Category: Water

Balkan water reserves may soon run short

Balkan water reserves may soon run short

By Kieran Cooke

The Balkans is one of the world’s most troubled regions, often the setting for outbreaks of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict.

Now the area is also having to face up to the problems caused by a changing climate – in particular the prospect of severe water shortages in the years ahead.

Albania, a mountainous country with a population of just under 3 million, has abundant water resources at present. But government studies predict that due to increasing temperatures and declining rainfall, there could be severe water shortages within ten years.

The government says that within a decade water levels in three of the country’s biggest rivers – the Drin, Mat and Vjosa – will be up to 20% lower than at present.

Albania, largely isolated from the outside world for much of the second half of the 20th century under the Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha, is struggling to build its economy, with hopes of joining the European Union in the not too distant future.

“Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation”

Falling water levels in its rivers could seriously impede economic progress. More than 80% of Albania’s power is derived from hydro. Even a slight drop in water levels in the nation’s rivers results in power black-outs.

In the summer of 2017 Albania suffered a widespread drought; it was forced to use precious foreign currency reserves for power imports.

Added to these problems is a chronic lack of investment in water infrastructure and mismanagement in the sector. The country has more than 600 dams, but 70% of these are believed to be in need of repair; estimates are that up to half the total water supply is lost in leaks.

In recent years rainfall patterns have become less predictable – with sudden storms causing extensive flooding. Deforestation and haphazard building development along Albania’s water courses result in rivers frequently bursting their banks.

Rivers and water resources, like climate change, do not obey borders. Albania is dependent for a third of its water on neighbouring countries.

Slow progress

The waters of the Drin, Albania’s major river, are shared with the newly independent states of Kosovo and Montenegro in the north and with North Macedonia in the east. Territory in northern Greece also forms part of the Drin river basin. The area is one of the most ecologically rich in Europe.

After many years of territorial, ethnic and religious conflict, efforts are now being made to manage the waters of the Drin on a cross-boundary basis, though progress is often painfully slow.

Ironically, some countries in the region are contributing to their own climate change problems. Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia all depend on coal for a substantial segment of their power generation.

Coal-fired power plants are among the leading sources of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Lignite coal – the most polluting variety of the fuel – is mainly used in the western Balkans region. The small state of Kosovo has some of the largest lignite reserves in the world.

Due primarily to the burning of lignite at ageing power plants, air pollution is a big problem in the country. Pristina, the capital, is often blanketed in a thick black haze in the winter months and regularly tops the world league of cities with the worst air quality.


This article was originally published on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by on Elti Meshau on Unsplash.
ADB supports Marawi reconstruction with stakeholder dialogues for water supply rehabilitation

ADB supports Marawi reconstruction with stakeholder dialogues for water supply rehabilitation

By Joy Amor Bailey

The ADB Southeast Asia Regional Department (SERD) held a mission in Marawi City, Philippines on 26–28 February to refine the scope of activities under Output 3 of the $408 million Emergency Assistance for Reconstruction and Recovery of Marawi project. 

This includes a $5 million grant from the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF), which will be allocated for the health and water supply components of the project.  

The mission focused on identifying and selecting a site for the water supply rehabilitation, as well as conducting social and environmental safeguards, determining procurement of goods and services, and ensuring delivery timelines.  

During the mission, the guidance note, “A Resilience Framework for the Post-conflict Reconstruction of Marawi and Other Affected Areas”, was presented. The note is intended for Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) and partner implementers to integrate peace-building, disaster risk management, and climate change adaptation principles in the post-conflict recovery process.  

Through an interactive half-day workshop, the stakeholders were briefed on technical guidelines for priority sectors. This resilience framework is expected to inform ADB’s overall support and also help guide other activities of the TFBM for project vetting and monitoring. 


Cover photo by Xiaolong Wong on Unsplash.
This article was originally published on the Livable Cities ADB Blog.

Civil works for RISE demonstration site underway

Civil works for RISE demonstration site underway

By Joy Amor Bailey

Civil works at the demonstration site for the Revitalization of Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE) using a Water-sensitive Approach in Makassar, Indonesia are underway and due for completion by June 2019. The works use decentralized, green infrastructure to treat contaminated and polluted water. 

