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Yesterday — March 4th 20214. Cross-cutting

Confronting Climate Uncertainty Head on in the Philippines

March 4th 2021 at 05:27

“With new and improved data-driven analyses capabilities and better, more frequent reporting accompanied by resonating public communication campaigns, local actors may be motivated — even compelled — to improve water resource management that can benefit all Filipinos.”

What does climate change look like? Here, one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded, Typhoon Haiyan, approaches the Philippines in a November 2013 composite image incorporating data captured by the geostationary satellites of the Japan Meteorological Agency (MTSat 2) and EUMETSAT (Meteosat-7), overlaid with NASA’s ‘Black Marble’ imagery. Photo credit: JMA/EUMETSAT

A changing climate is forcing a reckoning across the Philippines — a sprawling island nation spread across more than 7,500 islands in the western Pacific where water is virtually everywhere and informs every facet of daily life. As the Philippines finds itself on the front lines of climate change, the country’s proximity to water is both a blessing and a challenge. With government officials and water resource managers navigating complex and interwoven climate challenges — such as shifting precipitation patterns, intensified cycles of flood and drought, coastal erosion, sea-level rise, and stronger typhoons — it has become crystal clear that water poses a pressing national security threat.

The USAID-supported Safe Water Project aims to improve access and levels of service from communal faucets to piped services. Photo credit: USAID Safe Water

Decision-makers in the Philippines increasingly view water and its sustainable management as foundational in any successful long-term effort to build a more resilient country capable of withstanding — and indeed thriving in the face of — future climate shocks. To support the Philippine government’s water security efforts, USAID, through its five-year, $18.4 million Safe Water Project (SWP) has been working with national and local government partners, community leaders, municipal officials, water service providers, businesses, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other partners around the country since 2019 to strengthen the country’s Philippines’ water security and climate resilience. Implemented in the provinces of Negros Occidental, Sarangani, and Palawan, the project provides new sustainable water resource management technology and techniques, improves access to a reliable, resilient water supply, and incentivizes more accountable, sustainable, and financially-disciplined water sector governance.

On the Front Lines

The effects of climate change on the Philippines have been anything but subtle. The extraordinarily powerful Typhoon Haiyan that made landfall in November 2013 registered as one of the strongest tropical cyclones in recorded history and caused widespread devastation. A severe drought in 2015 led many cities and provinces to declare a state of calamity due to serious water shortages. More recently, Typhoon Vamco brought intense and sustained rainfall to the islands in November 2020, threatening dams and triggering devastating flooding of large and small downstream farming communities.

With its high degree of vulnerability and exposure to various climate change impacts, the Philippines has renewed its commitment, through a whole-of-government approach, to better plan for and respond to future natural disasters.

Residents inspect storm damage following the passage of Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. Photo credit: Sam Churchill

Adding further stress to the country’s overall water security is the fact that even during years of relative water supply abundance, water rights are often fiercely contested. Competing demands for allocating the country’s finite water supply are intensifying under the pressures of population growth, urbanization, and economic modernization. As if that weren’t enough, many people must contend with serious public health threats on a daily basis affecting tens of millions of Filipinos who lack reliable access to safe water and sanitation services.

“The Philippines faces a number of water-related challenges,” explains Lawrence Hardy II, Mission Director for USAID/Philippines, Pacific Islands, and Mongolia. “Recent studies show that the Philippines has the lowest water availability per capita among Southeast Asian countries [and] projections suggest the Philippines will continue to see a high degree of water shortages through 2040. About 12 million Filipinos do not have access to clean drinking water, while 80 percent of the country’s 100 million people are not connected to wastewater treatment services, [and] waterborne diseases remain among the top ten leading causes of morbidity in the country.”

“Challenges often present unexpected opportunities.”

In spite of the gravity of the Philippines’ water security and public health challenges, confronting and preparing for grave threats can also help open the doors to a more sustainable future. “Challenges often present unexpected opportunities for USAID to be adaptive, creative, and responsive in its interventions,” says John Edgar, Director of USAID/Philippines Environment Office.

Climate Is Water

While the relationship between climate change and water supply may not seem particularly obvious, the two are in fact deeply intertwined. Climate change can degrade water supply in a variety of ways.

The Western Pacific is particularly vulnerable to typhoon activity. Photo credit: NOAA

For example, the heavy sustained rainfall that accompanies typhoons can trigger landslides, accelerate riverbank erosion, and wash agricultural chemicals and other contaminants into waterways as storm runoff — degrading water quality and threatening the health of communities that depend on these same waterways for their drinking water supply. Closer to the coast, intensified storm surges, sea level rise, mangrove habitat loss, and coastal erosion can accelerate saltwater intrusion into aquifers, which serve as key water sources for many towns and cities. And prolonged droughts can cause surface water levels to drop, concentrating harmful pollutants and encouraging overreliance on groundwater as an alternative water source.

Regardless of the cause of water supply degradation, water service providers across the Philippines are bearing much of the expenses. They are struggling with both higher water treatment and infrastructure maintenance costs due to damage inflicted during extreme weather events whose effects are felt for months or even years. Mounting operating expenditures are one of the many reasons SWP has been working closely with cash-strapped water service providers, and conducting financial stress tests to help steer them onto the path of long-term fiscal health. This is particularly important at a time when many service providers are experiencing significant revenue loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic and postponing improvements and expansions as a result.

The Puerto Princesa Water District, Palawan Province’s biggest service provider, has in the past resorted to rationing during periods of drought because of limited water sources. The Safe Water Project will assist the Water District develop a new surface water source. Photo credit: USAID Safe Water

Creating a Resilient Water Supply

Drawing on guidance from USAID’s climate risk assessment and planning tools, SWP has placed climate considerations at the core of its evidence-based interventions for creating a more resilient, reliable water supply. “Building on our past experience responding to the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan and severe droughts, USAID ensured that climate resilience is an integral part of SWP’s design,” Edgar says. “USAID applies climate risk assessment in all its projects to understand and mitigate risks from climate change. SWP benefited from USAID’s robust assessment of climate risks, making it well positioned to integrate resilience across interventions [including] integrating climate considerations in water-system engineering designs to ensure that systems can withstand impacts of typhoons and flooding.”

