Professor David Grey speaks on transboundary water management at IIASA Conference

David Grey was among the many distinguished speakers participating in the IIASA Conference which was held in Vienna and Laxenburg, Austria on 24-26 October 2012. He spoke about the challenges of transboundary water management, the North-South divide, and the role of science and information in supporting water management.

The IIASA conference, ‘Worlds within reach: from science to policy’ examined the many sustainability and development challenges faced in a world undergoing major transformations such as globalisation, shifts in economic and political power, escalating environmental challenges, and deep social conflict. Leading scientists and experts gathered to discuss options for addressing these global challenges, making the important link from science to policy.

David Grey took part in a session on ‘Respecting nature’s boundaries for a fair and secure world – water and food’. He highlighted a major North-South divide in terms of both physical characteristics of water resources, and in capacity to manage these resources.

There is a significant inverse correlation between hydro-complexity and economic growth, said Grey. This means that while African rainfall is on average similar to that of Europe, Africa faces far greater water problems due to the variability and unpredictability of rainfall and runoff.

There is also a massive information shortfall in many developing countries. Africa has only 10 per cent of the monitoring stations found in Europe. “You cannot manage what you do not measure, but the cost of measurement, the complexity of measurement, and the skills required are very considerable”, he said.

Grey questioned whether water is really a local problem as commonly argued, when there are 260 international river basins accounting for nearly half the world’s land surface. The principle of national sovereignty brings particular challenges to transboundary water management and leads to secrecy of data. However, he argued that cooperation on international rivers is a positive-sum game and benefits can be reaped by all parties. Science has an important role to play in demonstrating these benefits.

“We are heading in a direction of an essential paradigm shift in water management where are policy boundaries must progress from the local level to the planetary level”, said Grey. The good news is that the rapid growth of water knowledge as a global public good, including communication systems, computing innovations, citizen engagement, and social networks, offer unprecedented opportunities for managing water across the planet.

All videos of speakers are available on the conference website.

Professor David Grey is Visiting Professor of Water Policy at the School of Geography and the Environment, and Policy Lead for Oxford University’s Water Security Network.


Vacancy: Research Fellow – Use of Models and Predictions in Resource Stewardship

School of Anthropology, Institute of Science, Innovation and Society, Oxford

Grade 7: £29,249 – £35,938 p.a.

The Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) wishes to appoint a social scientist to a Research Fellowship in Use of models and predictions in resource stewardship for a fixed term of three years. The position is based at InSIS, School of Anthropology, Banbury Road, Oxford.

The Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship is an initiative of the Oxford Martin School focused on freshwater, land, atmosphere and biodiversity as vital resources subject to both cumulative and systemic pressures arising from human activities. The programme involves researchers from several University of Oxford departments.

The post holder will work in close collaboration with a social anthropologist and an earth systems scientist to identify factors that shape use and non-use of climate and weather information among flood disaster managers. Full details can be found in the job description below.

You will need to have a Postgraduate qualifications in a relevant social science discipline, most likely anthropology STS, sociology, human geography, social psychology or political science. Experience designing, organising and executing qualitative/ethnographic fieldwork is essential along with the ability and willingness to work as part of an interdisciplinary team, an outstanding research record appropriate to the present stage of your career, with evidence of potential for producing distinguished research, and excellent organisational and time-management skills.

The closing date for applications is 12.00 noon 16 November 2012.

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Dr Harry Verhoeven finalist of the Global Water Forum’s Emerging Scholars Award

Dr Harry Verhoeven was selected as one of ten finalists in the Global Water Forum’s Emerging Scholars Award, judged from around 800 entries on the themes of ‘water security’, ‘water economics’, and ‘transboundary water governance’.  The Award called for early-career scholars and practitioners working in water-related fields to publish an article that presents their research, project, or opinion to a global audience. The articles were judged by water researchers from the Australian National University.

Harry’s article ‘Big is beautiful: Megadams, African water security, and China’s role in the new global political economy’ looks at the role of dams in development and energy production at a global scale. It argues that the increasing reliance on megadams to fuel development and secure energy, led by China, fails to take into account their ecological impacts. He concludes that while large dams may be alluring to Chinese investors and African regimes, “their long-term contribution to water security in the climate change era remains deeply questionable”.

You can read Harry’s article, as well as the other finalists’ entries on the Global Water Forum’s website.

Harry Verhoeven is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Politics and International Relations, teaches African Politics, and is the Convenor of the Oxford University China-Africa Network.