Using community-driven development approaches, the RISE project is empowering urban poor beneficiaries to co-design and implement nature-based solutions for sanitation, drainage, and water supply. These form part of their climate change adaptation response, as well as enhances the health and environmental conditions of the community.  

RISE-demonstration-fig1.jpg
Ongoing installation of nature-based solutions for the RISE Project. 

The Urban Sector Group under the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is implementing this pilot project with funding from the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund amounting to $196,000. Monash University is co-implementing the project, providing $93,000 for the equipment and civil works.  

The City Government of Makassar has also pledged to finance the construction and maintenance of other amenities such as street lighting and solid waste management, as well as the subsidies of up to $1,000 per housing unit to improve its structural integrity and reduce household vulnerability. 

In addition, ADB’s Southeast Asia Department, together with Indonesia’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing, is currently preparing an investment grant that will replicate this project in additional sites. 


This article was originally published on ADB’s Livable Cities Blog.
Cover photo by Casey Schackow on Unsplash.
Glaciers’ global melt may leave Alps bare

Glaciers’ global melt may leave Alps bare

By Tim Radford

Many of the planet’s most scenic – and most valued – high-altitude landscapes are likely to look quite different within the next 80 years: the glaciers’ global melt will have left just bare rock.

By the century’s end, Europe’s famous Alps – the chain of snow- and ice-covered peaks that have become a playground of the wealthy and a source of income and pleasure for generations – will have lost more than nine-tenths of all its glacier ice.

And in the last 50 years, the world’s glaciers – in Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the sub-Arctic mountains – have lost more than nine trillion tonnes of ice as global temperatures creep ever upwards in response to profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

And as meltwater has trickled down the mountains, the seas have risen by 27mm, thanks entirely to glacial retreat.

“Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century”

In two separate studies, Swiss scientists have tried to audit a profit and loss account for the world’s frozen high-altitude rivers, and found a steady downhill trend.

Glacial ice is a source of security and even wealth: in the poorest regions the annual summer melt of winter snow and ice banked at altitude can guarantee both energy as hydropower and water for crops in the valleys and floodplains.

In wealthy regions, the white peaks and slopes become sources of income as tourist attractions and centres for winter sport – as well as reliable sources of power and water.

Swiss focus

In the journal The Cryosphere, a team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, almost always known simply as ETH Zurich, looked into the future of the nation’s own landscape, and beyond.

They made computer models of the annual flow of ice and its melting patterns and took 2017 as the reference year: a year when the Alpine glaciers bore 100 cubic kilometres of ice. And then they started simulating the future.

If humankind kept the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, lower emissions of carbon dioxide, restore the forests and keep global warming to no more than 2°C above historic levels, then the stores of high ice would be reduced by more than a third over the next eight decades. If humankind went on expanding its use of fossil fuels at the present rates, then half of all the ice would be lost by 2050 and 95% by 2100.

Time lag

But there will be losses in all scenarios: warming so far has seen to that. Ice reflects radiation and keeps itself cold, so change lags behind atmospheric temperature.

“The future evolution of glaciers will strongly depend on how the climate will evolve,” said Harry Zekollari, once of ETH and now at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who led the research. “In the case of a more limited warming, a far more substantial part of the glaciers could be saved.”

The Alpine glaciers were made world-famous first by Romantic painters and poets of the 19th century, among them JMW Turner and Lord Byron. But their contribution to rising sea levels is, in a global context, negligible.

When Swiss researchers and their Russian, Canadian and European partners looked at the big picture, they found that the mass loss of ice from the mountains of Alaska,  Canada, parts of Asia and the Andes matched the increasing flow of water from the melting Greenland ice cap, and exceeded the flow of melting water from the Antarctic continent.

Europe’s modest melt

They report in Nature that glaciers separate from the Greenland and Antarctic sheets covered 706,000 square kilometres of the planet, with a total volume of 170,000 cubic kilometres, or 40 centimetres of potential sea level rise.

