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Water Security: less talk, more action

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Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University © REACH

Water security is an increasingly urgent and complex challenge facing society, both rich and poor. Over 200 people from 20 countries met to debate using a risk-based framework to respond to the global and local challenges at the Water Security 2015 conference held at Oxford University on 9-11 December.

The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Andrew Hamilton, welcomed Ministers from Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya who led discussions on the significance and shared challenge of water security for countries in Africa and Asia.

‘Water security is an issue of life or death for Bangladesh’ said Mr MA Mannan MP, State Minister of Finance and Planning. The country’s population, especially the poor, are highly vulnerable to water hazards, including frequent floods, droughts and arsenic-contaminated groundwater.

The World Bank and Oxford University presented new evidence on the global status of water security risks, showing the scale, urgency and cost of the challenge. Findings from the OECD and Global Water Partnership report ‘Securing Water, Sustaining Growth’ provide the economic rationale for investment in infrastructure, institutions and information.

Professor Jim Hall, Director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University said: ‘investment finance needs to have a sense of where the priorities lie. We have developed a common language to look at the scale of the risk, evaluate the benefits of risk reduction, and make proportionate interventions and investments in water security.’

The conference continued with a focus on water security and poverty in Africa and South Asia, marking the first year of REACH: Improving water security for the poor. The programme is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), with a £15 million investment in water research. DFID’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Charlotte Watts, flagged the programme as critical to providing robust evidence needed for designing and implementing water security interventions.

Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser, UK Department for International Development © REACH

Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser, UK Department for International Development © REACH

Gaining government support will be key for REACH to bring about transformational change beyond its focussed ‘Water Security Observatories’ or study sites. Attendance from three State Ministers from Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya – the countries where REACH works – was an important step in building these science-policy partnerships with senior academic, enterprise and policy collaborators.

Ato Motuma Mekassa, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, Ethiopia, shared his country’s vision: ‘It is my Government’s ambition and commitment that all Ethiopians especially women and children have a future where they can live, learn and grow without the burden of water insecurity both in terms of water quality and quantity.’

Mr MA Mannan MP, State Minister of Finance and Planning, Bangladesh (left); Ato Motuma Mekassa, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, Ethiopia (right) © REACH

Mr MA Mannan MP, State Minister of Finance and Planning, Bangladesh (left); Ato Motuma Mekassa, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, Ethiopia (right) © REACH

The Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation in Kenya, Mr Eugene Wamalwa, spoke of unprecedented floods taking place in his country. Referring also to recent floods in Cumbria in the UK, he said that water is a global issue that connects us all. He tweeted with enthusiasm about his support for REACH and willingness to work in partnership to find new solutions to water insecurity.

Dr Rob Hope, REACH Director, Oxford Universityl (left); Eugene Wamalwa, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Kenya (right) © REACH

Dr Rob Hope, REACH Director, Oxford Universityl (left); Eugene Wamalwa, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Kenya (right) © REACH

Mr Sanjay Wijesekera, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF, highlighted the drive towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The need to address inequalities and target the poorest and most vulnerable is a priority across the SDGs, and in UNICEF’s work, he said. UNICEF is a global practitioner partner in the REACH programme with strong collaboration across regions and countries in Africa and Asia.

Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF © REACH

Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF © REACH

Three Country Diagnostic Reports on Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya were launched at the conference. The reports illustrate significant but complex interactions between water security risks and poverty. Each Country Diagnostic Report outlines Water Security Observatories where REACH will focus its work over the next seven years.

Speakers from a session on ‘engendering water security’ showed how gender is a thread that weaves its way through all water security issues, from disasters, to water supply and sanitation, water management and technologies, and climate change resilience. The different values, needs and uses of water by men and women, and boys and girls, must be considered, to ensure that policies are effective. Eight parallel sessions convened panel discussions by senior policy, academic and enterprise leaders on issues of finance, monitoring, climate, poverty, health, data science, political accountability and groundwater.

In final remarks, REACH Director Dr Rob Hope said: ‘REACH will generate outstanding science to support policy and practice to improve water security for millions of poor people. The focus is on research with purpose and not producing academic papers that will gather dust.’

A call for partnerships and action was crystallised with the launch of the REACH Partnership Funding.

Presentations, audio and video will be available on the conference website soon – www.watersecurity205.org.

