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Water

What El Niño teaches us about climate resilience

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
It was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, and triggered famines that have been linked to China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion and even the French revolution.

Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.

The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.

And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.

But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.

5 trends in public-private partnerships in water supply and sanitation

Victoria Rigby Delmon's picture

A lot has been happening in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) in the water supply and sanitation sector over the last few years, contrary to some misperceptions. Today’s market is radically different from the 1990s (dominated by the large concession model and appetite of private investors to finance projects) or the 2000s (contract terminations and nervousness about benefits that PPP could bring in the water supply and sanitation sector).

Developing countries, facing the challenges of sustainability and financial viability due to the inescapable realities of poor water supply and sanitation services and constrained budgets, are looking at PPPs as an option worth considering to help performance or to develop new sources.  Applying lessons learned from the past, with a better understanding of what PPPs in water can and cannot bring, water PPPs are being used increasingly by public utilities in a more focused way, to manage a specific subset of activities or challenges, such as increasing energy efficiency and water availability through non-revenue water management, or development of a new water source.  The focus is on performance based contracting, with payments against outputs. 

Without empowered women, there is no future for rural areas

Francisco Obreque's picture
A beneficiary family from the commmunity of San José del Paredón (in Chuquisaca, Bolivia) celebrates the new irrigation system.
A beneficiary family from the commmunity of San José del Paredón in Bolivia celebrates the new irrigation system. Photo: Gabriela Orozco / World Bank. 

“When the company let us down, we only imposed a fine. We must be firm with companies and with vendors, otherwise they fail to fulfill their end. This is how to move the project forward”. This testimony impressed me a lot when I heard it from an indigenous woman in Bolivia, who was proud to be part of the steering committee and defend the interests of the community in the project.

 
Bolivia has a terrific success story to tell about encouraging rural women to take the lead in their communities and organizations and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Natural Capital Accounting: Going beyond the numbers

Stig Johansson's picture
Guatemala. World Bank

Here are some facts that you might not know: Do these numbers just seem like bits of trivia? In fact, these are all important results that came out of natural capital accounting (NCA) – a system for generating data on natural resources, such as forests, energy and water, which are not included in traditional statistics. NCA follows standards approved by the United Nations to ensure trust, consistency and comparison across time and countries.
 
The results above are among the numerous NCA findings that are being generated every year, with support from a World Bank-led global partnership called Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES). In response to the growing appetite for information on NCA, WAVES has set up a new Knowledge Center bringing together resources on this topic.

Government could cheaply encourage citizens to save water by doing this

Laura De Castro Zoratto's picture
 Photo: Curt Carnemark / World Bank


Crises in access to water are making headlines around the world. Among difficult policy pathways to respond, convincing people to change their behavior and reduce their consumption can be one of the hardest.

This post gives us a promising picture from Belén, a small town in Costa Rica.  Of Belén’s 21,633 inhabitants, 99.3% have access to water service, but shortages are anticipated by 2030. Our recent study demonstrated that the government could cheaply encourage citizens to save water by enabling them to compare their consumption with that of their peers. 

This is a timely lesson, as the United Nations estimates that more than two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed regions by 2025.  Demographic and economic pressures make water management an increasingly urgent policy priority even in water rich areas like Latin America, home to nearly 31% of the world's freshwater resources. 

While Costa Rica is relatively well-endowed with water resources, current demand virtually matches production capacity  Risks of water deficits and existing shortages are heightened by overdevelopment of areas with limited water supply. To help address these challenges, we partnered with local authorities in the small municipality of Belén to conduct a randomized control trial, capturing an innovative approach that can help conserve water across the country, and in similar contexts around the world.

The project built on insights from the growing field of behavioral economics, which challenges the underlying, intentionally simplified assumption of standard models: that people make rational decisions based on a self-interested cost-benefit analysis. Behavioral economics borrows from other sciences to consider the full scope of social and psychological influences on human decision-making.

Three innovations to drive infrastructure development

Teo Eng Cheong's picture
container ship in Panama canal
Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wirralwater/ 

A few months ago, I had a chance to visit the Panama Canal, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. It is truly a mega-structure that is the largest infrastructure project of its time.
 
When I saw it, what struck me the most was - “How could this be possible”? One hundred years ago, Panama was a country that was just formed and capital markets were not very well-developed. And technology was obviously not as advanced as it is today.
 
