principles of justice, equality, non-discrimination and respect for human rights”.
The petition then turns to the Geneva Convention, pointing out that destruction of infrastructure or stopping of water supplies results in significant harm and is a form of collective punishment, illegal under the Geneva Convention. As the petition mentions, international law, including the Geneva Convention, stipulates the obligations of all parties involved in conflicts to ensure the well-being of civilians and protect their access to basic needs, including water. However, although civilian infrastructure is protected in the sense that attacks on objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population are prohibited under international humanitarian law, there is no specific reference to the protection of water infrastructure.
This is where the importance of the Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure lies: it is the first systematic summary of the main rules applicable to the protection of water infrastructure during armed conflicts. Principle 6 makes it clear that infrastructure related to water is assumed to be a civilian object and as such cannot be attacked or damaged unless it is being used for military purposes. While all UN member states are signatories to the Geneva Convention, a much smaller number of states are signatories to the ‘The Geneva List of Principles on the Protection of Water Infrastructure’.
The petition calls on the United Nations to develop a process for economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation to be imposed on any country that uses water as a weapon of war and the establishment of an international body to monitor and investigate cases of water weaponisation.
You can sign the petition here, either as an individual or as an organization.
In an article published in late September in Earth’s Future, researchers Peter Gleick, Viktor Vyshnevskyi and Serhii Shevchuk provide an overview of the consequences of the Russia – Ukraine war for the main rivers and water infrastructure in Ukraine. The article contributes to the Water Conflict Chronology , an open-source online database that tracks water conflicts around the world from ancient to modern times. Data from the Chronology indicates an increase in water-related conflicts in the last two decades as a result of violence in the Middle East, disputes over access to water during droughts (e.g., India, Iran), and confrontations between pastoralists and farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
The newly published article draws on information about the Russia – Ukraine war and its geophysical, hydrological, and environmental consequences compiled by researchers who in turn have relied on new direct measurements, visual observation and media reports, as well as remote-sensing images. It focuses on the Dnipro River, one of the largest rivers in Europe and shared by Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, on which six dams have been built since the 1920’s for hydropower, irrigation development, water supply, shipping, and fishing. Levees and dikes have also been constructed as a flood-protection measure.
Water has been used as a defensive and offensive weapon since the outbreak of the current war: Ukrainian forces destroyed a dam on the Irpin River to create an obstacle for advancing Russian troops, a highway over the Pechenigske dam was damaged to hinder traffic and water was released from the Oskilske reservoir to create a physical barrier for Russian troops. Russian forces have attacked many water supply and treatment plants, attacked a dam on the Inhulets River, destroyed the Karlivka dam, and attacked a hydroelectric dam at the town of Kremenchuk. However, a major focus of the conflict and an incident with far-reaching implications for Ukraine was the destruction of the Kakhovka dam and the emptying of the large reservoir. On the 6th of June it contained almost 20 km3 of water. The water released from this event flooded four cities and many villages and transported a heavy pollution load downstream into the northeastern part of the Black Sea. The reservoir of the Kakhovka dam enabled hydropower generation, water supply to major cities, and water for agricultural irrigation in southern Ukraine.
The consequences of the use of water as a defensive and offensive weapon in Ukraine, the authors note, include extensive pollution of the lower reach of the Dnipro River, its estuary, and a part of the Black Sea. In economic terms, large urban centres have been deprived of reliable water sources, and Ukrainian agriculture has been undermined with the interruption of the supply of irrigation water. The authors note with particular concern the public-health impacts of no longer having reliable and safely managed clean water and sanitation systems, as well as the global implications for food availability and prices from the loss of Ukrainian food production.
The authors also note the importance of applying humanitarian law to ensure the prevention of similar attacks on water resources and infrastructure in the future and assert that the Geneva Convention and other international agreements protecting civilian populations from war and conflicts need to be more assertively enforced by international bodies.
A study published by Nature Reviews Earth and Environment has shown that increasing salt production is contributing to the ‘freshwater salinization syndrome’: scientists are observing dramatic increases in salt concentrations in freshwater systems across local, regional, continental, and global scales. In nature, through slow geological processes such as the weathering of rocks, water running across the surface of the land or percolating through soils naturally results in minerals dissolving in water. Weathering – the breaking down or dissolving of rocks and minerals on the earth’s surface – takes place through a combination of physical, chemical and biological processes and this releases salt ions into surface waters, soils, and the air.