See the social media summary of the conference on Storify

Conference photos

Global leaders call for increased action and investment in water security

A number of global leaders have backed a Policy Statement committing to policies that contribute to water security, based on research led by Oxford University.

Water-policy-statement-2015-23.10The Statement underlines the importance of water security for sustainable economic development, social equity and environmental sustainability. It calls for countries to finance initiatives that ensure water availability and quality, and protect society from water risks, especially droughts, floods, and pollution.

A High-Level Panel prepared the Statement at the 7th World Water Forum in Korea, 13 April 2015, as part of the Global Dialogue for Water Security and Sustainable Growth, an initiative of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Statement sets out a number of Policy Recommendations, including the need to integrate investments into long-term planning and sequence investments along a coherent pathway. Countries are urged to adopt risk management strategies, based on preventative action rather than reactive responses.

The Policy Recommendations are based on evidence from a Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth, co-chaired by Professors David Grey and Jim Hall at the Oxford University.

A growing number of governments back the Statement, including Ministers from China, Denmark, Hungary, Indonesia, The Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, Korea, Spain and Belgium.

Related links

Read the Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth Policy Statement

Read the report Securing Water, Sustaining Growth

The report Securing Water, Sustaining Growth will be presented and discussed at the Water Security 2015 conference in Oxford, 9-11 December www.watersecurity2015.org

Water, Civilisation and Power in Sudan

At the launch of his book ‘Water, Civilisation and Power in Sudan’ in Oxford on 18 May 2015, Harry Verhoeven gave a snapshot of Africa’s most ambitious state-building projects in the modern era, where water played an important role. The book is the result of Harry’s doctoral research at Oxford University, and remarkable access to politicians, generals and intellectuals in Sudan over many years.

Worker clearing logs during the heightening of the Roseires Dam, August 2009. Photo by Harry Verhoeven

Worker clearing logs during the heightening of the Roseires Dam, August 2009. Photo by Harry Verhoeven

On 30 June 1989, a secretive movement of Islamists led by Dr Hassan Al-Turabi allied itself to a military group to violently take power in Africa’s biggest country.

Turabi organised a coup to prevent an anti-Islamist backlash in Egypt or America and formed the Al-Ingaz regime, the first modern Sunni Islamic Revolution since the seventh century AD.

The alliance of Islamists and generals sought to transform Sudan from one of the world’s poorest nations into a beacon of Islamic civilisation and prosperity across the Muslim world.

Harry Verhoeven’s book “Water, Civilization and Power in Sudan: The Political Economy of Military-Islamist State Building” reveals the centrality of water in Sudanese politics under military-Islamic rule.

The Al-Ingaz regime promised ‘Economic Salvation’ – the rescue of Sudan’s economy through a ‘hydro-agricultural mission’ with massive investment in water infrastructure and irrigated agriculture. The Nile River was seen as Sudan’s lifeline and its most important political artery.

Verhoeven describes the vast Merowe Dam as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the hydro-agricultural mission. His analysis shows how the Al-Ingaz Revolution’s use of water and agriculture to consolidate power is linked to twenty-first-century globalisation, Islamist ideology, and intensifying geopolitics of the Nile.

Harry Verhoeven is Assistant Professor of Government at the School of Foreign Service (Qatar), Georgetown University. He is an Associate Member of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford and the Convenor of the Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN).

New EU project on coastal hazards and an Oxford ‘Think-Shop’

Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell, Distinguished Research Associate at the School of Geography and the Environment, is managing a new research and knowledge transfer project to better protect society from coastal hazards.

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The EcosHaz project will develop a framework to assess the costs and benefits of prevention and response to coastal hazards such as flooding, shoreline erosion, storm surges, sea level rise and oil spill accidents.

Until now, investment decisions in Europe in this field have been based more on local or regional political agendas than logical risk assessments.

Professor Penning-Rowsell, also Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research at Middlesex University said: “Coastal hazards are a major concern for authorities and populations as they can have severe impacts on the economy as well as the health and safety of people. The project will provide state of the art guidance on assessing the costs and benefits of risk prevention measures, compared to the costs for response and rehabilitation. This will enable decision-makers to make sensible choices based on sound evidence.”

The project team will train up personnel in coastal authorities and their consultants or advisers, so that they can adopt economic assessment tools in their work and reduce the damage caused by coastal hazards.

Partners within the consortium are: Sigma Consultants, Greece; the University Pablo de Olavide, Seville, Spain; the Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University, UK; the Maritime Institute in Gdansk, Poland; the Department of Economic Theory at University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain; and the Università degli Studi di Catania, Italy.

A ‘Think-Shop’ (the antidote to the proverbial “Workshop”) will be held in Oxford on 7 October 2015, to brainstorm coastal protection and conservation issues. Those interested should contact Edmund Penning-Rowsell at Edmund@penningrowsell.com.

Visit the EcosHaz project website

Ecoshaz

eac logo

Project co-funded by the EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection.
The sole responsibility of this communication lies with the author.
The Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information therein.

 

 

Developing a new tool to manage groundwater risks in Africa

Oxford University is embarking on a four-year research project to improve the management of groundwater in rural Africa for economic growth and human development.

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Groundwater drilling in Kwale County from a shared aquifer used by communities, mining and agriculture.

Dr Rob Hope at the Smith School of Environment and Enterprise leads the £1.9 million project ‘GRo for GooD’ (Groundwater Risk Management for Growth and Development) which will provide new evidence on the status of groundwater and help institutions better manage this important resource.

Groundwater is a critical source of drinking water for rural populations in Africa, but is poorly understood. Groundwater systems face increasing pressures from explosive urban growth, expansion of irrigated agriculture, industrial pollution, mining, rural neglect, and environmental risks. As demand for groundwater intensifies, there is a high risk that the poorest communities will lose out. The GRo for GooD project seeks to answer the question: ‘how groundwater can be sustainably managed for the benefit of the economy and the rural poor?’

Researchers will design a new Groundwater Risk Management Tool to help governments and groundwater users understand the complex interactions and trade-offs between economic activities, demands for water, and poverty outcomes. The tool will be tested in Kwale County, Kenya, but will be adaptable for other countries and contexts.

GRo for GooD follows on from a successful catalyst project which generated a wide range of data on groundwater level and quality, water use, and indicators of health and welfare, in order to gain a better understanding of poverty and groundwater governance in Kwale County.

The Groundwater Risk Management Tool will take inputs from multiple sources across different disciplines, including epidemiological data, poverty metrics, and data on groundwater levels generated from a novel distributed system for monitoring shallow groundwater that is being developed by the research team.

The project sees Oxford University partnering with the University of Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Rural Focus Ltd., all in Kenya, as well as with Universitat Politècnica de Cataluñya in Spain.

Within Oxford University, expertise is drawn from multiple departments: Rob Hope, Caitlin McElroy and Patrick Thomson from the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment; Katrina Charles and David Bradley from School of Geography and the Environment, and David Clifton from the Department of Engineering. In addition, DPhil candidates Johanna Koehler, Jacob Katuva and Farah Colchester are supporting critical elements of the project.

GRo for GooD is part of the seven-year UpGro programme (Unlocking the Potential of Groundwater for the Poor), jointly funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Report shows how water insecurity is a drag on the global economy

A new report shows floods, droughts and a lack of investment in providing good quality, reliable water supplies is dragging down the global economy. The report, published today and entitled ‘Securing Water, Sustaining Growth’, was written by an international Task Force chaired by Claudia Sadoff and co-chaired by Professors Jim Hall and David Grey from the University of Oxford.

cover with borderThe Task Force was established by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The report and new scientific analysis examines not only water’s destructive force but also how it contributes to human health and prosperity. It was launched at the start of the Seventh World Water Forum in South Korea, the international summit at which the world’s water challenges are addressed.

The report draws on research led by the University of Oxford and feeds into a policy statement released by GWP and OECD calling on governments to invest in strengthening the world’s institutional capacity to manage water security, with much improved information systems and better water infrastructure. It urges that special attention be paid to social risks, with a focus on vulnerable segments of society.

According to the report, South Asia has the largest concentration of water-related risks. East and Southeast Asia face rapidly increasing flood risk, although the United States has the greatest exposure to flood risk. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where the risks of inadequate water supply and sanitation are rising. North Africa has the greatest percentage of population at risk of water scarcity.

The international Task Force is comprised of leading academics, researchers and practitioners from around the world.

Claudia Sadoff, Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Environmental Change Institute, said: ‘Both our empirical and theoretical analyses demonstrate the importance of investment in water security for development and the importance of development for investment in water security.’

