For the past two years, the rains have been poor in Somalia. What comes next is tragically familiar. Dry wells. Dying livestock. Failed harvests. Migration. Masses of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The same is happening in Yemen, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. However, poor rains are not the only water problem that creates havoc. Floods, water-borne diseases, and transboundary water conflicts can all cause severe human suffering and disruptions to political, economic, and environmental systems.
water resources management
A challenging area in agricultural water management is the assessment of policy and investment options in irrigated agriculture for conserving water and adapting to increasing water scarcity, in particular when the linkages to groundwater resources and their management are to be considered and incorporated.
However, this is an increasingly important area of research for a number of reasons. First, and is a major contributing factor to the water scarcity situation in many countries. Second, with almost a quarter of freshwater withdrawals for irrigated agriculture being made up of groundwater supplies—corresponding to 70% of total groundwater withdrawals—, And, third, with groundwater discharge contributing to the base flow of streams and surface water contributing to groundwater recharge, and these interactions are intensified by human action, in particular water withdrawals for irrigated agriculture. Even in cases where irrigated agriculture depends mostly on surface water, groundwater impacts therefore need to be accounted for when assessing water conservation efforts (and vice versa).
This post by Laura Tuck originally appeared on Project Syndicate’s website on May 4, 2016.
Today, actual wars between countries over water resources are uncommon, owing to improved dialogue and cross-border cooperation. But, within countries, competition for scarce water is becoming a more common source of instability and conflict, especially as climate change increases the severity and frequency of extreme weather events. As we detail in our new report “High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy,” limited and erratic water availability reduces economic growth, induces migration, and ignites civil conflict, which fuels further potentially destabilizing migration.
Water covers 70% of Earth’s surface, but if you live in Sana’a, Sao Paolo, California, or the many other areas where drought or chronic water scarcity has affected daily life, you know that abundance can be relative.
This image from the US Geological Survey shows that only a tiny fraction of Earth’s water is the accessible freshwater we need to live, grow food, sustain the environment, and power our cities and jobs.
Growing cities and populations and a changing climate are placing unprecedented pressures on water. According to the World Economic Forum, water crises are among the top risks to global economic growth. For at least 650 million people, even the water they are able to find is unsafe.
But this also offers an opportunity to provide safer water and better manage our water resources for a more resilient future.
This year, #worldwaterday focuses on the connection between water and jobs, and these connections primarily fall under two categories: productivity and sustainability.
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.
Water does not respect geopolitical boundaries. Hydrological systems are completely oblivious of international relations. This makes life complicated for the water managers, financiers, diplomats, and most of all – the water users – around the world’s approximately 276 transboundary river basins, 63 of which are in Africa. Sixty percent of the world’s freshwater flows are in transboundary rivers, and 40% of the world’s population lives in their river basins. When water cuts across borders, it poses economic, financial, logistical and political challenges for people trying to manage and develop the resource.
Climate change is increasing uncertainty about where and when water will be available. It is affecting billions of people living in transboundary basins, and as often happens, the poor are the hardest hit. There is a long list of potential problems people will face – supply in water-stressed regions will diminish; some regions are likely to have more water than they can handle; most challenging is the fact that the timing and amounts of future water availability are impossible to predict with certainty. Other risks - the increasing intensity of droughts, floods, typhoons, and monsoons; uncertainties around waterborne disease; glacier melt and decreased storage in snow-pack; glacial-lake outburst floods; sea-level rise and salt-water intrusion - all pose the highest risk to poor communities that are least able to cope.
The World Bank at World Water Week 2015
As population and economic growth bump up against finite—and increasingly degraded—water resources, competition between agricultural, industrial, and municipal water uses increases, putting stress on existing water sources. This stress is felt most acutely in urban areas, particularly among the urban poor.
Moreover, urban water management systems are inefficient, leading to an uneven quantity and availability of water and related services. In addition, urban water management must consider the effects of climate change, including rising temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and climate variability, on water resource availability.
The cost of solar technology has come down, way down, making it is a viable way to expand access to energy for hundreds of millions of people living in energy poverty. For farmers in developing countries, the growing availability of solar water pumps offers a viable alternative to system dependent on fossil fuel or grid electricity. While relatively limited, experience in several countries shows how solar irrigation pumps can make farmers more resilient against the erratic shifts in rainfall patterns caused by climate change or the unreliable supply and high costs of fossil fuels needed to operate water pumps. Experience also suggests a number of creative ways that potential water resource trade-offs can be addressed.