The existence of salts in freshwater is therefore a perfectly normal phenomenon. These salts (which include not just sodium and chloride but also calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate, sulphate and nitrate) are essential nutrients for living organisms. They also play a physical and chemical role in erosion and other natural processes.
However, over the past century, many human activities have released salts into the environment, and in doing so have added an anthropogenic salt cycle to a natural ‘salt cycle’. These salts are transported through the water cycle, resulting in increased salinity of freshwater, soils, and the atmosphere. Key drivers of this process are irrigation, the utilization of salts to de-ice roads, the use of fertilisers in agriculture, the discharge of wastewater into the environment, mining, resource extraction, and saltwater intrusion into aquifers through over pumping. For example, some 20 million tons of rock salt are used for ‘road salt’ in the United States (and 300 million tons globally) , and almost 40 million tons of potash is extracted globally for use as chemical fertilizer.
Typically, these salts collect in inland waters, and many of the different salts produced by humanity converge in and have a joint impact on inland water systems. The hydrological cycle is a major transporter of salt, and one of the main mechanisms for the transport of salts is from rivers to oceans. In addition, salts travel through soils, and through groundwater. Over the past 50 years there has been a major increase in the prevalence of these ions in streams and rivers on a continental and a global scale. Many coastal towns and cities are affected by salt water intrusion into water sources: salt water intrusion affects at least 501 cities, and thus urban water supply is vulnerable to the effects of salinization.
The researchers conclude that more research needs to be done to obtain accurate measurements of the phenomenon. There are measures which can be taken to manage the problem such as controlled releases of water from reservoirs to dilute salinity, conservation work where land use changes have taken place, or stormwater management strategies. To effectively manage the problem, more work will be necessary to identify when environmental limits are being exceeded for human health and ecosystem processes and services.
A study published in Nature Climate Change has come to the conclusion that the future melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) in the 21st century is unavoidable even if greenhouse gas emissions were to be strongly reduced. The study looked at a range of different scenarios of future ice shelf melting in the Amundsen Sea, ranging from optimistic to pessimistic projections of emissions reductions during the rest of the 21st century. The study found that the warming of the Amundsen Sea is taking place at approximately triple the historical rate and that atmospheric climate variations in Antarctica would not have a large effect on the melting of the ice. The implication of this finding is that even under the most ambitious targets of the Paris Agreement, there is little that can be done to stop the decline of the WAIS). The WAIS is Antarctica’s largest contributor to sea level rise, and the ice sheet contains enough water to result in a 3 metre global sea level rise, with far reaching implications for coastal cities.
The study is the most comprehensive future projection of Amundsen Sea ice shelf melting so far. It was not possible for the researchers to work with direct observations, as data collection only commenced in 1994, and long-term observations of temperature changes and changes in ice mass changes are needed to confidently project future changes. Instead, the team analysed the outcomes of a model which predicted the behaviour of sea ice and ice shelf cavities using five different scenarios and working with a climate model that has been previously tested and validated for previous century and 21st century climate simulations. All five scenarios were found to predict significant future warming of the Amundsen Sea and therefore the increased melting of its ice shelves.
Released on World Food Day, the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) report entitled “The High Cost of Cheap Water” estimates the annual use value of water to the global economy at U.S. $ 58 trillion, or 60% of global Gross Domestic Product. The WWF estimates the direct economic benefits of water, such as water for households, agriculture and industry, at U.S. $ 7.5 trillion annually. However, the more indirect and ‘unseen’ benefits, such as water purification, carbon storage, and defense against extreme floods and droughts are more that seven times higher at U.S. $50 trillion annually.
In principle, the WWF argues, the value of water to societies, economies and ecosystems is infinite: water provides benefits to us through our consumption and use, but healthy water ecosystems also provide indirect benefits such as water purification and flood regulation. Some values, such as the value of water in maintaining biodiversity, and its value in our religious and cultural practices, are impossible to classify in economic terms. However, the report emphasises that it is important to place a greater value on healthy ecosystems, as the degradation of rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater aquifers is putting this value at risk and threatening climate resilience. Political momentum around the valuation of water is increasing, especially since water and rivers have been mentioned mentioned for the first time in the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) cover text. Businesses are also starting to change their behaviours as they experience water risks first-hand and acknowledge the importance of water risk management for their financial resilience. Financial institutions are also becoming aware of the freshwater crisis and are responding with new risk management mechanisms and innovative instruments to bridge the water financing gap.
