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.
As a practice there has been a lot of attention recently on innovation in the water sector. And while innovation might mean using new technology to help solve old problems, it also means looking at a problem from a different angle to find possible solutions. In this post from Sana Agha Al Nimer, Senior Water Specialist at the World Bank, she shares her firsthand account of how speaking to children about water issues is a powerful tool for the sector.
Mamtoai puts her blue token key into the slot of the standpost and out flows water.
It is an early spring morning in October and the sun shines brightly in Lower Ha Thetsane, an area of Maseru, Lesotho, where Mamtoai lives. Other women and young kids are busy chatting as they wait for their turn to collect water. Mamtoai fills up her 20-liter plastic container, snaps the lid tight and raises it up in the air to carry the heavy load on the crown of her head.
The installation of pre-paid water standposts that provide piped and treated water in Ha Thetsane is recent. The distance to a communal tap, installed long ago when the area was a rural settlement, used to be far longer. If pipes or taps were broken, water would be lost and turn the earth floor into mud. The cost of water tanked by local entrepreneurs to these peripheral areas could vary hugely - invariably much higher than the formal regulated water system. To expand water distribution, Lesotho’s largest utility the Water and Sewerage Company WASCO has installed water standposts into areas like Ha Thetsane.
At the "Reinventing Governance" conference in Boulder, Colorado, earlier this month I learned about a participatory method that made a lot of sense to me: community-based research. In principle, this is a partnership between experts in some technical area and members of the community in which some project is supposed to be carried out. Boyd Fuller and Ora-orn Poocharoen from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy reported how members of the Phrak Nam Daeng community in Thailand took on dam building engineers and public water management and in a series of public meetings with community members, experts, and authorities found a solution for a watergate on the local river that would benefit the communities in the area while at the same time maintaining high technical standards.
Almost all human and ecosystem activity relies on a safe, stable supply of water resources. And since the resource needs to be allocated to myriad uses, from drinking to agriculture to instream flows to transportation, industry, and spiritual transformation, water management is conflict management. Moreover, when surface basins or aquifer systems cross international boundaries the unifying principles of integrated watershed management and all the attendant centripetal forces within a basin directly contradict the centrifugal needs of state separation and sovereignty.
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There are 263 basins, and 265 aquifers, which cross the political boundaries of two or more countries. International basins cover 45.3 percent of the earth’s land surface, affect about 40percent of the world’s population, and account for approximately 80 percent of global river flow. Ninety percent of the global population lives in countries with international basins. While the potential for paralyzing disputes is especially high in these basins, history shows that water can catalyze dialogue and cooperation, even between especially contentious riparians. Moreover, as we move from thinking about rights to thinking in terms of equitably sharing “baskets” of benefits, opportunities to cooperate become palpable.