“Poor data availability, management, and accessibility have been hounding water sector planning and policymaking.”

Since its launch, SWP has been collecting climate and hydrological data to monitor and analyze the condition of watersheds that serve as critical drinking water sources. This ongoing effort to fill in longstanding data gaps will go a long way toward improving water management in the three project sites, as well as elsewhere across the country, according to Roderick Planta, Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Development of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). As the Philippines’ planning agency, NEDA leads and coordinates water sector programming and serves as SWP’s key implementing partner. “Poor data availability, management, and accessibility have been hounding water sector planning and policymaking,” he admits. “Through the collection and subsequent analysis of these various data, a more informed and sound, scientific recommendation or decision can be expected. While the data to be gathered under SWP are context-specific, the tools and methods that will be developed may be further enhanced and scaled up at the national level.”

This month, SWP will present that data for the first time in a series of hydrological studies that seek to shape decision-makers’ thinking about water and hopefully lay the foundation for more sustainable water management practices. “With new and improved data-driven analyses capabilities and better, more frequent reporting accompanied by resonating public communication campaigns, local actors may be motivated — even compelled — to improve water resource management that can benefit all Filipinos,” says Hardy.

The new data-rich hydrological studies will shed further light on the islands’ delicate water balance and serve as “baseline data for more accurate and reliable predictions in the future,” says Francisco Alolod, a manager with the General Santos City Water District. This information in turn will empower water officials like Alolod to more effectively manage water supply in a manner that can withstand climate shocks and extreme weather events.

Representatives from the Safe Water Project, Provincial Governments, civil society, and private sector partners sign Memorandums of Understanding during a livestreamed, multi-site participation webcast broadcast via the USAID/Philippines Facebook page during World Sanitation Day 2020. Photo credit: USAID Safe Water

The studies “are crucial in establishing the baseline water security situation” of the three provinces where SWP is active, explains Alma Porciuncula, SWP’s director. “The reports include analyses of land cover and temperature and rainfall variations in the watersheds as factors impacting surface water runoff and recharge rates, establishing the current and projected conditions of the water resources. The findings of the studies will feed into policy actions, plans, and programs of the provinces.”

According to local SWP partners, better data can also go a long way toward shaping the design and implementation of more sustainable water management techniques and enhancing watershed protections. “Our local government will surely benefit from these hydrological analyses by using them as the basis for our future water-system projects and designs,” says Israel Delvo, an administrative officer in Alabel municipality. Delvo added that better access to hydrological data can help local officials — including emergency response personnel — identify patterns and more accurately predict and respond to future climate disruptions.

Facing Uncertainty, Well-Prepared

The path forward will not be an easy one, with all forecasts appearing to indicate rough weather ahead. “The Philippines is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the negative impacts of climate change,” points out USAID’s Joanne Dulce, who manages SWP. “Climate projections from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration indicate that increases in temperature, changes in rainfall, and extreme weather events nationwide will intensify between 2020 and 2050 and are likely to cause more droughts, floods, and storms.”

Despite the looming uncertainty, USAID’s partnerships in the Philippines are built for the long haul, drawing on a history of cooperation. After all, SWP “builds upon USAID’s previous successes that have promoted water security in the Philippines,” says Hardy. “Since 2013, USAID has invested $30 million to increase access to water supply and sanitation services for underserved communities alone.”

In the years ahead, SWP will continue to help better equip and position water managers across the Philippines to successfully respond to climate disruptions. Thankfully, the future looks bright. After all, Filipinos have demonstrated their collective resilience time and time again in response to a wide range of recent shocks, from typhoons and floods to droughts and COVID-19. “I have witnessed the Filipinos’ incredible resilience to bounce back from the wave of disasters that hit the country,” says Edgar. “While the economic recovery from the pandemic will be slow, I am fully confident that the Philippines will be able to adapt to a new and better normal.”

SWP and its partners are well-positioned to meet the moment and have ambitious plans: By the time SWP closes its doors in 2024, it expects to improve water and sanitation services for more than 1 million Filipinos, laying the foundation for a more resilient and prosperous future.

By Russell Sticklor

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 12, Issue 1; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.


Confronting Climate Uncertainty Head on in the Philippines was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Going Beyond Taps and Toilets in the Sahel

March 4th 2021 at 05:22
When local water agencies have data about water use, they are better able to maintain access to safe water for families in their communities. Photo credit: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Burkina Faso and Niger have some of the lowest rates of access to safe water and sanitation in the world. Water scarcity and water resource mismanagement in both countries undermine farming and livestock livelihoods, and sometimes create conflict. Growing risks associated with droughts and floods, combined with populations that increasingly face internal displacement due to violent conflict, undermine the prospects for economic growth and poverty alleviation. People in these Sahel nations who face these shocks and stressors often suffer through one humanitarian crisis after another, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified these challenges.

Improved water governance helps ensure that supplies are available when they are needed for crops. Photo credit: Sean Sheridan/Mercy Corps

USAID is working to break this cycle through an approach that combines emergency humanitarian aid with long-term development assistance. It is doing so through the second iteration of its Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced (RISE II) program, a broad five-year, more than $700 million program that is being implemented in Burkina Faso and Niger. RISE II addresses governance; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); health; family planning; nutrition; food security; economic well-being; and empowering women and youth.

Water insecurity and pervasive shocks and stresses are two of Burkina Faso’s and Niger’s most critical challenges. RISE II includes the TerresEauVie (TEV) activity, whose central focus is water security. TEV, started in 2019, also focuses on food security, land access, and natural resources management. The $39 million activity has helped vulnerable populations effectively manage shocks and stresses such as droughts and floods and pursue sustainable pathways out of poverty.

TEV has three objectives: improved water security; productive land use; and improved management of shocks, risks, and stresses. “I think it’s actually the first [activity] of its kind in the Sahel,” says Maggie Janes-Lucas, director of the Sahel Collaboration and Communication project, which works in partnership with TEV. “It is quite unique and quite important.”

In the commune of Barsalogho, Burkina Faso, TerresEauVie rehabilitated 20 water points reaching approximately 6,000 people and trained five community relays to instruct members of all local water users’ associations. Photo credit: TerresEauVie

Building the Capacity of Local Government to Address Water Insecurity

TEV works mainly at the commune level — the rough equivalent of a county government in the United States. It also collaborates with other RISE II related projects as well as government agencies at the village, regional, and national levels. TEV’s goal is to build local capacity for long-term management of water and land resources along with shock preparedness and response. TEV focuses on 25 (out of 250) of Niger’s communes, or 4,100 villages, and 15 (out of 350) of Burkina Faso’s communes, or 700 villages.

As one of its first tasks, TEV assessed the capacity of commune officials to manage people’s concerns and expectations about water and land related issues. “With [commune officials], we are developing plans for their improvement, where they see their issues, where they see their strengths, and where they want to take this,” explains Harvey Schartup, TEV’s director. “Together, we develop a capacity-building plan.” He says that over the coming years, TEV will train commune officials and their staff to increase their management, collaboration, and planning skills. These enhanced skills are one puzzle piece in the overall systemic approach to help officials better manage and improve operations. They also allow them to better anticipate, prepare, and respond to the shocks associated with more frequent extreme climate events and insecurity situations.

Locals in Tillaberi, Niger, gather in February 2021 to discuss factors that contribute to local flooding. Photo credit: Mercy Corps

Making Data for Planning Available and Usable

TEV is also working to improve the data available to communes so that they can make more informed decisions about water resources and WASH investments. In both Niger and Burkina Faso, communes are responsible for managing land, natural resources, and infrastructure development. These communes need to know the condition and location of all their health centers, water wells, roads, and cattle corridors. “All of this information that is dispersed, we are trying to bring it all together so the users would be able to have a systemic and long-range view of a particular geographic area,” explains Schartup.

TerresEauVie supported the creation of a land-use map for Filingué commune in southwestern Niger to help strengthen local natural resources management. Image credit: TerresEauVie

Communes are particularly interested in using these data to develop local land use and natural resource and risk management plans that address water resources, whether for agricultural, industrial, or household use. Currently, local water agencies do not have this sort of management tool. “This is new for them, and they are very interested in using and adding to this information we are providing them,” says Patrice Beaujault, TEV deputy director.

For example, in southwestern Niger, officials in Filingué looked for ways to solve frequent conflicts over water sources. TEV, in collaboration with other RISE II implementers, helped communal authorities and stakeholders map out the various resources and competing interests in the area. Together they developed a plan and a series of administrative ordinances, called a Local Convention, that established fair water and land use. The commune adopted its Local Convention in January 2020.

The mayor of Seytenga, Burkina Faso, demonstrates healthy handwashing hygiene to contribute to public awareness about COVID-19 prevention. Photo credit: TerresEauVie

Coping with the Pandemic

Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou reported the country’s first case of COVID-19 on March 9, 2020. In the days that followed, leaders from around the country struggled to respond. “I quickly issued a municipal order to close the markets and ban demonstrations that could potentially mobilize large numbers of people,” says Amadou Tamboura, mayor of Seytenga in the country’s north. “I also asked people to respect the measures taken by the government. But what more can we do with our resources? It was at this point that TerresEauVie proposed that we draw up a communal response and prevention plan to respond to COVID-19.”

COVID-19 plans like these serve as roadmaps for communes preparing for and implementing prevention and response. They also foster communal leadership in directing where development and government agencies should provide resources. For example, the Seytenga commune drafted its action plan by involving key actors at the communal level, including those in health services, aligning with existing national guidelines. A communal response committee also meets once a month to plan major activities.

“I also noticed that people now wash their hands when they arrive at the Health Center.”

As part of the resulting plan, TEV supported the commune in conducting an information campaign via local radio in partnership with the Ministry of Health. One program featured a local nurse, Ahmadou Maiga, answering questions from listeners. “Some people thanked me by phone and in person at the Health Center for the clarity of the explanations,” Maiga said. “I also noticed that people now wash their hands when they arrive at the Health Center.”

TerresEauVie trained locals on how to interpret and use U.S. Geological Survey land-use maps to build communal multi-hazard contingency plans that will allow their communities to better navigate challenges such as disease, drought, flood, and crop parasites. Photo credit: TerresEauVie

TEV is doing similar work in Niger. In the Maradi region’s Chadakori commune, TEV worked with local officials to develop a simple framework for their COVID-19 contingency plan. Community members, including youth and women’s groups, worked together and led the data collection and analysis process to draw up the plan. TEV brought together the Crisis and Disaster Prevention and Management Sub-Regional Committee, the mayor, and communal technical services to review the first version of the plan together. This allowed them to go into greater detail around the plan’s objectives, vulnerability factors, and expected results, and to develop a more concrete working relationship between local and regional authorities.

“We have a contingency plan that meets our standards,” says Zeinabou Ibrahim, the commune’s secretary general. “We have now mastered the methodology for developing good contingency plans.” TEV has now begun supporting communes to transform their COVID-19 plans into communal multi-risk plans, encompassing a long-term perspective for addressing broader shock preparedness and response.

TerresEauVie has been helping strengthen local capacity to monitor water quality. Photo credit: TerresEauVie

Goal Is Self-Reliance

In all of TEV’s work, the hope is to have a wider impact on water security in more than just the target communes in Burkina Faso and Niger. “Our vision goes beyond our targeted communities and those three component areas,” says Schartup. “We work with the communes and their support structures from day one, facilitating, mentoring, and assisting their efforts with the goal of long-term sustainable self-reliance. The aim is to develop successful, locally adapted models that the government will be able to expand beyond the 25 communes in Niger and 15 in Burkina Faso.”

“The idea at the end of the day is for self-reliance at the communal level,” agrees Beaujault.

By Christine Chumbler

In Sargane, Niger, a village outside Niger’s capital city, Niamey, Halima Issoufou (wearing a white headscarf) collects water from a well for her family. Halima lives with her husband and three children in a rudimentary mud hut in a rural village outside Niger’s capital city, Niamey. “In this area, people’s lives are based on agriculture, which does not answer their needs because of the rain,” Halima explains. “People constantly face drought, and that makes people suffer a lot.” Photo credit: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 12, Issue 1; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.


Going Beyond Taps and Toilets in the Sahel was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Before yesterday4. Cross-cutting

Building Resilience into a River Basin

March 2nd 2021 at 08:38
Resilient Waters protects and preserves biodiverse hotspots such as the Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Biosphere through support to community-based environmental monitors. Photo credit: Resilient Waters

Imagine a river basin — the rivers, tributaries, creeks, and wetlands that gather water and deliver it to the sea — as the vital network that all things, living and nonliving, are connected to and dependent upon. This complex ecosystem is ever-changing from human and natural forces, and its management is complicated by the fact that it often crosses political boundaries — state to state, province to province, and country to country.

Southern Africa’s Limpopo River Basin, the fourth largest on the continent, supports more than 18 million people in four countries — Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The basin is also home to most of the region’s largest cities and economies and boasts a rich diversity of flora and fauna. But the pressures on this transboundary system — which include pollution, climate change, and population growth — are immense. As a closed basin, the river basin’s inability to provide enough water to meet the growing demand has profound implications for livelihoods, wildlife preservation, and food production.

USAID launched the five-year, $32 million Resilient Waters Program in 2018 to improve transboundary natural resources management and increase the water security and resilience of communities and ecosystems that depend upon the Limpopo and nearby Okavango basins.

Along the Limpopo River, USAID is tackling severe water and sanitation challenges in targeted municipalities and protected areas from the river’s source in South Africa to its mouth at the Indian Ocean on the coast of Mozambique. These challenges range from industrial pollution and its impact on the health of the river and the environment and inadequate sanitation upstream, to saltwater intrusion and depleted groundwater downstream. More frequent droughts, stronger cyclones, and intensified flooding related to climate change are further straining this vulnerable resource.

Climate-resilient water safety planning is critical throughout southern Africa’s Limpopo River Basin — an area prone to both severe droughts and extreme floods. Photo credit: Fyre Mael

Reducing Contamination Upstream

Combating pollution is one of Resilient Waters’ priorities for improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation services at key points in the Limpopo River Basin. “In South Africa, climate change effects, such as shortages in potable water due to prolonged droughts and minimum rainfall, have necessitated a change in sanitation sector planning,” says Lusanda Agbasi, acting director for the National Directorate for Sanitation at South Africa’s Department of Water and Sanitation. “This means reconsideration of on-site sanitation and decentralized sanitation technologies as viable options for the longer term.”

Case in point is Polokwane, South Africa, a burgeoning municipality in the middle of the basin. The majority of Polokwane’s residents are not connected to sewerage systems, and like many of the region’s rapidly urbanizing areas, the city has outgrown its existing wastewater treatment options. Further complicating matters, without a formal system for emptying, transporting, treating, or disposing of fecal waste originating from households not connected to the sewer network, Polokwane’s untreated waste is either overwhelming the limited number of wastewater treatment plants or being dumped illegally, contaminating waterways. A lack of infrastructure and regulation endangers the local water resources and supply and threatens water security for downstream users. To address the impacts on river resources upstream of the basin, Resilient Waters recently partnered with Polokwane Municipality to enhance its knowledge base for decision-making around fecal sludge management or non-sewered sanitation for the municipality.

Using an evidence-driven approach, this collaboration is piloting a series of tools — a climate delivery assessment, sanitation safety plan, fecal flow diagram, and an urban resilience toolkit — to improve the management of fecal sludge. Leonellha Barreto Dillon, a senior partner at Seecon and an expert in sanitation safety planning, is working on the pilot project in Polokwane, and says that greater recognition of the impacts of poor sanitation on water resources is needed. “The impact of unsafe fecal waste flows on people, and the environment is unknown, and therefore, not fully integrated in decision-making on sanitation management within the [Polokwane Municipality] Water Services Authorities.”

With support from the Regional Department for Water and Sanitation, Polokwane Municipality has committed to improve and refurbish its sanitation infrastructure. The evidence to improve fecal sludge management, collected through this pilot project, is expected to be integrated into the municipality’s overall planning and decision-making for sanitation service and infrastructure upgrades.

These newly embraced approaches have applicability well beyond Polokwane. “The lessons learned will be used to feed into the development of the fecal sludge management strategy for South Africa at large, because there are many other cities and other areas experiencing similar problems,” says Chief Technical Advisor for Resilient Waters Nkobi Moleele.

Because the Resilient Waters program is regional, Chief Partnerships Advisor Kule Chitepo adds, “Whilst we do have interventions that might be local in a particular country, we always want to see what the downstream and transboundary implications are of that localized or national activity. We’re also very interested to see how that contributes to building [the] resilience of the basin as a whole in terms of downstream implications of upstream or urban areas like Polokwane.”

A view of the Limpopo River at the border of South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe in Kruger National Park. Photo credit: Arthur Chapman

Adapting to Change and Conserving Biodiversity

While it is crucial to safeguard the scarce water resources of the Limpopo River Basin from contamination, it is equally important to conserve and protect the high-elevation catchment areas that serve as water towers for the entire basin.

“The reason why a high-altitude catchment area is important is that it produces a lot of water per unit area for the basin [100 times as much as low-lying areas], but also these high-altitude areas are major storehouses of biodiversity,” says Moleele. Protecting diverse ecosystems upstream improves the quality and quantity of water flowing downstream, contributing to the sustainability of the community livelihoods that are dependent on these ecosystems.

To manage vulnerable areas more sustainably, Resilient Waters provided grants to local organizations working within a number of protected areas to improve catchment management; support sustainable use of natural resources; and help governments, park personnel, and communities prepare for climate change pressures on biodiversity and water supplies.

While the Limpopo River Basin runs through some of southern Africa’s most populated areas, it also traverses dozens of parks and protected areas, including the Waterberg Biosphere that are vital sources of water downstream. Photo credit: Allan Watt

For example, the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, home to 5,500 species of plants as well as the endangered black rhino and wild dog, serves as an important water tower for three major catchments flowing into the Limpopo River. Resilient Waters is equipping staff with skills spanning field work, surveying, and Geographic Information System usage that will inform the implementation of a Strategic Environment Management Plan. A grant is also helping to engage traditional leaders and local municipalities to conduct socio-economic and water, sanitation, and hygiene surveys to determine upcoming climate change adaptation activities.

“This Strategic Environmental Management Plan is trying to look at all these challenges holistically with a view to ensure that water for all these different purposes is assured,” says Moleele.

To the east of the Waterberg lies another high-altitude catchment area, the Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Biosphere. This area is home to two of South Africa’s biggest tourist attractions in the basin, Blyde River Canyon and Kruger National Park, and it functions as a critical water source for a number of agricultural hubs. Pollution, invasive species, contaminated mine drainage, and poor waste management and sanitation are all threats to water security in the reserve. Resilient Waters supports the biosphere’s community-based environmental monitors to conduct village patrols, monitor river health, and raise awareness among the adjacent communities to increase the availability of clean water both locally and downstream. A recent clean-up campaign that involved more than 100 community members has led to some promising changes in waste collection and disposal practices. The program also supports restoration activities in the rivers, wetlands, and grasslands of the catchment.

A Resilient Waters’ project officer teaches a community-based natural resource monitor in the Matobo Hills, Zimbabwe, to conduct a riverine assessment. Photo credit: Resilient Waters

Environmental stewardship is not limited to the high-catchment areas, however. The Limpopo River Basin is also home to numerous other parks and preserves, including the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, shared among Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, which connects almost a dozen parks and biodiversity hotspots adjacent to Kruger National Park, including Mozambique’s Limpopo, Banhine, and Zinave National Parks and Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou National Park.

Climate change is wreaking havoc on these unique landscapes; the weather has become hotter and drier, depleting food supplies for grazers and watering holes. As part of its mandate to strengthen the ability of communities and key institutions to adapt to climate change, Resilient Waters co-hosted a training workshop with UNESCO on Climate Risk Informed Decision Analysis for South Africa’s parks department, local NGOs, and other regional institutions. These parties now have access to more than 40 global climate models and visualization tools that enable them to make data-driven decisions on local and regional water resources management. Putting its newly acquired knowledge into action, Kruger National Park management used the content of the training workshop to start planning for climate-related impacts on freshwater ecosystems. Resilient Waters also supported the participation of professionals from across southern Africa in the UNESCO Mozambique Flood and Drought Monitoring training, which uses global best practice systems and data sets to predict water-related natural disasters.

New mangroves shoot up at the mouth of the Limpopo River in Xai Xai, Mozambique. Photo credit: Ton Rulkens

The Livelihoods Connection

Local communities are more likely to protect biodiversity and freshwater resources if doing so is connected to job creation and income generation. Supporting new livelihood strategies also helps people reduce their risk exposure in the face of a changing climate and increased water scarcity. Resilient Waters is building on livelihood strategies put in place by its USAID–funded predecessor, Resilience in the Limpopo River Basin (RESILIM), throughout the basin in locales as diverse as Polokwane, the buffer zones between communities and protected areas, and at the mouth of the Limpopo River in Xai Xai, Mozambique.

Upstream, a Resilient Waters grant is sharpening farmers’ skills to practice climate-smart agriculture and use water-wise farming techniques in an effort to boost income generation in areas where more severe droughts are predicted.

Downstream, the Limpopo River empties into the Indian Ocean in Xai Xai, a city of 120,000 people whose income depends upon viable fisheries and whose water supply depends upon available groundwater. All of the inputs upstream impact Xai Xai, including a heavy concentration of nitrates from poorly managed fecal sludge and reduced water flows from the Massingir Dam to the north. Saltwater intrusion from the sea further disrupts Xai Xai’s water supply, and the coastal town is increasingly vulnerable to flooding from more frequent and violent cyclones. The mangroves that once served as a natural buffer between the ocean and the river have been vanishing, eroding the area’s identity as a thriving estuary and limiting the ability of these vital coastal forests to provide natural flood protection.

“We are working to find ways to establish ecotourism activities that will also generate money for the communities so that they remain motivated to conserve the mangroves.”

“Mangroves are very productive ecosystems, they are also good spawning grounds for fish and many other things,” notes Moleele. “They also buffer the agricultural land from the intrusion of seawater…[and provide] many benefits. But as a result of a history of degradation from unregulated land uses as well as destruction from floods, the integrity of the Xai Xai mangrove ecosystems has been compromised.”

Through a grant to a local NGO, Resilient Waters is supporting local communities to restore the mangroves, work that began under RESILIM and which includes a strong livelihoods component. Women’s cooperatives are participating in conservation-based income-generation activities associated with the estuary, for example. “We are working to find ways to establish ecotourism activities that will also generate money for the communities so that they remain motivated to conserve the mangroves, because the mangroves play a critical function in that estuary,” says Moleele.

The Pandemic Challenge

A new challenge facing the basin emerged in 2020 — COVID-19. Activities previously seen as win-win approaches, such as linking biodiversity conservation with income-generating ecotourism in buffer zones, have ground to a halt.