Despite the methodological difficulties, the report attempts to put a number to the value of water. It does so by focusing on the direct and indirect use values of freshwater that can be quantified. It therefore provides the disclaimer that the end result of the calculation - U.S. 58 trillion - is actually an underestimate of the infinite value provided to society. What can be calculated in monetary terms is firstly the direct use value of redirecting water from ecosystems to supply water for household, industrial and agricultural purposes, recreation, freshwater fishing, and hydropower generation. Secondly, it Is possible to calculate the indirect use value of water by making use of ‘ecosystem services’ such as water purification, flood regulation, carbon sequestration, etcetera.
Under each category, the calculation proceeds by looking into three different sub categories of direct and indirect water use values. For instance, within the category of direct use value, there is a sub category dedicated to ‘consumptive industries’. These include households and municipalities, agricultural water withdrawals, and industrial water withdrawals. For each of these categories it is possible to estimate the average value of water per cubic metre. By summing up the values obtained under all these categories, it is possible to ultimately reach the total contribution to world GDP that water offers. The method is referred to as a Total Economic Value (TAV) framework, and has the great advantage that it provides a comprehensive view of the economic use value of freshwater resources.
As the authors mention, there are of course limitations to an attempt like this. However, the key objective of the report is not to provide an estimate of water’s value that is undisputed. Rather, the report seeks to argue that water is currently undervalued, and that this lack of valuation of water is coming at an immense cost. He world, the report states, is “facing a pervasive and worsening water crisis that is undermining human and planetary health. Billions of people still lack access to safe water and sanitation, food insecurity is rising, water risks to agriculture and industry are escalating, and we are losing freshwater species and ecosystems at alarming rates. Growing populations, economies and urbanisation are putting additional pressure on water supplies and freshwater ecosystems – as climate change drastically disrupts the world’s hydrological system. It is by providing more clarity on the real costs of undervaluing our freshwater resources that the WWF hopes to inform decision makers to shift towards more sustainable forms of water governance.
The report is simultaneously a call to action, with a detailed list of proposed actions for governments and policymakers, industry and business, financial institutions, civil society organisations and individuals. At the heart of these actions is the need to protect and restore healthy rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers and to fundamentally change the way in which we value and invest in water and freshwater ecosystems.
Three-quarters of the world's poorest people live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihoods as well as on access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for their health. In Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 90% of the poorest people live in rural areas. Poor rural development is measured by poverty, health problems due to food insecurity and lack of nutrition and sanitation, low levels of education and training, and the high number of those - households, businesses, farmers, herders and their herds - with difficulties in accessing water (water insecurity). It is also reflected in low agricultural yields and investments, the lack of access to credit and markets, and the continuous degradation of the ecosystem (soil, vegetation, etc.). At the same time, the type of promoted development in most of the more favored regions have often led to the loss of agricultural land, urban sprawl, pollution, and problems of soil fatigue and salinization, impoverishment biodiversity and overexploitation of groundwater, as well as resource grabbing at the expense of rural communities.
This poor development approach has consequences beyond rural areas: increased vulnerability to flooding, the rapid siltation of dam reservoirs, increasing inequalities, continued population growth, rural exodus and the export of poverty to the cities, worsening the risks of food, water and health, climate and socio-political insecurity in the world – especially on the African continent. Added to this is climate change, which, in its relationship with water, land, food and forests, is now a subject of primary importance. Indeed, the latest IPCC reports highlight the high risk of "loss of livelihoods and income in rural areas due to inadequate access to drinking water and irrigation" as well as "food system breakdowns". The worsening phenomena of soil aridity, droughts and flooding are a cause for concern. In addition, it notes the ability of land, water and soil, trough agriculture, forestry and bioeconomy, to strongly contribute to the fight against climate change with a positive impact on the carbon cycle (capture, sequestration, storage, substitution).Furthermore it mentions the possibility of options with high co-benefits (soil conservation and improvement, food security, etc.) adaptation, mitigation, etc.).
Agriculture and rural development need large volumes of water. They could contribute to improving livelihoods, to climate change adaptation and to better water resources management through the creation of wealth to finance its services.
