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Innovation in water, part 3: necessity is the mother of invention

Julia Bucknall's picture

 Futuristic water design that would provide water for food in the desert, featured in The Guardian in 2008. Photograph: Exploration Architecture.

“What are the new developments in water? Are there new technologies that developing countries could use to bypass expensive and cumbersome systems?  What’s the next big thing that could solve the water crisis?”  Politicians and the media often ask experts for new ideas to make water “interesting”.  Yet, on the whole, water systems constructed today use much of the same technology they did 100 years ago. 

Innovation in water, part 2: desalination

Julia Bucknall's picture

People skeptical of hearing water experts talking about water crises put their faith in the human capacity to innovate.  They point to the rapid decline in costs of taking the salt out of sea water as evidence that – when we really have to – we will innovate and make sure we can meet our water needs. 

Necessity is the mother of invention.  Israel, one of the driest countries in the world, has invested heavily in non-conventional sources of water.  Desalination currently provides around 40 percent  of Israel’s municipal water supply and the plan is for this source to provide 70 percent by 2015. In March, a team from the the World Bank's WDR2010 and Middle East North Africa units visited the largest operational reverse osmosis desalination plant in the world, in Hadera. 

Twenty minutes ago this water was sea water! from World Bank on Vimeo.

Desalination does indeed have potential to meet the municipal water needs of many people in the world – but only those who live near the sea.  

Uri Shamir, Professor Emeritus at Technion on 'Desalination' from World Bank on Vimeo.

Costs have come down to about $0.55 per cubic metre, about half what it was a decade ago.  How have engineers managed this?  Economies of scale are important.  They have also been able to save on costs by designing an efficient system within the plant and by clever energy saving technology. Will the costs come down much further?  About 10% say the Israeli experts.  Not more.

Israel’s very careful management of every drop of water has led to an interesting problem. 

Can Empowering Women Improve Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Outcomes in Sri Lanka?

Dilinika Peiris's picture

The theme for this year’s World Bank Civil Society Fund grant competition is, “Development and Climate Change – Building Community Resilience in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka” While specifying guidelines for the Fund, we encourage applicants to develop proposals based on their creativity. CSF supports activities that empower and enable citizens to take initiatives to influence development outcomes.

Feizal Samath’s recent article,“Children in the Coastal Town of Kalmunai.” gives a snapshot of Gender issues and Climate Change in the dry zone of Sri Lanka. The article captures the burden on women caused by water shortages, health issues due to lack of clean water, and also the need to include women in policy planning.

In a speech made by World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Naoko Ishii on International Women’s Day 2010, the issue of Gender Equity in the Sri Lankan context was highlighted “Sri Lanka is the best performer in South Asia, when we look at indicators such as by how long women live, how educated they are and if they have a decent standard of living. However, when we measure if women in Sri Lanka have exercised those capacities in economic and political life, the picture looks very different.”

Innovation in water, part 1: drip irrigation

Julia Bucknall's picture

 


Today is World Water Day, a good time to ponder the impacts of global climate change on water availability and quality. Julia Bucknall was part of a team of experts from the WDR2010 and the World Bank's Middle East and North Africa region visiting Israel last week to learn about innovation in water. The blog below is the first in three installments.

Can high-tech agriculture help developing countries get more from their water? 

Israel invented drip irrigation, a technology that has spread rapidly since its introduction in the 1960s and which is widely touted as a key way for countries to close their water gap and be more adapted to climate change.  It certainly does reduce evaporative losses, is often associated with a switch to high-value crops, and reduces fertilizer use when liquid fertilizer is added to the mix and delivered precisely to the root of the plant (a process that delights in the name “fertigation”).  We often see important productivity gains. 

Yet it’s not as simple as that. 

How 'Big Data' Can Benefit the Public Good

Aleem Walji's picture

Patrick Svenburg, co-founder of Random Hacks of Kindness, tells "Developers for Development" audience: "There's no shortage of big ideas in the world.  It's the action part that's often lacking."