‘Effective ways of achieving water security involve combinations of investments in information, institutions and infrastructure’, says Professor Hall, report co-author and Director of the Environmental Change Institute. ‘Not all investments have been beneficial or cost-effective. Investment must be designed to be robust to uncertainties and to support adaptive management as risks, opportunities, and social preferences change. All of this will require refined analytic tools, innovation, and continuous monitoring, assessment, and adaptation.’

Report co-author and Visiting Professor at the School of Geography and the Environment, David Grey said: ‘Our analysis shows that the countries that depend on agriculture for their economies are often the worst affected by floods or water scarcity. Some countries will need to think about how they can diversify from an agriculturally focussed economy to one less dependent on water. They will also focus on how better use can be made of the limited water supplies available to them.’

Read the report
Read the GWP news release
Water insecurity costs global economy billions a year, Bloomberg, 13 April 2015
Water insecurity costing global economy billions, Japan Times, 25 April 2015

 

Coping with the curse of freshwater variability

Oxford scientists say that institutions, infrastructure and information are the key ingredients for coping with freshwater variability and enabling economic growth, in an article published in Science.

The authors, which include Prof Jim Hall, Prof David Grey and Dr Simon Dadson, say that a key challenge to achieving water security is managing the risks posed by variable and unpredictable freshwater resources. Building resilience to these risks requires a transformation in the way investments are made.

Extreme events such as floods and droughts are hard to predict and future changes in variability are highly uncertain. The article highlights three dimensions of freshwater variability: change within the year (seasonal and monthly), year-to-year, and the unpredictable timing and intensity of extremes. When these three dimensions combine the situation is “most challenging – a wicked combination of hydrology that confronts the world’s poorest people,” say the authors.

The article warns that the inability to cope with variability can place serious burdens on society and the economy. Extreme events such as droughts and floods have ripple effects through the economy. For example, floods in Thailand in 2011 caused $43 billion in losses. Meanwhile in Ethiopia economic growth is 38% less that what would be expected based on average rainfall, due to the country’s complex hydrology.

Countries can do very little about their natural endowment of water: when and where it rains and how much water evaporates, infiltrates into the ground, and runs into rivers and lakes. However for those countries burdened with highly variable hydrology, investment in water management can help buy their way out of water insecurity.

The study’s analysis shows that countries that have achieved economic growth, despite high variability in freshwater resources, have invested heavily to reduce risk. In river basins with complex hydrology where there has been low investment, the economy suffers.

Countries along river basins with less variability are more wealthy, even though investments have sometimes been quite modest. Where the hydrology is highly variable, additional investment is needed to transition from water-insecure to secure, but this is least affordable and hardest to deliver in the poorest countries. Climate change may increase variability further, making water security an even more distant goal for countries already underequipped to cope.

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The authors highlight “the three ‘I’s” as essential for adapting to freshwater variability: institutions and good governance (such as river basin organisations, legal systems, and water pricing), infrastructure (such as water storage, wastewater treatment, groundwater wells) and information (including monitoring, forecast and warning systems, and modelling tools).

Crucially, coping with variability involves a combination of institutions, infrastructure and information – rarely will they generate their full benefits alone.

The article calls for a new approach to investing in water security. A broader and longer-term vision is needed that looks beyond individual projects to the sequence of investments that can create a pathway to water security. Context also matters when it comes to what combination and sequence of investments are needed.

This new approach will focus on risks, trade-offs and uncertainties to enable decision-makers to choose between alternative investment pathways and build a more water secure future.

This research stems from the work of a global Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth, an initiative of the Global Water Partnership and OECD, co-chaired by Oxford University’s Professor Jim Hall and Professor David Grey.

Reference

Hall, J.W., Grey, D., Garrick, D., Fung, F., Brown, C., Dadson, S.J. and Sadoff, C.W. (2014) Coping with the curse of freshwater variability. Science, 346(6208): 429-430.

New research on water security and sustainable growth presented to high level panel at Singapore International Water Week

On 2 June, Professor Jim Hall stressed the importance of water security to economic growth at a high level panel discussion at Singapore International Water Week, chaired by Mr. Angel Gurria, Secretary-General, OECD, and Dr. Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, Chair, Global Water Partnership.

The panel discussion was part of a UN Secretary-Generals’ Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB) meeting and briefed the Board on the progress of the GWP/OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth.

The session was also attended by high level participants such as Chen Lei (Minister of Water Resources, China) and Melanie Schultz (Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, Netherlands).