“In this part of the world, in the Limpopo River Basin, a lot of the rural economies around the protected areas are built upon or reliant upon the ecotourism industry,” explains Chitepo. “And as you know, tourism has been very hard hit by the pandemic. So this has a direct effect on the livelihoods that are reliant upon the conservation area.”

Resilient Waters is having to adjust to this new normal, but with challenges come opportunities, according to Moleele. “We’re not just operating in a vacuum of what the needs are on the ground. And I think now more than ever, we have an opportunity to really ramp up our livelihoods work, especially given the impacts of the pandemic.”

Stream flow monitors are installed in the K2C Biosphere in the Blyde River catchment area, an important upstream source of water for a number of agricultural hubs. Photo credit: Resilient Waters

Enhancing Transboundary Coordination

While many of the upstream and downstream challenges can be tackled at the local level, engaging national structures, such as water authorities, is critical to addressing water resources management and disaster risk reduction in the basin. Ultimately, the most pressing concerns must be coordinated at the transboundary level, whether such steps involve mapping an aquifer to explore groundwater depletion in each member country or devising robust early warning systems for the basin. To that end, Resilient Waters has embedded two technical experts within the Limpopo Watercourse Commission Secretariat, the structure put in place by the member states to govern the basin.

This level of coordination is “a lot of work,” admits Chitepo. “But the relationships are there, the intention is there, the political will is there, the countries themselves are contributing towards the costs. Obviously, some countries have got more resources than others to be able to contribute towards this functionality, but they work very well in terms of leaving no one country behind in their cooperation.”

Resilient Waters’ work to strengthen institutional connections, build up its partnerships, and address the shocks and stresses of climate change will help mitigate the pressures on the Limpopo River Basin for years to come. As the health of this vital ecosystem improves, so too will the resilience of the humans and natural systems that depend upon it.

By Wendy Putnam

Additional Resources:

This article appears in Global Waters, Vol. 12, Issue 1; for past issues of the magazine, visit Global Waters’ homepage on Globalwaters.org.


Building Resilience into a River Basin was originally published in Global Waters on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

What is hygiene?

February 26th 2021 at 15:19
By: IanRoss
My rough Venn diagram of aspects of hygiene

I’ve been doing a fair amount of work on hand hygiene since November, e.g. this piece on the economics of hygiene for the Hygiene Hub and some costing work for WHO/UNICEF. It bothered me that definitions were not clear, so I put together this Venn diagram. It aims to be a broad means of categorisation, rather than a comprehensive listing of all possible aspects of hygiene. I had domestic settings in mind, and other factors may be more important in other settings, particularly health care facilities. Please flag other resources on this definitional question in the comments below, if you know of them!

Hygiene

Within and beyond the WASH sector, “hygiene” has often been taken to be synonymous with handwashing. However, it is really a broader concept than this, but how broad? At the extreme end of the spectrum, hygiene is “the practice of keeping oneself and one’s surroundings clean, especially in order to prevent illness or the spread of diseases” (Boot and Cairncross, 1993). This aligns with the adjective hygieinos in Ancient Greek, meaning good for health (Liddell and Scott, 1889).

Taking the broad Boot & Cairncross definition, many behaviours and practices would fall within the scope of hygiene, including: (i) excreta disposal; (ii) use and protection of water sources; (iii) personal hygiene (e.g. hand hygiene, menstrual hygiene management); (iv) food hygiene (e.g. handling, preparation and storage); and (v) environmental hygiene (e.g. surface wiping, solid waste disposal, animal management).

Personally, I think including sanitation and water within hygiene is so broad as to be unhelpful. It is more typical to take a narrower approach. For example, UNICEF and WHO (2019) define hygiene as comprising “a range of behaviours that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases, including handwashing, menstrual hygiene management and food hygiene”. Some studies also note face hygiene and bathing (Prüss-Ustün et al., 2019). You could argue for separating out other things like surface cleaning, toy cleaning etc. The various aspects are discussed in more detail by Curtis et al (2001) This and a suggestion from my colleague Karin Gallandat led me to separate out personal, domestic and food hygiene in the above diagram, but I am sure there are many other ways to cut it. More environmental aspects might be included, but then overlap with environmental sanitation (also ill-defined) would become more problematic. Another argument might be to include disease prevention behaviours such as wearing a face mask when exhibiting respiratory symptoms.

Zooming in on hand hygiene

The final definitional twist to note is that hand hygiene comprises not only handwashing with soap and water, but also handrubbing with alcohol-based hand rub (not technically “washing”). These WHO guidelines have lots of definitions along these lines. Ash can also be used as a last resort. For all your questions on rubs vs. soaps, see the Hygiene Hub, especially this piece. In short, soap is just as effective, relatively cheap, and more widely available by comparison to rubs – it is also more gentle on hands. However, the calculus is likely to be different in health care facilities where rubs are often considered more appropriate, for various reasons.

From an infectious disease perspective, focusing on clean hands (vs. other hygiene behaviours in the venn diagram) is warranted. Hand hygiene is likely the hygiene behaviour that makes the most important contribution to preventing faecal-oral disease and, annually, 165,000 deaths from diarrhoea are attributable to inadequate hand hygiene behaviours (Prüss-Ustün et al., 2019). However, food produce may be an important exposure pathway in many settings, and more evidence is needed on this (WHO and UNICEF, 2019).

Hand hygiene can prevent faecal-oral diseases by removing pathogens after fingers touch faeces (or things which have touched faeces) and before those fingers touch food, fluids, or the new host’s mouth. See the famous F-diagram below (Wagner and Lanoix, 1958). Human faeces might touch hands directly, before entering the environment (e.g. after defecation or child faeces management). Crucially, however, they are also transmitted indirectly once pathogens are already in the environment (e.g. surfaces, other people’s hands, animals and their faeces). Therefore, even with good water supply and sanitation services, pathogens can still circulate and hand hygiene is necessary to reap the full benefits of WASH.