“Big Data” –- the billions upon trillions of bytes of digital information that are pumped into cyberspace every nanosecond –- has a single, secular mission: to keep growing. Now, software developers – the not-so-nerdy techies who keep Big Data growing at its feverish rate –- are striving to channel Big Data into the public good.

On Monday at the World Bank, developers came together with the development community -- in person and virtually through Skype video -- to figure out how to do that.

The entire "Developers for Development" can be seen on B-Span, the World Bank's webcasting service.

The afternoon event, which attracted an auditorium-ful of in-person visitors (many of them curious staffers from risk management and ICT at the World Bank) and many more via the live webcast that was offered in English, French, and Spanish, started with developers showing what's already been achieved since the first CrisisCamp about data and the public good was convened in Washington with CrisisCommons-World Bank co-sponsorship in June 2009.

The first demo was about the on-the-fly proliferation of CrisisCamps internationally in response to the earthquake that devastated Haiti in February.

Water and Poor People: No More Charity

Tom Grubisich's picture

When Ned Breslin, CEO for the international social company Water for People, talks, the effect can be like a splash of cold water on your face.  Development-speak is not his style.

Take this snippet from his new "Rethinking Hydro-Philanthropy" essay:

 

 

"Success will require less single-minded focus on the absolute number of people without access to water and sanitation facilities and more focus on the serious questions around long-term impact and sustainability. So that years after the cameras have left, the donor reports have been filed, and the press release circulated, the community is not forgotten."

"Sweat equity" from needy communities is not enough, Breslin argues.  "Up-front community contributions," he says, are essential to making new water -- and sanitation -- facilities sustainable.

Water for People won a US$200,000 Development Markektplace 2007 award for water facilities in Malawi, which Breslin, in this radio interview, says "has some of the worst water and sanitation problems in Africa."

Breslin's credo -- that water and sanitation in poor countries should not be viewed as a charity mission -- is being validated elsewhere.

'Hot Spots,' 'Bright Spots,' and Hidden Strengths in Capacity

Tom Grubisich's picture

There is a laser-like focus on the capacity of developing countries to respond effectively to the steep challenges of their Millennium Development Goals and

Ethiopian farmer, with his children, shows newly irrigated crop to extension agent.

destructive climate change.  Capacity gaps are relentlessly pinpointed.  Sometimes national governments themselves provide the toughest evaluations, like this one from Bangladesh's Ministry of Environment and Forest on the country's climate adaptation action program:

"...institutional capacity including human resource quality [is] weak and poor and needs substantial improvement if the challenges of climate change are to be faced squarely....A lack of awareness, both of the potential gravity and the extent of the problem as well as possible actions that could be taken, is the foremost [barrier]. This lack of awareness exists at all levels from national level policy makers to sectoral and local level officials as well as amongst civil society and the most vulnerable communities themselves...."

There are, to be sure, capacity gaps in Bangladesh and other developing countries, and identifying what and where they are is the first step in closing them.  But there are also "bright spots" and, perhaps more important, underlying strengths, especially at the local level across all developing countries that can be masked by the emphasis on gaps.

Perspectives on Climate Change from Nepal and Sri Lanka

Joe Qian's picture

In the course of my daily life here in Washington, climate change is discussed in small conversations, seen and heard on the news, and is an occasional contentious political issue. But truth be told, it feels like a remote subject. Rush hour traffic is as thick as ever, thermostats continue to be turned up, and the recent snow piled as high as I’ve ever seen.

It wasn’t until on a recent trip to Nepal and Sri Lanka for work that I could truly perceive some tangible effects and possible negative impacts of climate change. While driving through dimly lit Kathmandu, which was plagued by 9 hours of blackouts a day, I wondered what was affecting water tables so that less than optimal amounts of hydro power were being generated.


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