OPTIONS AND LEVERS FOR ACTION
Options exist to sustainably develop the production of goods, services and jobs in rural areas, contributing to the good ecological status of soils and aquatic ecosystems, and land-based waters, the management of green, blue and grey waters as well as their interfaces and they are to be defined collectively in each territory. These include the following.
BETTER MANAGEMENT OF GREEN WATER
The challenge is to promote development that can halt and reverse the process of climate change. soil degradation, conserve water in soils and enhance water security, including downstream. This can be achieved by improving the management of green water (the water than infitrates the soil and is available for plant growth).
Promoting, accompanying and supporting nature-based agricultural solutions
Firstly, sustainable, integrated agricultural systems, such as regenerative soil conservation agriculture, agroforestry, sustainable pastures and the combination of agriculture and livestock, with the use of crops and varieties adapted to local conditions, often have many merits: improved incomes, deep rooting and increased soil water reserve, resilience to drought and drought floods, pollution reduction, increased sustainable biomass production, biodiversity, carbon capture, sequestration, storage and Groundwater recharge... Their large-scale development requires a joint reorientation or expansion of policies agricultural and research and development towards an agroecology capable of contributing to the achievement of the SDGs, including SDGs 2, 6, 13 and 15
Aim for rural development and management of the heads of watersheds in the first place. Double gain, for both upstream and downstream
Secondly, watershed heads play a vital role as "water towers" and regulators of the water cycle, which are currently being undermined by poverty, the degradation of agro-silvopastoral systems and climate change. It is important to mobilize and support communities, farmers and ranchers, meet development needs, retain water and soil, and reclaim or restore open habitats of degraded land. This contributes to poverty reduction, regulation of runoff and reduction of the risk of downstream shortages by reducing low water levels as well as the risk of fires and siltation of dam reservoirs and flooding.
BETTER MANAGE BLUE AND GREY WATER
Beyond green water, the management of surface water and groundwater – blue water – as well as grey water, which is water which has been polluted by human activity but has not come into contact with fecal matter - offers options fir sustainable development. The challenge is to promote the development and sustainable management of the resource, as a common good, in order to provide rural communities with the capacity to improve their living conditions and to improve their livelihoods, produce essential goods and services while taking into account other issues.
Managing demand, improving efficiency, reducing and preventing overexploitation of groundwater
Firstly, significant gains in economics and productivity – physical and economic – of agricultural water in the irrigated systems are possible. Demand-side management must also help to ensure sustainability and equitable sharing of the resource. The levers to be mobilized are of an institutional and legal nature (shared governance and quotas at appropriate territorial scales, land tenure security, water rights), financial (incentives, access to credit, investment aid, pricing, meters), economic (sectors), agronomy (e.g. soil conservation agriculture), genetics (selection of adapted crops) or technological (decision-making tools, localized and economical irrigation, etc.).
Develop irrigation and the resource that can be mobilized when relevant and sustainable
Secondly, irrigation, properly designed and conducted, amplifies carbon sequestration, improves land quality and good management of inputs and significantly increases the income and productivity of family farming. Rural development involves hydro-agricultural development to be thought and carried out in a way that takes into account the solidarity and balance to be maintained between upstream and downstream and between cities and villages.
Global warming is causing a combined deterioration in the balance sheet (rainfall-evapotranspiration) as well as the risks of increased salinization in semi-arid environments. The development of the resource to be mobilized can be achieved through the storage of surplus water during rainy periods, the spreading of flood water, the groundwater recharge, transfers from surplus watersheds to deficit areas, and the recovery of treated wastewater (grey water) or desalination. In addition to the service rendered to agriculture, to the rural world and the climate, this development can also make it possible to limit withdrawals from the environment in dry periods, to strengthen resilience to climate change, to support low water levels in the benefit of the natural environment and secure other anthropogenic uses of water. The challenge goes beyond just food: it is the future of territories and their biodiversity as well as the goods, services and jobs produced by the aquatic and agricultural ecosystems that are at stake. This type of development therefore requires a resolutely territorial approach, centered on the principles and challenges of sustainability.
Addressing water quality challenges, ensuring access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene
Thirdly, of the 2.2 billion people who do not have access to safely managed drinking water services, many are rural people (WHO/UNICEF JMP REPORT, June 2019). Two-thirds of rural people (more than 2 billion people) still do not have water and/or soap for hygiene at home and, in sub-Saharan Africa, only 19% of them have permanent access to uncontaminated water. Difficulties in accessing safe water, in addition to serious health consequences, hinder development: the hours spent by women fetching water are too many. This results in reduced availability for education, individual development and income-generating activities. Breaking these vicious cycles and achieving SDG6 targets 6.1 and 6.2 by 2030 requires a strong acceleration of public and private commitments and mobilize a diversity of solutions adapted to each context. Some Territorial approaches to animation, equipment and rural development, which may also involve agricultural and pastoral water as well as domestic water, sanitation and hygiene, should be promoted because positive synergies between the different dimensions of development and water security are often possible.
Securing the quality of water resources for domestic use involves, in addition to diversified and effective sanitation systems, water quality monitoring, and the reduction of other sources of pollution. The fight against diffuse pollution requires more respectful agricultural practices, through the treatment/recovery of livestock manure and household waste, as well as through landscape management and catchment protection plans involving local authorities and the general public. The creation of artificial wetland buffer zones and recycling water from irrigated systems are among the possible solutions.
On the 17th of October, the Netherlands announced that it had taken out a ‘blue bond’ worth € 5 billion which will go towards efforts to mitigate flood risks. The government had hoped to raise between €4 and €5 billion, but the Dutch financial magazine Financieel Dagblad reported that € 18,3 billion in potential investment had been registered by investors, and thus the government took out the full loan of € 4,98 billion. The government had announced the auction date for the bond on the 8th of September and had simultaneously published its new Green Bond Framework . This development comes as the Netherlands seeks to adhere to the terms set out in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change which will require a minimum of 55% reduction in emission levels by 2030 relative to 1990. The Netherlands seeks to create a Climate Fund which can be used to channel investments needed to align the economy and infrastructure to the new realities under climate change scenarios and pledges.
The Blue Bond is a 20-year commitment which is specifically labelled as a ‘blue bond’, meaning that it will be dedicated to water related investments. Tom Meuwissen from NWB bank, a bank which was established by and for Dutch water authorities, states : “we use proceeds from our Water Bonds to provide loans to the Dutch water authorities responsible for flood protection, water management and water quality. Climate change adaptation has become one of their key tasks”.
In a recent article published in the Journal of Risk and Financial Management, Pieter Bosmans and Frederic de Mariz conducted an extensive review of blue bonds against the background of the broader trends in the sustainable debt market. They note that the blue bond market has emerged as a recent addition in the sustainable debt market, making it a worthy subject for research. The sustainable debt market has grown spectacularly over the past ten years to reach a total of 1,6 trillion currently, of which 70% is in the form of green bonds. Blue bonds, by contrast, are a newcomer to this field but are nevertheless developing rapidly.
The authors follow a World Bank definition of blue bonds as “debt instruments that finance the protection of critical clean water resources, as well as marine and ocean-based projects with positive environmental and social benefits”.
The authors review 26 blue bond transactions that took place globally with a total value of U.S. $ 5 billion. They assert that blue bonds are a crucial tool to attract investments into ocean financing and can help close the funding gap for a sustainable blue economy. However, contrary to green bonds, which have been clearly defined, blue bonds are not guided by a clear framework, preventing the emergence of practical guidelines for NGO’s and private entities to get involved. There is some ambiguity around the question whether blue investments can be classified as clearly sustainable investments: there is a risk that investments may be ‘bluewashed’ to give them an appearanceof sustainable investments. All existing blue bonds use their proceeds towards a sustainable blue economy, there is as yet no global standard of what blue bonds entail or what their impact is intended to be. Crucially, this has an impact on their credibility as a potential tool to close the global funding gap in the (sustainable) water sector.
The reporting of non-financial information (information on environmental, social and governance impacts) is to become mandatory in the European Union for large, listed companies in the fiscal year 2024. The new sustainability disclosure requirements will apply to companies with a turnover of more than € 40 million per year and a balance sheet total of more than €20 million, or companies with more than 250 employees which also fall under one of the above criteria. The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is an effort to achieve so-called ‘triple bottom line accounting’, whereby sustainability reporting is brought to the same standard as financial reporting.
The CSRD stems from the European Green Deal which strives to reduce emissions and decouple economic growth from resource use within an inclusive and efficient economy. It contains an initial set of twelve European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRSs), of which five are environmental in character, four are social, one relates to business conduct, and the remaining two are general reporting obligations. Beyond carbon disclosure, in which companies need to monitor and report on their performance on emissions reduction, the new standards will include other environmental targets. These areas are water and marine resources, resource use and the circular economy, pollution and biodiversity and ecosystems.
Of particular interest perhaps from a water perspective is the Water and Marine Resources standard, labelled as the European Sustainability Reporting Standard 3 (ESRS E3) on wastewater and marine resources. As the name suggests, this standard is intended to assess how a company’s activities affect water and marine resources, both in terms of actual and potential impacts. Companies need to report on actions taken to counter potential negative impacts on the quality of water and marine resources, as well as on their own water consumption. Companies need to explicitly link their policies to the ambitions of the EU Green Deal to maintain clean water as well as indicate how its strategy will be adapted to align with the preservation of water and marine resources globally.
Although the CSRD has been passed and entered into force in January 2023, much debate has taken place since that time on the contents of the standards themselves. Business representatives were wary of the extra administrative burden placed on their companies, and in October this year the largest party in the European Parliament , the European Peoples Party, made a push to weaken corporate disclosure standards. This represented a second attempt this year to lower the bar on sustainability reporting.
Under the new rules it is expected that the number of companies performing monitoring and reporting on environmental and social standards will quadruple to over 50,000.
Odisha State in India has become a ‘torch bearer’ in successful expansion of non-sewered sanitation. In 2014, the State did not have a single Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) installed and only 2% of municipal sewage was being treated. The Odisha State Pollution Control Board presented the contamination status of the rivers in the State in 2015, and most cities reported up to ten incidents whereby the legal limits of coliform organisms and other indicators of biologically contaminated water were reported. In 2015 it commissioned its first STP with a capacity of 15,000 m³ / day. However, by 2018, the state featured a total of 108 STP’s which were operational, under construction, under tender evaluation or tender process – of which ten were already operational. This expansion was made possible with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Triggered by a National workshop on fecal sludge management, the leap forward was initiated by the Odisha Water Supply and Sewerage Board, and it has now become a model for other States to replicate. The model is referred to as the Odisha Fecal Sludge and Septage Management (FSSM) system. The FSSM system is a decentralized system includes a revamp of existing fecal sludge and septage management, the construction of new infrastructure, the development of new regulations, capacity building and community engagement across the State. Through community engagement and capacity building – involving rigorous training to local groups on managerial, financial & technical aspects - the operation and maintenance of the installations is handed over to community groups – with a focus on women and transgender groups, providing local employment opportunities. The result of this approach is that the community has a sense of ownership and responsibility with regard to the infrastructure and becomes the de facto management of the system – under the guidance of the State Board. The employees have gained independence through their stable income and have been empowered through the capacity building process to become managers and technician operating the sites.
The rapid expansion of safely managed sanitation systems has earned the Indian State of Odisha acclaim for its achievements, with awards including for the best FSSM model and the best engagement model in sanitation.
Increased urbanization across the world is leading to an increasing geographical concentration of water demand. At the same time this water is under threat by a rise in wastewater production. Reuse of treated sewage can reduce the water demand as well as reducing the pollution load entering water systems. from sewage. India generates about 73 million m³ of sewage per day, whereas the installed capacity of sewage treatment plants nationally is around 32 million m³ per day, or 44% of the total. Examples like those of Odisha State shows the way forward for accelerated achievement of the targets under Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water and sanitation.
In October, Qatar Charity signed an agreement with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Yemen to provide water and sanitation services and improve access to health services for internally displaced persons in Yemen. The project is valued at U.S. $ 1.35 million and will be implemented in the governorates of Taiz and Ibb in the southwest of the country. The funds will go towards the construction of two water collection tanks in the villages of Al-Barasha and Al-Juwaih in Taiz, the monitoring of water quality in 17 wells across the two governorates, and the construction of 35 toilets. In addition, the operational costs of 12 health facilities will be supported across the two governorates. In total, the project is expected to reach 118,721 beneficiaries.
According to a September 2022 Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) field mission report, there were 45 hosting sites for internally displaced persons in IBB governorate and 73 in Taiz. These two governorates receive the majority of the internally displaced people in the country. The report mentioned the need for improvement in access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, as tankered water services to the sites had stopped in May 2022, leaving the population to either collect rainwater or purchase water.
After eight years of conflict, Yemen has a population of some 21.6 million people who are dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival. Of these, some 4.3 million are internally displaced. Some 207 humanitarian organisations were active in the country as of August 2023, and they were able to deliver aid to some 8.9 million people.
Qatar charity and UNOCHA have been working in the country for many years and have reportedly signed three similar agreements in the past. They have regularly called attention of the international community to outbreaks of cholera which are partly caused by internal displacement and partly by exposure to unsafe water sources, the poor maintenance of sewage systems, and the use of contaminated water for irrigation.
In a blog in Nigeria Health Watch , arguments have been presented proposing ways to accelerate access to sanitation in the country. These include the need for more active involvement of subnational government – states and municipalities, investments in public sanitation facilities, the application of community-led sanitation initiatives, and the involvement of the private sector.
Although Nigeria has set itself the goal of being free of open defecation by 2025, UNICEF has estimated that Nigeria will need to build 3.9 million toilets annually to achieve its 2025 target. Speaking at a conference in July 2023, UNICEF Nigeria chief Jane Bevan stated that the current rate of toilet construction is far below the rate needed to achieve the target, at between 180,000 and 200,000 toilets annually.
UNICEF has recently included Nigeria amongst the countries in its 'Make a Splash' programme which was operational in Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia and aims to overcome barriers in ensuring access to sanitation.
According to findings from the 2018 WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping survey, only 57.4% of Nigerian households have access to an ‘improved’ form of sanitation – the indicator for basic sanitation during the Millennium Development Goal period. For the monitoring of access to sanitation during the SDG period, the bar for what is considered access to sanitation has been raised. ‘Safely managed sanitation’ is the highest service level in this framework, and it constitutes the use of ‘improved’ facilities that are, additionally, not shared with other households and where excreta are safely disposed of in situ or transported and treated offsite.
Between 2018 and 2021, the number of Nigerians practicing open defecation increased from 47 to 48 million people, representing 23% of the population. It appears from these statistics that access to sanitation services is stagnating, as the rate of toilet construction is not keeping pace with the rate of population growth. Approaches such as Community Led Total Sanitation Community Led Total Sanitation , a participatory approach to expanding rural sanitation services which started in Bangladesh and India have demonstrated success in removing obstacles to the uptake of sanitation solutions.
The Mississippi River is experiencing historical levels of drought for the second year in a row, with water levels at a record low of 3.5 metres below average at Memphis on the 10th of October. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 98% of the Mississippi River Basin experienced some level of drought conditions during September and October. In October, 2% of the basin was experiencing moderate drought, 20.9% of the basin was experiencing severe drought, 43% of the basin was experiencing extreme drought and 34.2% is experiencing exceptional drought. This year, it is these drought conditions that are largely responsible for the upstream movement of salt water. However, human influences such as dams, levees and dredging have altered the natural flow of the river, and the gulf is also experiencing sea level rise due to climate change.
By the 12th of October, the saltwater wedge had moved upriver by a full ten kilometres. As the flow of the river decreases, the pressure of freshwater flowing into the ocean at the river’s mouth is decreasing, and a wedge of saltwater is slowly creeping up the river. The result is saltwater intrusion into coastal freshwater sources. Louisiana’s water supplies are affected by the increasing salt levels in the water, prompting emergency transports of freshwater by barge to water treatment and pumping stations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which are expected to continue into January next year. There have been fears that the upstream movement of saltwater could begin to affect the water supplies of New Orleans also, but according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the river flows did recover to an extent that would protect the intakes around New Orleans from the upstream movement of salt.
The drought has led to transport restrictions for barge companies which usually transport crops downriver from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico. Barges have been induced to reduce their loads as the depth of the river has dropped, limiting traffic options. The Mississippi River transports over 450 million tonnes of goods annually. However, American wheat shipments for instance, of which two thirds are shipped to the Gulf of Mexico along the Mississippi have dropped to record low levels as a result of the drought.
The Mississippi River basin is the largest in the United States: it rises in Lake Itasca in Minnesota and flows in a southerly direction for 3,766 km, draining 59% of the rivers of the country.