Developing international guidance for strategic drought risk management

Paul Sayers, Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Geography and the Environment, is leading a project to identify best practice in drought risk management, in collaboration with WWF and the Chinese Government.

The Chinese Government has committed significant resources to address water resource management issues across the country. One challenge that the country faces is drought, which occurs regularly in China, often with very significant social, economic and environmental consequences. As climate change leads to increased uncertainty about future rainfall patterns, and potentially also leads to an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts, it is important that sophisticated drought planning and management is mainstreamed in China.

As part of an on-going collaboration, WWF and the Chinese Government’s General Institute of Water Resources & Hydropower Planning (GIWP) aim to collate and synthesise lessons from international experiences in this field, identify world best practice guidelines and influence the upcoming revision of Chinese water policy.

Paul Sayers will be attending a workshop in Suzhou, China, October 2013 to discuss strategic approaches to drought planning as part of this ongoing collaborative WWF/GIWP research project.

Making clean drinking water universally available is achievable

Making clean drinking water globally accessible is one of the biggest challenges of this century. Yet, a new study by Oxford University contends that this goal is achievable if the key elements of good governance and management are adopted.

The study proposes a framework built on examples of good practice in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, areas which the authors argue present the most severe challenges of all the developing countries. They warn, however, that the scale of investment necessary to update the often neglected, ageing infrastructure of pipelines or water pumps goes beyond the narrow project timeframes favoured by politicians. The findings are published in a landmark collection of papers on water security, risk and society by the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

The study says the problem of providing clean water is most acute in developing countries, particularly in Africa, where creaking infrastructures struggle to keep pace with fast-growing urban populations; in rural areas, millions of water pumps stand unused waiting to be repaired. Despite hitting the Millennium Development Goal for drinking water access in 2012, over 780 million people still do not have safe and reliable drinking water, says the report, resulting in largely preventable health problems that most affect women and children.

Based on nine case studies in Cambodia, India, Kenya, Uganda and Senegal, the authors analysed new data in rural and urban areas to compare what the authors call the under-researched aspects of water security: the institutional side of how water supplies are delivered, their operation and management systems. They examined water payment systems; and the quality of service, such as how quickly leaks or pumps were fixed, and whether populations had water on demand or a regularly disrupted service.

The study suggests that a critical factor in all cases is to have a good system for maintaining existing water supplies. Additionally, new information systems were found to be important for improving the way the quality of service was monitored. In West Africa, for instance, a structured crowd sourcing platform is used by water scheme managers to input weekly data via a mobile phone application; in East Africa, a mobile-enabled monitoring system is leading to faster repair times for water pumps.

Late bills are still a huge problem in developing countries, so consequently there is often a failure to recoup the service costs needed to invest in the infrastructure. The study highlights a successful mobile water payment system adopted in one Kenyan city, which was the preferred way of paying bills for 85% of customers who would otherwise often have to queue in water company offices. More efficient and transparent payment systems were not only found to reduce debts, but also helped root out corrupt practices which diverted water payments into illegitimate channels.

The study warns that barriers to progress include the vested interests of individuals benefiting from the status quo, and misguided public investments which are short-term and without any real measures of performance. However, the authors argue that these findings provide concrete evidence to demonstrate how drinking water risks can be managed and reduced ‘even in the most difficult and challenging contexts’.

Lead author Dr Rob Hope, from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, said: “We hope this study provides a framework to design policy and guide investments to systematically reduce drinking water risks in urban and rural contexts. These case studies demonstrate a variety of approaches taken by countries in some of the most challenging circumstances.”

“They set benchmarks by which others can measure their own progress. Our examples include water managers who have introduced both bonus systems to reward good performance and competitions between different areas to drive up standards of service. Some water service providers have found ways of giving subsidies to expand access to water customers on the lowest incomes. There are other examples of initiatives to promote greater efficiency which can mean leaks or water pumps get fixed more quickly or water rationing can be replaced with a continuous service.”

“Despite the often gloomy outlook voiced by some on the prospects for making drinking water more accessible, these case studies in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia show there are realistic pathways to transform water services, thereby potentially improving the health of the millions of people who depend upon them.”

Meanwhile in the same collection of papers, Professor David Bradley of Oxford University, with Professor Jamie Bartram, uses an analysis of the effective monitoring programme developed to measure the success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for the provision of domestic water supply and basic sanitation to see how it can be further improved and possibly be applied to a broader goal of water security.