Jim Hall’s work on coastal flooding shortlisted for Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize

Professor Jim Hall, Director of the Environment Change Institute (ECI) and Science Lead for the Water Security Network, contributed to work on the Tyndall Centre’s Regional Coastal Simulator which has been shortlisted for the Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize 2012.

This work, which quantified the role of sediments released from cliff erosion in protecting neighbouring low-lying land from flooding, is part of the iCOASST project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, in which ECI is a partner.

The Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize 2012 called for research on the theme of ‘Natural World’, relating to either natural hazards or climate change. The prize winners will be announced on 29 November 2012.

Smart Handpumps feature on BBC Click

Oxford University’s Smart Handpumps project, part of the mobile/water for development (mm4d) initiative, aims to improve rural water security by automatically monitoring handpump performance which trigger maintenance responses. The handpump technology uses data transmitters which fit inside handpumps and send text messages to a central office if the devices break down. The research initiative is a collaboration between the School of Geography and the Environment, and the Department for Engineering Science, led by Dr Rob Hope and Patrick Thomson in partnership with Dr Gari Clifford.

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Feature publication: How will 1°C, 2°C, 3°C, and 4°C global temperature rise affect rainfall in Africa?

Climate change mitigation debates focus on how many degrees of global temperature rise should be avoided. 2 °C has emerged as a benchmark for danger, with severe impacts on water security, food security and human well-being anticipated. However, there is limited research on the implications of this change for Africa. It is also little understand how change will occur as global temperature increases – will it be incremental or will there be sudden and nonlinear shifts?

A new study by Rachel James and Professor Richard Washington at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment addresses these important questions and examines the changes in rainfall in Africa with 1 °C, 2 °C, 3 °C, and 4 °C of global warming. Models project risks associated with 2 °C and beyond, with increasing changes in rainfall projected as global temperature increases. A closer look at regional variations shows Southern Africa, the Guinea Coast and the west of the Sahel getting wetter, while East Africa becomes drier. These changes could have severe implications for society.


James, R. and Washington, R. (2012) Changes in African temperature and precipitation associated with degrees of global warming. Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-012-0581-7

Inter-departmental collaboration wins grant to develop and implement a coupled hydrological and climate model

An EPSRC Bridging the Gap grant has be won by a collaboration between the Environmental Change Institute, the Oxford e-Research Centre and the Met Office to pilot techniques for distributed computation and uncertainty analysis of rainfall and runoff models. The project leverages the expertise of both the Water Security Network and the Oxford Climate Research Network, bringing together researchers in water engineering, ECT networks and distributed systems, and hydrology and climate science. The pilot project will run from October 2012 until March 2013.

Strong presence of Oxford alumni at World Water Week 2012, Stockholm

This week over 2,000 politicians, CEOS, scientists, practitioners, and leaders of international organisations from over 100 counties gathered in Stockholm to discuss water and food security. World Water Week, the annual conference organised by Stockholm International Water Institute, is the focal point for the international water community and the arena for debating and showcasing solutions for the world’s most urgent water challenges. Amongst the delegates attending this year were eight alumni from the School of Geography and the Environment’s MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management.

Virginia Hooper (MSc year 2007/2008), now a PhD researcher at the University of East Anglia, spoke at a workshop on ‘Governance for water and food security’. She presented findings from an extensive DFID-funded review of the performance of water resource management institutions in delivering pro-poor outcomes and sustainable economic growth.

Other MSc alumni present at the conference were Nick Dickinson (2004/2005, IRC), Jenny Datoo (2007/2008, USAID), Lorenzo Bosi (2008/2009, World Food Programme), Philipp Peters (2008/2009, GIZ), Jennifer Möller-Gulland (2009/2010, PwC), Marco Daniel (2010-2011, HELVETAS), and Ilana Cohen (2010/2011, Aquaconsult).

The Water Science, Policy and Management Masters attracts a diverse and international group of students each year, and equips them with the necessary skills and knowledge to become the next generation of water professionals. The growing global network of alumni are found in influential government, research and industry roles, actively contributing to more sustainable pathways for water management.

For more information on the MSc Water Science, Policy and Management, visit the website.


Water Security Network mentioned in Science journal as example of long-term initiative for joining interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners

In a recent article in Science’s Policy Forum, Karen Bakker, Director of the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia, reflects on the significant challenges and opportunities for water security research.