[note – this post was updated after helpful suggestions in replies to this tweet – thanks!]

One of many versions of the F-diagram (Wagner & Lanoix, 1958)

washeconomics

Climate and Water webinar series

February 18th 2021 at 08:14

Starting in February, the UNDP-SIWI Water Governance Facility, Global Water Partnership, Alliance for Global Water Adaptation, and Cap-Net will deliver a 3-part series on water and climate. The webinars will … Read more

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The United Nations global water conventions: Fostering sustainable development and peace

February 15th 2021 at 08:20

The UN-Water Expert Group on Transboundary Waters recently launched the UN-Water Policy Brief on the United Nations global water conventions: Fostering sustainable development and peace. Water is one of the … Read more

The post The United Nations global water conventions: Fostering sustainable development and peace appeared first on UN-Water.

SDGs in Action Film Festival 2021 edition

February 11th 2021 at 08:20

United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) Division for Sustainable Development Goals announce the opening for submissions for the 2021 SDGs in Action Film Festival. To build … Read more

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When government institutions don’t pay their water bills, they push water utilities towards insolvency and service delivery failure

February 8th 2021 at 20:45
By: Ivanna

Delayed or non-payment of water bills by public entities is widespread in developing countries, and has significant impact on the bottom line of water service providers. A 2020 survey by the Water Integrity Network (WIN), End Water Poverty, Solutions for Water Integrity and Management (SWIM) and other partners showed that 95% of the utilities investigated in 18 countries, mostly from the Global South, reported cases of non-payment by public institutions and that collection rates for public customers are consistently lower than for private customers.

Access to water is a human right and yet, according to a 2019 UN analysis, 2.2 billion people worldwide do not have access to safely managed drinking water sources or are not connected to water networks, and 3 billion people even lack access to basic handwashing facilities. The situation is putting millions at even greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic when it is paramount that services be delivered as effectively as possible.

Water service providers are on the front lines. They must maintain adequate service and ensure that new measures mandated to face the pandemic are implemented effectively. They must do this while facing shortfalls in revenue collection due to the crisis and without compromising their ability to improve and increase service provision in the long-term.

National and local governments must take action to ensure water is accessible to all and do so by supporting service providers to weather the crisis and ensure optimal service, for the long-term. The first steps are to prioritise the payment of public institutions’ outstanding water bills  and to back up the promises made in response to COVID-19.

 

Arrears from public customers jeopardise financial stability of water service providers and ability to respond to crisis

The reasons for non-payment are varied but at least 10% of survey respondents claimed abuse of political power or undue interference are to blame.

In a number of cases, the arrears represent a high proportion of the total revenue of water service providers. And, survey results show that the situation is worsening during the pandemic crisis as arrears are increasing. Two out of five surveyed water utilities suffer from increasingly delayed payments or a reduction of their bill collection ratio from public institutions. The missing money is urgently needed to provide adequate services and to ensure that the human rights to water and sanitation are realised.

There are now reports of a growing number of water utilities facing financial distress in part because of these issues. In Ghana, for example, the Water Citizen Network, warned that the Ghana Water Company Limited “will not be able to sustain a regular supply of water or expansion to reach unserved communities if the debt situation of the company is not resolved“.

 

Financial stress is compounded by lower collection rates and increased losses due to the crisis

In addition to delays and missing payments from public institutions, many service providers are also suffering financially from losses and a decrease in water demand and associated revenues. Otherwise reliably paying customers with high consumption rates, such as industry or the hospitality sector, have been hit hard by the crisis.

Many private customers, who had paid their bills may also be struggling to cover costs as they are confronted with the effects of the pandemic. As reported by the World Bank, the Uganda National Water and Sewerage Corporation for example “only collected 39% of the revenue expected between February and June 2020“.

This is leading to a general decrease in the collection efficiency of payments and is putting a serious strain on the operations of many water utilities. A Zambian water service provider shared insight on collection efficiency for our survey and research, showing a notable decrease since the beginning of 2020, with collection rates now far below the sector benchmark.

These issues are major concerns for utilities worldwide, and not only on the short-term. In the United States, for example, it is unclear for many how accumulated debt will be paid and what the impact of the crisis will be on collection and delinquency rates when emergency measures expire.

 

Measures to respond to COVID-19 provide relief, but they must be effectively funded and sustainable

Measures are being taken by governments to support water users and to provide water and relief for people during the crisis. Various governments have pledged to make water free or cheaper, put a moratorium on disconnections, and reduced or waived fees and extra costs. Governments are also, in some cases, already supporting utilities with additional financing and other measures to improve monitoring and coordination, all in an effort to maintain continuity of service. These are necessary and important steps forward that highlight the crucial importance of the water and sanitation sector.

The issues are whether, in practice, these measures are adequately funded and what their impact will be on the long-term. From our research, a Kenyan utility worker reported that: “Free water supply to hand-washing points and informal settlements“ was mandated by government to fight against COVID. But to pay for these additional services, water service providers still need to maintain sufficient income. Another Kenyan utility worker added that “the Government announced there would be no disconnections for non-payment of water bills, yet no subsidies have been provided”.

Overall, the inability for water service providers to avoid losses in revenue in combination with non-payment from public entities and accumulated arrears increase the risk of severe financial stress and bankruptcy. Immediate as well as long-term actions must be taken to protect and sustain water and sanitation services that are indispensable to overcoming the pandemic.

Two streams of action are required: a) Governments must support utilities, backing up their promises for COVID-19 relief with adequate subsidies that fit in to a longer-term strategy towards the realization of the human rights to water and sanitation. b) To ensure a sustainable financial basis for utilities, measures must be taken by governments to ensure that all public entities, at every level, pay their bills to water service providers in full and on time.

Without these actions, any progress to provide water and sanitation to all is being put at risk by the very governments that claim commitment to this target.