Reference

Robert Hope and Michael Rouse (2013) Risks and responses to universal drinking water security. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, vol. 371, no. 2002.

 

Oxford University edits a themed issue of Philosophical Transactions A on Water Security, Risk and Society

Professors Jim Hall and David Grey, and Drs Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson and Rob Hope, have organised and edited a landmark collection of papers, an outcome of the 2012 international conference Water Security, Risk and Society.

The papers demonstrate the growing scale of water security risks. For example, over 45% of the global population is projected to be exposed to water shortages for food production by 2050 (Falkenmark), and South American cities have experienced a doubling of risks associated with extreme rainfall from 1960-2000 (Vorosmarty). Modelling demonstrates that climate hazards are an impediment to economic growth (Brown).

The agenda-setting themed issue includes eight papers from Oxford University authors and engages multiple dimensions of water security, ranging from drinking water, food production and energy to climate risks, transboundary rivers and economic growth. Risk provides the basis for a unifying framework to bridge across multiple disciplines and science-policy divides.

Fifteen papers are organised in three sections to: frame the policy challenges and scientific responses to water security from a risk perspective; assess the evidence about the forces driving water insecurity; and examine responses to water insecurity at multiple scales.

Recognising the need for interdisciplinary science to respond to unprecedented water security challenges, the University of Oxford organised the international conference on Water Security, Risk and Society in April 2012. The conference convened 200 leading thinkers from science, policy and enterprise in 30 countries to take stock of the scientific evidence on water security risk and prioritise future interdisciplinary research.

Taken together, these papers provide strong justification and strategic priorities for policy-driven science in the lead up to new development goals in 2015 and beyond.

 

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences

Theme Issue ‘Water security, risk and society’ compiled and edited by Jim Hall, David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson and Rob Hope

November 13, 2013; Vol. 371, No. 2002


Preface
Jim Hall, David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Simon Dadson, and Rob Hope

Opinion piece: Water security in one blue planet: twenty-first century policy challenges for science
David Grey, Dustin Garrick, Don Blackmore, Jerson Kelman, Mike Muller, and Claudia Sadoff

Opinion piece: Catalysing sustainable water security: role of science, innovation and partnerships
John Beddington

Opinion piece: The role of technology in achieving water security
Ian Thompson

Research article: Risk-based principles for defining and managing water security (open access)
Jim Hall and Edoardo Borgomeo

Research article: Extreme rainfall, vulnerability and risk: a continental-scale assessment for South America
Charles J. Vörösmarty, Lelys Bravo de Guenni, Wilfred M. Wollheim, Brian Pellerin, David Bjerklie, Manoel Cardoso, Cassiano D’Almeida, Pamela Green, and Lilybeth Colon

Research article: Growing water scarcity in agriculture: future challenge to global water security
Malin Falkenmark

Review article: Water security, global change and land–atmosphere feedbacks
Simon Dadson, Michael Acreman, and Richard Harding

Research article: A cost-effectiveness analysis of water security and water quality: impacts of climate and land-use change on the River Thames system
Paul Whitehead, Jill Crossman, Bedru Balana, Martyn Futter, Sean Comber, Li Jin, Dimitris Skuras, Andrew Wade, Mike Bowes, and Daniel Read

Research article: Water security in the Canadian Prairies: science and management challenges
Howard Wheater and Patricia Gober

Review article: Domestic water and sanitation as water security: monitoring, concepts and strategy (open access)
David J. Bradley and Jamie K. Bartram

Review article: Risks and responses to universal drinking water security
Robert Hope and Michael Rouse

Research article: The politics of African energy development: Ethiopia’s hydro-agricultural state-building strategy and clashing paradigms of water security
Harry Verhoeven

Research article: The governance dimensions of water security: a review
Karen Bakker and Cynthia Morinville

Research article: Managing hydroclimatic risks in federal rivers: a diagnostic assessment
Dustin Garrick, Lucia De Stefano, Fai Fung, Jamie Pittock, Edella Schlager, Mark New, and Daniel Connell

Research article: Is water security necessary? An empirical analysis of the effects of climate hazards on national-level economic growth
Casey Brown, Robyn Meeks, Yonas Ghile, and Kenneth Hunu