. Poor source water quality, non-existent or insufficient treatment, and defects in water distribution systems and storage mean these consumers use water that often doesn’t meet the WHO’s Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality.
The crowdsourcing framework develops a strategy to engage citizens in measuring and learning about the quality of their own drinking water. Through their participation, citizens provide utilities and water supply agencies with cost-effective water quality data in near-real time. Following a typical crowdsourcing model: consumers use their mobile phones to report water quality information to a central service. That service receives the information, then repackages and shares it via mobile phone messages, websites, dashboards, and social media. Individual citizens can thus be educated about their water quality, and water management agencies and other stakeholders can use the data to improve water management; it’s a win-win.
California is suffering from its fifth year of drought, the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in India are arguing over the sharing of Cauvery river water, and food security for 36 million people is threatened due to drought in large regions of Africa. On the flip side, Bangladesh, Maldives, and other island nations are confronted with the threat of rising seas, while extreme rainfall and flooding (as experienced by Haiti just a few weeks ago) are expected to become increasingly common. Even without these extremes, almost every country is facing its own challenges in managing water resources.
As Operations Analysts in the World Bank Water Global Practice, and as water management newbies, we were excited to go to the Netherlands and Israel, respectively, to understand how these two countries have overcome their unique obstacles to become prime examples in water engineering. Upon examining the findings alongside senior specialists in the Practice and practitioners from client countries, it is clear that despite each country’s distinct topography, they share a focus on collaboration among stakeholders and an emphasis on efficiency powered by innovative technology.
Just a few months ago, the World Economic Forum’s 10th Global Risk Report ranked water crises as the top global risk in terms of impact, more than the spread of infectious diseases, weapons of mass destruction or interstate conflict. With such global implications, we face a considerable challenge to develop the appropriate response. But we have also long grappled with a simple truth: water management is a complex web of local situations and issues, dictated by hydro-climatic conditions, spatial and demographic patterns, complex political economy dynamics, and technical considerations.
One increasingly pressing issue is the widening gap between the supply of water resources and the demand for water services in rapidly growing urban areas. This is exacerbated by dwindling resources in the face of climate vulnerability, and a legacy of poor governance and wasteful uses. This gap is most extreme in arid areas, which have few contingency options, and are left with few, if any, fallback options in case of further strain on the system.
I met a young rice farmer during my recent trip to Myanmar. He has a tiny plot of land on the outskirts of the irrigation system and could harvest only one rice crop a year. Even if he worked hard, and the weather was at its best, he produced only enough rice to feed his family for 10 months. During the last two months of the rice-growing season, he would walk around his village, a small plastic cup in his hands, and ask neighbors if he could borrow some rice. This would happen year after year.
Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon. A majority of Myanmar’s laborers work in agriculture. A third of them live below the poverty line and depend on rice for survival.
Water management lies behind most of the great development challenges of the 21st Century. It's obvious but we too often forget that we won't be able to achieve food security, energy security, healthy cities and productive ecosystems without greatly improving how we manage water. In the global north, the challenges of basic access to water services are less pressing than they are in the south but -- as hurricane Sandy showed New York -- the challenges of making the right quantity and quality of water available where it is most needed still loom large.
Hammerby Sjöstad, in central Stockholm, is integrated urban water management in action. The district, which was intended to be an Olympic Village, once was an old industrial area, but it has been transformed into a sustainable city.
Starting about a decade ago, the planners took on the ambitious goal of reducing the environmental footprint of the neighborhood by 50% compared to other recent developments in Stockholm. They brought in new ideas and put them into practice at surprisingly low costs.
While I was in Stockholm for World Water Week this past week, I spoke to Erik Freudenthal from GlashusEtt in Hammerby Sjöstad about the project.
Africa’s development agenda is inherently regional due to the large number of landlocked countries (15) and trans-boundary rivers (63 basins), as well as an uneven distribution of energy resources and load centers. Though Africa is endowed with a generous supply of water resources, most of its rivers, lakes and aquifers cross country borders - the Nile crosses 10, the Niger 9, the Senegal 4, and the Zambezi 8. This therefore calls for cooperative water resource management and coordinated investments to increase basin yields of food, power, and other economic opportunities, while strengthening environmental sustainability and mitigating the effects of droughts and floods.