 

 

 

The post When government institutions don’t pay their water bills, they push water utilities towards insolvency and service delivery failure appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

Putting integrity at the heart of climate adaptation

February 8th 2021 at 14:04

Integrity-readiness is key to safeguarding development funds. Climate finance in particular must flow where it is intended and most needed. We must ensure climate adaptation programmes are not derailed by corruption.

To mitigate integrity risks and to ensure the water sector is integrity-ready for climate finance, we need effective, strategic partnerships. Join our network of organizations committed to smarter investments by hindering corruption and building integrity.

 

Talking integrity with Ibrahim Pam from the Green Climate Fund

As Head of the Independent Integrity Unit at the Green Climate Fund (GCF), Mr. Ibrahim Pam knows first-hand how damaging the lack of integrity in the water sector can be. Watch this compelling exchange of ideas between him and our Executive Director, Barbara Schreiner.

 

Water Integrity as an Opportunity: Climate Change Finance and the Water Sector

Our policy brief provides an overview of challenges and opportunities concerning corruption in the water sector in the context of climate finance, and addresses policy makers and practitioners from both sectors. This document, drafted by GIZ and WIN, is based on a literature review and interviews with experts from international and civil society organizations and implementing entities. It seeks to promote greater responsibility and accountability in climate finance.

The post Putting integrity at the heart of climate adaptation appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

6th IAHR Europe Congress hosted online

February 8th 2021 at 08:54

The 6th IAHR Europe Congress will be hosted online from 15-18 February 2021. Hosted around the theme ‘Hydro-environment Research and Engineering: No Frames, No Borders’, the congress will bring together … Read more

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Global progress report on water, sanitation and hygiene in health-care facilities

February 4th 2021 at 08:01

In December 2020, UNICEF and WHO launched the Global progress report on WASH in health care facilities: fundamentals first. ​​​​​​​ The report highlights that almost 2 billion people depend on health care … Read more

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World Wetlands Day 2021 – Wetlands and Water

February 1st 2021 at 08:25

World Wetlands Day, 2 February, aims to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and our planet. This year’s theme ‘Wetlands and Water’ shines a spotlight … Read more

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Solar Irrigation for Agricultural Resilience (SoLAR) webinar week

January 28th 2021 at 07:45

The IWMI-led Solar Irrigation for Agricultural Resilience (SoLAR) project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is organizing a series of six webinars between 1-5 February 2021. … Read more

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Virtual workshop on financing transboundary water cooperation

January 25th 2021 at 08:24

A Virtual workshop on financing transboundary water cooperation and basin development took place online on 16 and 17 December 2020. The workshop was organized by the Convention on the Protection … Read more

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Climate Adaptation Summit 2021

January 21st 2021 at 08:10

Hosted on 25 and 26 January, the Climate Adaptation Summit (CAS) 2021 is an online global conference to accelerate, innovate and scale up the world’s efforts in adapting to the … Read more

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Water and Beyond EU transformative approaches for international partnerships

January 18th 2021 at 06:43

From the 18-21 January, the European Commission Directorate-General for International Partnerships and the Government of Slovenia, with the support of the Government of Portugal as the Presidency of the Council … Read more

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UNESCO seminar on water and your city. Edition 2021, the watershed of the Valley of Mexico

January 17th 2021 at 08:08

With the aim of promoting a virtual space for dialogue and reflection on issues related to water in the Valley of Mexico Basin a seminar will be held from January … Read more

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Interactive online session: transboundary water agreements

January 14th 2021 at 08:19

In 2021, the Global Water Partnership (GWP) is organizing an interactive online series called the “Transboundary freshwater security governance train”. The series of online engagements sessions will be conducted in … Read more

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Strengthening integrity: crucial in advancing water security in Asia Pacific

January 11th 2021 at 16:26
By: Ivanna

The 2020 Asia Water Development Outlook (AWDO), the just released flagship publication of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), introduced governance as a chapter and applied the OECD Water Governance Principles across AWDO’s five key dimensions of water security.

Among the Water Governance Principles, the 9th principle focuses on Integrity and Transparency. Based on a survey undertaken by OECD which provides a snapshot of governance gaps in the Asia Pacific area, AWDO underlined the low adoption of integrity practices and tools among the member states. It further establishes that less than 20% of the countries in the region have implemented relevant international conventions or institutional anti-corruption plans.

Poor integrity in water governance and management is a major barrier for achieving water security and resilience, which have been stated to be objectives of key sectoral stakeholders, including the ADB for the Asia Pacific region. For the first time, AWDO has specifically called for “mainstreaming integrity and transparency practices across water policies, water institutions, and water governance frameworks that are key for greater accountability and trust in decision-making, and effective implementation of water policies”. WIN welcomes AWDO’s initiative of highlighting the urgent need to strengthen integrity within the water sector processes among member states.

AWDO’s report points towards the need to address integrity and corruption in the capital-intensive water sector. At least US$75 billion is siphoned off annually from critical water projects for every 10% of investment lost to corruption. This significant risk, if not tackled, leads to misuse of the investments coming into the sector and further hampers more investments from diverse sources. Poor integrity tarnishes the reputation and creditworthiness of water sector entities and overall, the economic, social, and environmental ramifications are enormous. Mitigating corruption risks can lead to substantial savings across the sector.

WIN has worked with numerous development sector partners, donors, and government agencies to promote integrity and good governance in water and sanitation. We have also established a set of Integrity Tools and practices, useful in strengthening institutional integrity, improving performances and taking measures that prevent corruption. Applying these tools in collaboration with government agencies and water utilities in the Asia Pacific region, has led to valuable lessons and practices that can be scaled up within countries and in the region.

Addressing integrity concerns requires each stakeholder to equally collaborate; otherwise, it can be very challenging to establish good governance. We encourage ADB and other regional partners to support the implementation of the AWDO recommendations on good governance, especially on integrity among the member states.

The post Strengthening integrity: crucial in advancing water security in Asia Pacific appeared first on WIN - Water Integrity Network.

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