Mr Gurria provided an overview of the Global Dialogue, which aims to improve understanding of the linkages between water security and economic growth and to highlight the different development pathways that countries can follow to improve their water security. The Global Dialogue consists of a series of high level panel discussions, a Task Force of experts producing new knowledge on the issue, and a series of country consultations.

Dr Claudia Sadoff (World Bank) and Professor Jim Hall (Oxford University) presented the ongoing work and preliminary results of the Task Force, which they chair together with Professor David Grey (Oxford University).

The Task Force brings together an international team of economists, scientists, engineers and policy experts to provide new evidence on the relationship between water security and sustainable growth. By analysing the risks of water security and the constraints they impose on growth, the Task Force aims to promote global action to address water-related risks.

Hall and Sadoff presented research from a global analysis which for the first time demonstrates the significant impact of mean annual runoff and runoff extremes on a country’s economic growth. This confirms that high levels of water variability and unpredictability inhibit growth and helps make the case for investment in water security.

The presentation included a series of global maps which using new evidence from global datasets and models show where the water-related risks are located in the world. Risks fall into four categories: droughts, water scarcity and high variability; floods; inadequate water supply and sanitation; and harmful impacts on the environment.

The Task Force research will also provide new insights about responding to water insecurity, through analysing and comparing case studies of cities, aquifers and river basins, and illustrating pathways to achieving a tolerable level of water-related risks to growth.

Related links

The GWP-OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth

Oxford University co-chairs global Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth

Professors Jim Hall and David Grey are co-chairs of the Expert Task Force of the Global Water Partnership and OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth, launched at the World Water Week in Stockholm on 2 September 2013.

The Expert Task Force is made up of a multi-disciplinary team of leading economists, water managers and scientists who will provide new evidence on the linkages between economic growth and water security. The group is coordinated by Dr. Claudia Sadoff of the GWP Technical Committee, co-chaired by Professors Hall and Grey, and includes Drs Simon Dadson and Dustin Garrick.

The Task Force will  develop, model and economically assess a set of water security scenarios at the global and basin level, with the aim to illustrate and compare different strategies and pathways for achieving water security. This new knowledge will enable countries to better understand and manage water risks, and ensure that efforts to promote economic growth and development are not jeopardised by these risks.

At the official launch of the project at World Water Week, Dr. Claudia Sadoff explained that “the structure of the task force will be to work from risk based perspective: we will document economic costs and risks associated with water, and then we will look at trade-offs and benefits.”

The Global Dialogue project also includes a high-level panel co-chaired by Angel Gurría, Secretary General of OECD, and  Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, President of Liberia and UN Goodwill Ambassador for Water and Sanitation.

Another component of the project will be a country level consultation process led by GWP that will investigate country perceptions and priorities regarding water security.

The Global Dialogue will result in a milestone report on ‘Water Security and Economic Growth’ to be presented at the World Water Forum in South Korea in 2015. The project will draw attention to the importance of water within the post-2015 Development Framework and will provide input to the United Nation’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

Related links

The GWP-OECD Global Dialogue on Water Security and Sustainable Growth

Using futures thinking to navigate food, water and energy challenges of the 21st century

A report from Oxford University’s Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment explores the complexities of the interrelated challenges of food, water and energy, aiming to deepen the leadership debate on resource security in the 21st century.

“Faced with dwindling supplies, rising prices and unabated consumption, and with the regional crises and conflicts triggered by these stress points, we urgently need to find new patterns of production, new resource-efficient systems, and new partnerships to achieve lasting and meaningful change” writes Professor Sir David King, former director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

The report, ‘Re|Source 2050 Flourishing from Prosperity: Faster and Further’, develops and applies two alternative frames for the future – Growth and Health – as a means to further understand and navigate action on the resources challenges we are facing.

When applied to water, the Growth frame highlights the significant opportunities that exist for increasing efficiency of water use, enabling the redress of global imbalances in supply while delivering economic returns. Solutions focus on technological innovations and the right pricing of water.

In contrast, the Health frame depicts water management as a complex process involving interconnected systems that transcend the physical, technological, economic, political and social domains. Tradeoffs are seen as inevitable and approaches focus on social drivers for change, multi-scale solutions and adaptive regulation to curb local demand.

The report is a follow-up to the Smith School’s Third World Forum in 2012 which centred on increasing concerns about the link between growing prosperity and unsustainable resource use in the face of population growth and climate change.

Read the full report