Fast forward 100 years, in the world today, Asia has a huge demand for infrastructure. In Singapore, we know of Hyflux, which has one of the largest desalination plants in Singapore. Sembcorp Utilities has a power plant project in Bangladesh recently and PSA has a port in Guangxi China. These are just some examples of Singapore companies who have gone into infrastructure development. Yet, not enough projects have been implemented, especially in Asia.

Will the Sun God answer poor farmers' prayers or make things worse?

Amit Jain's picture
A paddy farmer with his umbrella on a rainy day in West Bengal, India. Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank
Farmer in West Bengal, India. Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank)

If God appeared in the dream of a paddy farmer in India’s West Bengal and said, “You have made me happy with your hard work, make any three wishes and they will be granted,” the farmer will say “I want rain, rain, rain.”

That thought kept playing over and over in my mind, after interacting with farmers in the paddy fields of the Siliguri and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal. Located in India’s northeast, the area is famous for its scenic beauty, tea plantations and paddy fields. While the region’s fertile soil makes it ideal for a variety of crops, it is almost entirely dependent on rainfall for irrigation, like anywhere else in the world.

To reduce their dependence on the monsoons, India’s farmers have taken 12 million electricity connections and 9 million diesel pump sets with which they pump up groundwater for irrigation.

Although agriculture’s share of India’s economy is declining—it contributes to less than 15% of India’s GDP—it still employs 50% of the country’s workforce. Not surprisingly, perhaps, up to 20% of all the electricity used in India is for agriculture, mostly for irrigation. In some states, this can account for as much as 30-50% of all the electricity used in the state.

There are many states where power for agricultural purposes is highly subsidized, and this, combined with an unreliable supply of electricity, often causes farmers to leave their pumps on all the time. This wastes both electricity and water, with too much energy being used and too much groundwater being extracted, often way more water than needed. 

Since more than half of India’s cultivated land is yet to be irrigated, a business-as-usual scenario will lead to a huge rise in India’s energy needs for agriculture alone.

But there is an alternative—solar energy.

With decreasing solar modules prices (70% in the last 4 years), solar pumps are fast becoming a viable financial solution for irrigation.

However, there are several questions about the use of solar pumps that need to be answered:

Won’t solar pumps only make farmers more lax about using energy resources and wasting groundwater?

Getting the water sector in the Western Balkans ready for EU membership

Angelika Heider's picture
The Vodovod Slavonski Brod, an
​EU-financed wastewater treatment plant in Croatia.
Photo credit: World Bank Croatia

​It would be my first time in Croatia, so naturally I was excited to be part of the team that organized a Danube Water Program workshop on EU Cross Support in the Water Sector in Zagreb September 28-29.

Initially, the reasons behind the World Bank’s support of this workshop aimed at facilitating the alignment of national water legislations with the European Union (EU) acquis were not obvious to me. Given, however, that almost all of the countries covered under the Danube Water Program find themselves somewhere on the path towards EU membership or candidacy, it made sense for some of them to convene.

And who could possibly be more suitable to host such an event than the EU’s youngest member state, Croatia?​

So at the end of September, in a small and – despite the suits rather informal setting at the local World Bank office, around 20 people from several line ministries and water works gathered in a conference room (with a great view of a somewhat rainy Zagreb) for a two-day event. Representatives from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia came together to discuss potential issues and hurdles that they might encounter in the transposition of EU water laws into their national legal frameworks.​

How can we close the infrastructure gap in Asia? Ideas from the Asia-Singapore Infrastructure Roundtable

Cledan Mandri-Perrott's picture

What does one trillion dollars look like? In the most literal sense, one trillion – that’s one million multiplied by one million -- is a “1” followed by 12 zeroes.  For participants in this week’s Asia-Singapore Infrastructure Roundtable, $1 trillion per year looks like how much infrastructure investment Asia needs to maintain its rapid urbanization.

To advise governments on how to get from here to there, Laurence Carter, Senior Director of the World Bank Group’s Public Private Partnerships Group, and other leaders from around the world shared their ideas during high-level strategy sessions.

Why climate change is an existential threat to the Bangladesh Delta

Lia Sieghart's picture

Bangladesh Delta Series: 3

In the second in this series of blogs, we highlighted the need to introduce adaptive delta management to the Bangladesh delta. The reason—to manage the long-term risks facing the Delta by investing in adaptive and flexible, short-term activities. The most striking need for this approach is climate change, which unchecked will undermine Bangladesh’s many development gains.


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