And in the five decades from 1961 to 2016, according to careful study of satellite imagery and historic observations, the seas have already risen by 27mm as a consequence of increasing rates of glacial retreat. This is already between 25% and 30% of observed sea level rise so far.

Europe did not figure much in the reckoning. “Globally, we lose three times the ice volume stored in the entirety of the European Alps – every single year,” said Michael Zemp, a glaciologist at the University of Zurich.

He and his colleagues warn: “Present mass-loss rates indicate that glaciers could almost disappear in some mountain ranges in this century, while heavily glacierised regions will continue to contribute to sea level rise beyond 2100.”


This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network and has been republished under Creative Commons.
Cover photo by Karl Koehler on Unsplash.
This New Climate Episode 2: Running dry – dealing with water scarcity

This New Climate Episode 2: Running dry – dealing with water scarcity

This month has been all about water and how climate change will have an affect on different aspects of it. Today we bring you an episode from our latest podcast series, This New Climate.

In the second episode of This New Climate, host Will Bugler explores why it is so difficult to manage water resources and presents Water2Invest – a new tool that helps decision makers make smarter choices about managing water supply and demand. The world’s population has tripled over the last 100 years, but according to the UN, water demand has been growing at more than twice that rate making water scarcity one of the defining challenges of our time. And climate change will only compound the problem. Water2Invest, aims to help decision makers to take the right choices when investing in solutions to tackle water scarcity, potentially providing a powerful new tool to help tackle this crisis.

Episode guests: Gisela Kaiser from the City of Cape Town, Mark Bierkens from Utrecht University, and Daniel Zimmer from EIT Climate-KIC.

This New Climate is an Acclimatise production.

Click here to access the full season.

Water2Invest is an EIT Climate-KIC supported innovation initiative.

New project supports climate adaptation and resilience for Pacific Islands

New project supports climate adaptation and resilience for Pacific Islands

By Will Bugler

Fifteen Pacific island countries are part of the newly launched Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change and Resilience Building (PACRES) project under the Intra-African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) Programme funded by the 11th European Development Fund’s (EDF). The EUR 12 million project aims to strengthen adaptation and mitigation measures at the national and regional level and support partner countries in climate negotiations and in implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Jointly implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the University of the South Pacific, the project will also have a disaster resilience component. Some of the activities of the project, according to SPREP, include knowledge sharing, strengthening of networks, and trainings and research opportunities.

An inception and planning meeting for the project was held from 1-3 April 2019 at the SPREP Campus in Samoa.

The Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu participate in the project.


Photo Credit: Gemma Longman

Ocean productivity at risk as climate warms

Ocean productivity at risk as climate warms

By Tim Radford

Runaway climate change will alter the pattern of ocean productivity and circulation and play perhaps irreversible havoc with fish catches.

LGlobal ocean productivity – the annual bloom of algae and the cornucopia of molluscs, shrimp, krill, squid, fish and marine mammals that depend on this flowering of the blue planet – could be in serious decline by 2300,  thanks to climate change.

The harvest from the North Atlantic could fall by almost two thirds. The decline in the Western Pacific could drop by 50%. The overall productivity of the oceans from pole to pole will be at least 20% less.

Global warming that is already melting the ice caps and increasingly making the seas more acidic has been blamed for changes in fishery hauls and damage to reef ecosystems.

But the latest study looks not at the immediate consequences of profligate human combustion of fossil fuels, but at the very long-term consequences of turning up the planetary thermometer.

Scientists report in the journal Science that three centuries of continuous rise in carbon dioxide levels in the planet’s atmosphere, as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion, could raise global average temperatures by 9.6°C.

This is ten times the warming already observed. It will change wind patterns, melt almost all the sea ice and increase ocean surface temperatures.

And with this increase in temperature comes change in the growth of phytoplankton, on which ultimately all marine life depends. There will be shifts in ocean circulation that will take nutrients from the surface and deposit them in the deepest waters.