Bakker warns that the current disconnect between academic research on water security and the needs of policy-makers and practitioners is impeding progress on addressing the global water crisis.

Oxford’s Water Security Network is highlighted as a prime example of the types of long-term initiatives which are needed to bring together interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners, to complement the typical project-based funding.

Another challenge relates to the differences in scale that different disciplinary approaches take to water research. For example, hydrologists have their vision fixed on the river basin, while the interest of political scientists lies with the nation state. Bakker lends support to the use of a risk-based framework, as developed at Oxford’s Water Security, Risk and Society conference in April this year. “Risk analysis frameworks are promising … because they can incorporate multiple, nested spatial and temporal scales”, she points out. Furthermore, the common language of risk may prove useful for bridging disciplinary divides in water security research and analysing the complex trade-offs between multiple and competing objectives.


Global leaders discuss food, water and energy scarcities at Re|Source2012

Tamara Etmannski, University of Oxford

The Oxford Water Security Network had a strong presence at the highly acclaimed Re|Source2012 conference which was held at Oxford University on 13-14 July 2012. Oxford’s Professors Jim Hall and Professor David Grey were amongst the impressive list of speakers, which included influential thinkers such as Bill Clinton, Sir David Attenborough, Lord Patten of Barnes, and Amartya Sen. The vision for Re|Source2012 was to bring together global business, finance, political and academic leaders to discuss the interdependencies of food, water and energy, resource scarcity, and investment opportunities. The event provided the platform to rethink, reform, and renew ideas about managing resources.

‘A Thirst for Growth’ panel, moderated by Dominic Waughray, World Economic Forum. Photo: John Cairns

The immediate need for water-related innovations became a common theme throughout the two days of discussion. Prof Hall drew attention to a predicted 90% increase in water demand by 2050 and in low latitudes, a 10-30% decrease in water availability. The Chairman of the Board of Nestlé S.A., Peter Brabeck-Letmathe warned that the future of all economic growth will depend on water. The Minster for Environment and Water Resources of Singapore, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan highlighted three factors that have been critical to success in Singapore: long-term plans that extend beyond the electoral cycle, technology breakthroughs such as reverse osmosis, and pricing to send a signal that water is a scarce and precious resource. Glen Daigger of CH2M HILL said that solutions will need to be tailored to the local context and hydrology, selecting from a toolkit of approaches which increasingly includes efficiency, water recycling and reuse, and rainwater capture.

Oxford University Professors David Grey and Jim Hall. Photo: John Cairns

Two water exhibits gave examples of the innovative research being undertaken by Oxford University. Patrick Thomson had a real-size ‘Smart Hand-pump’ for rural water supply set-up to demonstrate how it will automatically send a text message to district and national water managers when there is a mechanical problem or failure with the pump. This will ensure immediate action by local partners, creating a reliable system of information communication and repair accountability. Simon Dadson presented a global hydrology simulation model using geospatial visualisation, highlighting the sophisticated modelling tools being advanced to help understand and inform tradeoffs in water resources and environmental management.

‘Smart Handpump’ measures the amount of water extracted and sends a text message when there is a failure

Some major themes emerged throughout the conference. On the value and management of natural resources, there was clear emphasis on the need for long-term agendas and multi-stakeholder partnerships. MP David Miliband responded to the question of whether action should be led by business or government, by stating that the answer is clearly both. He stressed that strong government leadership, business innovation and mass mobilisation are key. Dr James Bradfeld-Moody, co-author of ‘The Sixth Wave’, suggested real innovation as the selling of access not ownership, using and investing in waste, and the convergence of the digital world with the natural world.

The private sector voiced how integrated reporting is the way forward, how sustainability in business is an investment and touched upon other important topics like ethical business, fairness and dignity. Representatives from both BP and Puma spoke of the need for corporate and governmental transparency, especially in the area of subsidies. Delegates converged on agreement that the future is already here, and action on all these fronts is required immediately.

President Bill Clinton inspired delegates with a vision for the future in his closing keynote speech. He clearly stated that the sustainability model in business is good economics. To tackle climate change, he said we should “pick the low-hanging fruit”; first by improving global efficiency, and then pursuing solar power as an alternative energy source. He emphasised that creative networks of cooperation should be the way forward in tackling all the issues discussed during Re|Source2012, and said that one day we will all realise that common good is more important than private gain.

All talks and discussions from Re|Source2012 are available to view online.

Tamara Etmannski is a Doctoral Student in Sustainable Water Engineering at the Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford.