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Blue Peace for the Middle East Roundtable on Israel-Palestine-Jordan

Several distinguished policy makers, including former Cabinet Ministers from Israel, Palestine and Jordan met in Oxford on 1-2 October 2014, to discuss possible ways to improve water relations between the three countries as a contribution to building trust, cooperation and peace in the region.

The roundtable was co-hosted by the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Harris Manchester College, Oxford University, and Strategic Foresight Group, in cooperation with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Political Directorate of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Government of Switzerland.

The event was attended by the Rt Hon. Lord Alderdice, Chair of the Liberal Democratic Parliament Party in the House of Lords and Senior Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College, Oxford University.

HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan sent a message to the roundtable encouraging discussion on water resources in the Middle East as a regional common. He welcomed the initiative strongly and found it essential for improving the atmosphere in the region.

Read the full conference report from the Strategic Foresight Group.

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.

Weighing water risks

Dr Alex Money says that companies need to do more than just reduce consumption to address water risk, in a CurrentCast interview, broadcast to 20+ radio stations throughout the United States.

Alex MoneyWhen water risk first appeared in corporate reports, the focus was on reducing consumption. But Alex Money, a Research Fellow at the Smith School for Enterprise and the Environment, says this is a relative concept. “Using a litre of water in Canada is very different from using a litre of water in the Sahara”, he said.

Money believes that companies – especially those expanding into new markets – need to analyse water risk differently. “Getting water from where it is to where people are is the big challenge in terms of water security.”

Money suggests companies focus on their supply chains and local infrastructure. By looking at how to deliver water to new markets in a way that is equitable with other competing uses, companies can better analyse risk and help address global water access.

Listen to the 1 minute CurrentCast podcast

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Developing practical strategies for cooperation in the Nile basin

Kevin Wheeler, DPhil candidate at the Environmental Change Institute, recently presented his work on alternative management strategies of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the effects on the distribution of benefits among the Nile Basin countries of Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Staff from the Sudan Ministry of Water Resources, Dam Implementation Unit and University of Khartoum learn how to use and develop the Eastern Nile RiverWare model

Staff from the Sudan Ministry of Water Resources, Dam Implementation Unit and University of Khartoum learn how to use and develop the Eastern Nile RiverWare model

He presented both at a workshop on Sustainable Hydropower in the 2014 World Water Week in Stockholm (31 August to 5 September) and was a panellist at the HydroVision International conference in Nashville Tennessee (22-25 July) in a session on ‘Sharing water across borders’.

This work followed from Kevin’s 2013 dissertation research for the MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management, in which he conducted interviews in Cairo Egypt, Khartoum Sudan, and Addis Ababa Ethiopia. He taught RiverWare modelling courses in each country to water ministry officials, university academics, sub-basin organisations and private consultants. Together with these stakeholders, he developed various management scenarios for the operation of the contentious Ethiopian Dam, which is currently being constructed on the Ethiopian-Sudanese border.

The MSc research, which was awarded the Water Conservators’ Prize for Best Dissertation, demonstrated how benefits and costs are distributed under different dam management practices and highlighted the tradeoffs associated with these practices. More importantly, this work empowered stakeholders within the basin by teaching them a practical tool that can be used to facilitate the ongoing negotiations between the countries.

Kevin is continuing this work in his DPhil to examine both theoretical and practical mechanisms of collaboration through dam operations under various hydrologic conditions and the implications on trans-boundary water security across different populations.

More information on issues surrounding the Nile Development can be found at:
http://www.scidev.net/global/energy/multimedia/ethiopia-millennium-dam-science-controversy.html

Safe enough? Proportionate climate change adaptation in London’s water supply system

London faces increased risk of water shortages in the future due to climate change and population growth if no actions are taken to increase supply or reduce demand, according to a new study led by Edoardo Borgomeo and Jim Hall at the Environmental Change Institute. The research presents a new methodology for water managers to incorporate climate change uncertainties into water resources planning.

Water resources managers have significant experience in planning and operating their systems in the face of hydrological and weather variability. The reality of climate change, however, poses new challenges for water resources managers. Whilst the precise impacts of climate change for temperature, precipitation and water availability remain uncertain, water managers still need to take into account these uncertainties in their water plans. In the UK water companies are now legally obliged to evaluate the impacts of climate-related risks on their systems.

To help water managers address this challenge, this study develops a methodology for incorporating climate change related uncertainties in water resources planning. The methodology uses a risk-based metric to compare different water management options on the basis of their ability to reduce risks of water shortages under continuously changing climate conditions.

This methodology responds to the need in the UK and worldwide for a way of identifying water management investments which are proportionate to the risks the water systems are facing. Supply-side and demand-side management strategies can be compared based on how cost-effective they are at reducing risks to acceptable levels.

The risk-based methodology was applied to the London water supply area to characterise the most important uncertainties and identify water management options that are capable of reducing the harmful impacts of climate change. Results from the study demonstrate that without further supply or demand interventions, the combined effects of climate change and population growth are projected to increase the risk of water shortages in the future in London.

This research, led by Edoardo Borgomeo and Jim Hall, was carried out in partnership with Thames Water and the Environment Agency. The study contributes to the ongoing discussion in the UK water sector on whether the current approach to water resources planning should change for the next round of water resources management plans in 2019.