Antarctic waters could become richer in nutrients. But the world’s human population is centred in the northern hemisphere. “Marine ecosystems everywhere to the north will be increasingly starved for nutrients, leading to less primary production by phytoplankton, which form the base of ocean food chains,” said Keith Moore, an earth system scientist at the University of California, Irvine, who led the study.

“By looking at the decline in fish food over time, we can estimate how much our total potential fisheries could be reduced.”

Research of this kind is based on computer simulation of an entire planetary ocean system over the next 280 years. Leaders from almost all the world’s nations vowed in Paris in 2015 to contain global warming, and other studies have shown that world commercial fisheries would benefit from such action.

Delayed response

But time is running out: the oceans have yet to respond fully to the greenhouse gases that have already built up in the atmosphere in the last century or so.

“The climate is warming rapidly now, but in the ocean, most of that added heat is still right at the surface. It takes centuries for that heat to work its way into the deeper ocean, changing the circulation and removing the sea ice, which is a big part of this process,” Dr Moore said.

“This is what’s going to happen if we don’t put the brakes on global warming, and it’s pretty catastrophic for the oceans.

“There is still time to avoid most of this warming and get to a stable climate by the end of this century, but in order to do that, we have to aggressively reduce our fossil fuel use and emissions of greenhouse gas pollutants.”


This article first appeared on the Climate News Network.

Photo by Lalo on Unsplash

Big storm clusters are on the increase – what this means for hurricane hotspots

Big storm clusters are on the increase – what this means for hurricane hotspots

By Anitha Karthik

Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, global warming and violent storms: the effects of climate change are well documented. But a growing weather trend that has caused much concern is storm clustering – when three (sometimes more) hurricanes or typhoons group together in a short space of time, gathering strength and unleashing even greater devastation.

The development of a tropical depression – a low pressure area with thunderstorms and winds below 39mph – to a tropical storm that attains hurricane strength in less than six hours, shows how quickly these things can intensify.

But increased frequency is also a trend, as storms follow each other in quick succession. Those who question the existence of climate change should look at the global hurricane history, or even the hurricane pattern in their own country. If we look at these storms, patterns of increasing intensity and frequency clearly demonstrate how climate change is having a direct impact on the way hurricanes behave.

In developed countries coastal residents in affected areas are keenly aware of these hazards and respond well during emergencies by liaising with local agencies and heading to designated shelters during evacuations. But this is not the case in developing and underdeveloped countries, although basic response awareness exists through devastating experience and a degree of public information.

Predicting the big ones

Thanks to advances in hurricane forecasting and hindcastingtechniques, situations like the Galveston hurricane in 1900, which struck the Texas coast without any official warnings, are happily a thing of the past.

The weather prediction models of the National Hurricane Center and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting are able to plot the likelihood of impending hurricane paths – known as the “cone of uncertainty” – five days in advance, and are generally accurate.

But the real issue is how prepared we are around the world for the increasing frequency of hurricanes and their terrifying “gang” version, hurricane trios. This violent onslaught of hurricane-strength storms batters communities and destroys buildings and infrastructure from the US to the Caribbean to South-East Asia. But should communities on the coast stay and defend, or retreat altogether?

A deadly trio of hurricanes from 2018 heading across the Atlantic. NASA

Hurricane season

Hurricanes hammered the Atlantic from 2016 and 2018, including the Category 5 Matthew (2016), the Harvey-Irma-Maria trio (2017), which registered Category 4, 5 and 4 respectively, and Category 4 Florence and Michael (2018). This not only revealed the rising trend in intensity and frequency, but also alerted the world to the phenomena of clustering.

Critically, predicting the path of a hurricane depends on forecasting the dynamics of its intensity. Understanding the factors that contribute to the sudden changes in the strength (or weakening) of a hurricane is crucial. Changes in wind direction, interaction with the land at the coast, and ocean temperature and depth all play their part in altering the intensity of a hurricane that is highly sensitive to even slight changes.

In general, the accuracy of predicting the way a hurricane intensifies and then re-intensifies in less than 24 hours is more challenging than predicting its path. But these dynamics are the underlying factors which compound the threat of hurricane frequency. These dynamics are also capable of further altering storm surge characteristics by triggering coastal and inland flooding – such as abnormal rises in water levels – which often result in shocking devastation.

Hurricane Michael in 2018 was the perfect example of the importance of predicting how rapidly a hurricane has intensified before it hits the coast, in this case Florida. The predicted track of the storm was almost accurate but its intensity was more difficult to assess.

The National Hurricane Center forecasted Michael’s path by issuing a five-day cone of uncertainty advising of sustained winds of 65mph. However, the sudden change in the storm’s dynamics changed a Category 1 hurricane to a Category 4 with winds of 155mph. This underscores the uncertain and variable nature of hurricane prediction.

Hurricane Michael after it made landfall in the Florida panhandle. NASA

Building on sand

Despite these emerging and changing weather-related risks, residential and public buildings are still going up on affected coastal areas. Recent research in China identified a tsunami that swept away the present-day coastal province of Guangdong in 1076AD. It means storm-related surges have been documented in the region for more than 1,000 years – yet still building and expansion goes on heedless of the risk.

This is almost the same situation for all vulnerable coastal cities. For instance, Florida has hundreds of thousands of coastal residents living in Low Elevation Coastal Zones – land that is less than ten metres above sea level and within 200km of the coast – but yet again construction there continues despite the threat of hurricanes every season.

Developers are already conceiving storm-resilient buildings that can withstand winds of at least 200mph – a Category 5 hurricane. But it’s unlikely many have considered the compounded stress effect on structures having to continuously withstand hurricane force winds more frequently and in quick succession.

A mudslide in Ucab in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Manghut in September 2018. EPA

Building massive sea defences along vulnerable coastlines is practically impossible and isn’t a permanent solution to increasing coastal storm hazards. There is no point in risking lives by remaining, as storm clusters can be unpredictable. It is simply too dangerous, so evacuation is the only option. However, when it comes to coastal assets and investments, defending in a more appropriate and sensible way is required.

Some coastal cities are planning ahead. A recent development of extensive parks in Boston, US, aims to protect the urban shoreline infrastructure from flooding. And a 2009 studyrevealed the effectiveness of mangrove planting in coastal areas of India to protect the shoreline and reduce cyclone damage. But more practical solutions are needed, especially in more vulnerable developing regions, because cluster storms are not going away any time soon.


This article was originally published on The Conversation and was republished under Creative Commons Licensing.
Cover photo by NASA on Unsplash.
Water is a growing source of global conflict. Here’s what we need to do

Water is a growing source of global conflict. Here’s what we need to do

By Kitty Van Der Heijden and Callie Stinson

The most intensive drought ever recorded in Syria lasted from 2006 to 2011. Water scarcity hit households, businesses and infrastructure, while in the countryside crops failed, livestock died, and entire families moved to the country’s cities. The subsequent eruption of civil war in 2011 led to as many as half a million deaths, as well as massive migration flows to neighbouring countries and beyond, and untold misery. Syria’s war has been a tragic illustration of the central, driving role that water insecurity can play in instability and conflict.

This is no surprise. In 2017 alone, water was a major factor in conflict in at least 45 countries, including Syria. Its importance as a resource means that water-related insecurity can easily exacerbate tensions and friction within and between countries. It can be weaponized; nefarious actors can gain control of, destroy, or redirect access to water to meet their objectives by targeting infrastructure and supplies. Advancements in cyber attacks on critical infrastructure raise further concerns as to the security of water systems.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report (GRR) has listed water crises among the top-five risks in terms of impact for eight consecutive years. In the most recent version of the report, it remains nested among a cluster of other risks that are rated as having both a very high likelihood and a very high impact. These include extreme weather events, natural disasters, the failure of climate change adaptation and mitigation, man-made environmental disasters, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, interstate conflict and large scale-involuntary migration.

These risks are increasingly interconnected. Failure to mitigate climate change could lead to more extreme weather events, ecosystem collapse and a greater likelihood of man-made environmental disasters. All of these can exacerbate food and water insecurity, which in turn can lead to human deprivation, and could make these and other risks like migration and conflict more likely in a negative feedback loop. Around two thirds of the world’s population, or 4 billion people, currently live without sufficient access to fresh water for at least one month of the year.

Further complicating the picture is the reality that securing water for food and economic activity will only become more difficult over time. As economies develop, their water consumption patterns shift and overall demand rises dramatically to meet the needs of food production, thirsty manufacturing and other industries, thermal power plants and households. However, water supplies are often damaged by poor management, pollution and over-consumption, in addition to supply-side reductions due to climate change impacts and the ecosystem degradation mentioned above.

Many of these drivers of insecurity can be seen in the Inner Niger Delta area of Mali, a marshy wetlands along a stretch of the Niger river. Disruptions to the Delta’s waters, for instance through the construction of two upstream dams, risk destroying fragile ecosystems and further destabilizing the entire region. Altering downstream flows can jeopardize traditional economic activities that underpin the viability of Delta fishing villages, destroying livelihoods and exacerbating social tensions such as intergenerational friction.

Combined with reductions in available farmland associated with rising temperatures and desertification, such environmental degradation risks further fuelling mass migration to the Malian capital Bamako and Europe. The journey is not a safe one, with criminalised trafficking routes that pass nearby between the West African coast and the Sahara. The history of radicalization in the region by extremist groups that have established themselves in northern Mali further illustrates the vulnerabilities facing the displaced and disenfranchised. People whose access to water is limited risk becoming increasingly marginalized, and a target for recruitment by radical groups. Water is critical to the region’s security.

The Inner Niger Delta illustrates the critical role that water insecurity can play in exacerbating other risks, and the necessity of holistic policy approaches. Unfortunately, water insecurity is not yet taken seriously enough by all actors, despite its central role in our economies and in human lives and livelihoods. In most scenarios, the true security threat caused by water insecurity is not a ‘water war’, but rather in its secondary impact on associated human security, that which can then exacerbate local, regional and international security threats.

It can impede or reverse economic development, and prevent countries from playing their art in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It can also affect the private sector, for instance by affecting critical parts of complex supply chains. Robust solutions to the water security challenge are critical for everybody from public policymakers and businesses to the wider public and the international community. A new generation of public-private partnerships can be part of the solution to such complex and interrelated risks, responding with urgency and innovation to manage the ‘less for more’ challenge of reduced supply and increased demand.

Advances in technology can play an important role in this new era of collaboration. Real-time data is already being used to generate insights about the interplay of risk factors, allowing the development of sophisticated early-warning tools. The Water, Peace and Security Partnership partnership, for instance, crunches vast amounts of data, using machine-learning and other technologies to identify patterns that indicate the high risk of a conflict situation developing. It does not simply flash a warning light, but points to the factors that need to be addressed through capacity-building and stakeholder engagement to mitigate any potential conflict.

The tool, presented to the UN’s Security Council in 2018, aims to build cohesion for collective action among diplomats, defence analysts, development and humanitarian experts and environmental scientists. Another partnership, Digital Earth Africa, is developing an open-access platform of analysis-ready geospatial data for public use that will enable African nations to track environmental changes across the continent in unprecedented detail, including flooding, droughts, soil and coastal erosion, agriculture, forest and land-use change, water availability and quality, and changes to human settlements.

Such insights can help governments, businesses and communities better understand and address the interconnected web of environmental risks, in particular the impacts of climate change. From variations in rainfall patterns to extended periods of extreme weather events, building resilience across agricultural, industrial and domestic water supplies is a key priority for increasing water security.

The complex challenges and impacts of water crises will certainly make it difficult to shift from the top of future global risk lists. But real progress can be made, especially through cross-sectoral partnerships and platforms that can engage with such complexity. The 2030 Water Resources Group, which works across a network of more than 600 partners to tackle the water supply-demand gap in 14 different geographies, is a promising blueprint for effective public-private cooperation.