Reference

Borgomeo, E., Hall, J.W., Fung, F., Watts, G., Colquhoun, K. and Lambert, C. (2014) Risk-based water resources planning: Incorporating probabilistic nonstationary climate uncertainties. Water Resources Research. DOI: 10.1002/2014WR015558

Harry Verhoeven speaks about the water-food-energy nexus

Dr Harry Verhoeven was a speaker at the international conference on the water-food-energy nexus in drylands held in Rabat, Morocco on 11-14 June 2014. In a video interview, he highlights the politics behind how the nexus is defined and addressed.

The conference ‘Water-Food-Energy Nexus in Drylands: Bridging Science and Policy‘ gathered international experts to discuss the impacts of climate change and water scarcity and potential solutions in the fields of agriculture, water management, agro-business and energy. Speakers provided analyses and recommendations on how to address the interrelations between water, food and energy in global drylands, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

Dr Harry Verhoeven gave a presentation on the nexus and the Nile. Using the example of Egypt, he argued that politically crafted interconnections between water scarcity, food production and energy security have been the foundation of modernist dreams, state-building projects and regime consolidation strategies for generations.

The conference was organised by the OCP Policy Center in partnership with the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), King’s College London and Texas A&M University.

Dr Harry Verhoeven teaches African Politics at the Department of Politics & International Relations, University of Oxford, and he is a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College. He is the Convenor of the Oxford University China-Africa Network and the Oxford Central Africa Forum.

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

Counting each drop: corporate concern mounts about water supplies

Alex Money, DPhil Candidate at the School of Geography and the Environment, warns that big companies may have already taken all the easy options to improve their water efficiency, in a New York Times article.

Companies from beverage makers to the mining and energy industries are beginning to scrutinise their vulnerability to water stresses. ‘Water risk’ has become a useful concept to think about the potential for company costs or operations to be adversely affected by water-related problems, not just shortages or floods, but also pollution, regulatory troubles or increases in the prices of water and water-dependent raw materials.

Read the full article

David Grey delivers keynote at McMaster University water forum

Water security is an increasing global concern as demand for fresh water increases and climate change makes supplies even more unpredictable.

The water security challenge was discussed at McMaster University on 8 April at the Philomathia Water Forum: 21st Century Water Security Challenges for Society and Science.

The event featured two lively discussion panels with topics spanning science, policy, health, innovation and technology, as well as a keynote address from Oxford’s David Grey.

The initiative was organised by Dustin Garrick, Assistant Professor Philomathia Chair in Water Policy at McMaster University. Garrick was previously a research fellow at Oxford and is now leading an interdisciplinary water research network at McMaster which was launched at the event.

“There are several mega-trends in society related to population growth, urbanisation and climate change which make managing existing water more challenging,” Garrick said in an interview with Radio Canada International. “The issue is how to manage that small amount of water that is available as freshwater, for society and society’s evolving needs.”

Garrick is working closely with Oxford colleagues on the OECD/Global Water Partnership Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth, co-chaired by Professors David Grey and Jim Hall. The Task Force aims to build for case for global action to address water-related risks by quantifying the impacts of water insecurity and documenting the evidence of the benefits of strengthening water security.

Related links

Water shortages could disrupt Britain’s electricity supply

The Guardian reports on a team of academics from Oxford and Newcastle who say nuclear and gas-fired power stations could be forced to shut down during future droughts.

The electricity sector uses large quantities of water for cooling processes in thermoelectric power stations, accounting for around half of all water abstractions in England and Wales. As water resources come under increasing pressures from growing populations and climate change, shortages could have serious impacts on the country’s electricity production, warns a new study co-authored by Professor Jim Hall, Director of the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University.

“The high dependency on water in electricity generation means there is a real possibility that in just a few decades some power stations may be forced to decrease production or shut down if there are water shortages”, said Ed Byers in the Guardian article, a researcher at Newcastle University and lead author of the study.

The research, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, assesses the water demand of the government’s proposed energy ‘pathways’ to 2050. While some pathways present opportunities to both reduce water dependency and carbon emissions, others increase the dependence on water resources. For example, using fossil fuels with high levels of carbon capture and storage (CCS) could increase freshwater consumption by up to 70%.

The research shows that up to the 2030s, water use performance improves for all pathways, in line with rapid decarbonisation. This is achieved as renewable energy production expands while older coal, gas and nuclear plants are decommissioned and new and more affordable nuclear and carbon capture-equipped generation begins to take shape.

In the 2030s the water security of the UK could be in the balance as the water intensity of the different pathways diverges, warn the researchers. Coal and gas plants would be forced to shut down if they do not adopt CCS, yet if CCS and nuclear power are deployed on wider scales, water intensity will rapidly increase. Developers could be forced to choose between using limited freshwater supplies or increasing abstraction from tidal and sea water, both of which could be problematic for the environment.

The energy pathway with the highest level of renewables uses the least freshwater. Hybrid or air cooling comes at a slightly high cost and more emissions, but minimises water consumption and therefore could reduce dependency on scarce resources.

Read the Guardian article

Reference

Byers, E.A., Hall, J.W. and Amezaga, J.M. (2014) Electricity generation and cooling water use: UK pathways to 2050. Global Environmental Change. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.01.005