Access to better data can bolster such collaborations and lead to more effective solutions, for instance through mapping water risk, and generating greater understanding of how physical water shortages affect societal tensions, political disruptions and cross-border migration. These are just a few examples of how the world is already developing the types of ‘next generation’ insights, tools and partnerships needed to tackle water insecurity. But what the Global Risk Report makes clear is that any solution needs to be underpinned by an increased awareness of the scale and interconnectedness of the water security challenge before us.


This article was originally published on World Economic Forum.
Cover photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash.
Cape Town has a plan to manage its water. But there are big gaps

Cape Town has a plan to manage its water. But there are big gaps

By Jasper Knight, University of Witwatersrand

The City of Cape Town – and southwest Africa more generally – experienced its worst drought on record between 2015 and 2018. With fresh rains as well as careful water management, the city has now emerged from this environmental and economic emergency.

The final consequences of the drought might never be known for certain. This is because the effects on groundwater depletion or biodiversity loss may not appear until years after the event. But the economic impact of the drought is more easily identified. Over 30,000 jobs have been lost in the agricultural sector in the Western Cape region, caused by a 20% decrease in agricultural production.

There are other consequences too, such as the impact on the city’s international reputation, as well as residents’ and policymakers’ experiences of water restrictions and the threat of “Day Zero”.

So what are the lessons learnt?

The City of Cape Town has recently released a draft strategy for water supply and management which aims to ensure safe access to water and sanitation for all the city’s residents, efficient water use, diversified water sources and shared costs and benefits by 2040. This strategy has been strongly informed by events of the past three years and is a bold statement of intent. As such, it sets a benchmark for sustainable development in the city and the wider region. The strategy is aimed at increasing usable water availability and managing that water better. But some elements are missing.

An uncertain future

Missing parts of the strategy include the uncertainty of future trends in climate, economic activities, population growth, water demand and infrastructure investment needs. Increasing water availability is easy in theory because it is based on balancing supply to need. But this water needs to come from somewhere.

Rainfall is becoming ever more precarious, groundwater aquifers are depleted, and river and dam water is already allocated. Desalinisation is an option. But this is expensive and has unknown environmental impacts.

Another option is water redistribution. In the recent drought, water was diverted from the agriculture sector to supply the city. But this had ripple effects on farming communities and economies. This approach is probably no longer sustainable.

There is also the option of reducing water demand. The new draft strategy doesn’t specifically mention managing demand – it makes vague reference to the need to use water wisely. It may be that the memory of water restrictions is too recent to discuss in this document. But water management is not just about supplying water, it’s about changing hearts and minds. These take much longer to change. For some Capetonians, the drought is over and normal business is resumed. For others, the spectre of Day Zero still remains.

And the plan doesn’t indicate that lessons have been learnt. For example, an innovative Water Map used by the City of Cape Town was able to “name and shame” excessive water users, but some township users were exempt from restrictions while other wealthy users largely ignored the water restrictions because they could afford to pay the resulting fines.

This kind of behavioural analysis is important when it comes to equitable planning and water management, and provides a rich source of data for drought epidemiology – Cape Town knows more about how its residents use water than most cities.

Emerging from disaster

Over the next decades, it’s anticipated that southern Africa will experience both higher average annual temperatures, in particular in summer. It’s also expected to have more variable and somewhat lower rainfall. Collectively, these climatic changes will result in greater water insecurity, irrespective of any changes in population, water demand or capacity of water infrastructure.

recent study shows that climate change has trebled drought risk in Cape Town. Future-proofing cities such as Cape Town to withstand water insecurity and drought conditions cannot be done without managing water infrastructure better. In South Africa, 56% of waste water treatment plants are not fully operational. This limits its ability to deliver on the future promises outlined in the City of Cape Town strategy document.

Water restrictions in Cape Town have eased over recent months. But persistent drought still exists elsewhere in the region, in small town rural communities where there’s a lack of water infrastructure, lack of access to dam water supplies and depleting aquifers. Addressing the future water problem for Cape Town should not be done at the expense of the wider region, and must be formulated as a national-scale strategy. This should be a government priority.


This article was originally published on The Conversation and has been republished under Creative Commons license.
Cover photo from Shutterstock.