Category: Water

Greening the grey in Washington DC – a resilience success story

Greening the grey in Washington DC – a resilience success story

The pioneering infrastructure project to upgrade Washington DC’s combined sewer system used green infrastructure to reduce capital cost and build resilience to future flood risk. DC Water, the District of Colombia’s Water and Sewer Authority, adapted the $2.6 billion-dollar project to incorporate $100 million dollars of green infrastructure.

A new case study, produced by Acclimatise for The Resilience Shift, tells the story of DC Water’s journey to incorporate green infrastructure into such a large and important critical infrastructure project. From inventing the world’s first Environmental Impact Bond to finance the project, to delivering a jobs programme that allowed DC residents to maintain the green infrastructure, the Clean Rivers Project innovated at each stage of the development process.

Read the full case study

DC Water, embarked on the Clean Rivers Project to managing combined sewer overflow events by implementing green infrastructure above ground, alongside grey infrastructure below ground, to help control the volume of water reaching the storm water drainage system. Like many older U.S. cities, DC has a combined sewer system. During heavy rainfall events the capacity of the combined system can be exceeded, resulting in combined sewage and stormwater discharge into DC’s river.

Phase one of the Clean Rivers Project in the Rock Creek Area of DC, includes implementing green infrastructure techniques such as bio retention (e.g. rain gardens) in curb extensions and planter strips, and permeable pavements on streets and alleys that will can manage the volume associated with 1.2 inches of rain falling on 365 impervious acres of land. Just as underground tunnels are designed to a given holding capacity, the green infrastructure was likewise designed to manage certain volume of rainfall.

The green infrastructure was financed by the first of its kind Environmental Impact Bond (EIB) where both the investors and DC Water, hedge the financial risks and share the benefits. If the green infrastructure performs better than expected at reducing storm water runoff, DC Water will make an outcome-based payment to the investors. If the green infrastructure underperforms at reducing runoff, the investors will make a risk-share payment to DC Water. If performance falls within the expected outcome range then neither party will make a payout.

The results of phase one are presently being monitored and evaluated to understand the green infrastructure efficacy to attenuate the stormwater, although are expected to deliver a range of benefits beyond reducing the occurrence of CSO events.  This includes creating local employment opportunities through installation and maintenance, improving the micro-climate and building climate change resilience and reducing crime through greener communities.

This case study offers important insights to other municipalities struggling to manage CSO overflows, and shows how green infrastructure can be implemented, in partnership with other city programs, to achieve win-win measures. In particular, city planners, the water and sewage authority, environmental departments and organizations focused on urban regeneration, climate resilience and mitigation and more broadly environmental causes, can implement green infrastructure to achieve multiple objectives in tandem in a cost-effective way. The innovative financing approach can also be readily replicated in other context.

Access the full case study here


This article was originally posted on The Resilience Shift website.
Less rain will fall during Mediterranean winters

Less rain will fall during Mediterranean winters

By Tim Radford

A warmer world should also be a wetter one, but not for the cockpit of much of human history: Mediterranean winters will become increasingly parched. Winter rainfall – and winter is the rainy season – could see a 40% fall in precipitation.

Agriculture and human civilisation began in the Fertile Crescent that runs from eastern Turkey to Iraq: cattle, sheep and goats were domesticated there; the first figs, almonds, grapes and pulses were planted there; the progenitors of wheat were sown there.

Cities were built, irrigation schemes devised, empires rose and fell. Greece colonised the Mediterranean, Rome later controlled it and set the pattern of law and civic government for the next 2000 years in Northern Europe.

Islamic forces brought a different civilisation to the Balkans, North Africa and almost all of Spain. The grain fields of the Nile Valley underwrote the expansion of the Roman Empire.

“What’s really different about the Mediterranean is the geography. You have a big sea enclosed by continents, which doesn’t really occur anywhere else in the world”

But the pressure of history is likely to be affected by the high pressure of summers to come. In a world of rapid climate change, the already dry and sunny enclosed sea will become sunnier and drier, according to two scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They report in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate that the winter rains that are normally expected to fill the reservoirs and nourish the rich annual harvest from the orchards, vineyards and wheat fields can be expected to diminish significantly, as atmospheric pressures rise, to reduce rainfall by somewhere between 10% and 60%.

Ordinarily, a warmer world should be a wetter one. More water evaporates, and with each degree-rise in temperature the capacity of the air to hold water vapour increases by 7%, to fall inevitably as rain, somewhere.

But episodes of low pressure associated with rain clouds over the Mediterranean become less likely, according to climate simulations. The topography of the landscape and sea determines the probable pattern of the winds.

High pressure grows

“It just happened that the geography of where the Mediterranean is, and where the mountains are, impacts the pattern of air flow high in the atmosphere in a way that creates a high-pressure area over the Mediterranean,” said Alexandre Tuel, one of the authors.

“What’s really different about the Mediterranean compared to other regions is the geography. Basically, you have a big sea enclosed by continents, which doesn’t really occur anywhere else in the world.”

Another factor is the rate of warming: land warms faster than sea. The North African seaboard and the southern fringe of Europe will become 3 to 4°C hotter over the next hundred years. The sea will warm by only 2°C. The difference between land and sea will become smaller, to add to the pattern of high pressure circulation.

“Basically, the difference between the water and the land becomes smaller with time,” Tuel says.

Frequent warnings

Once again, the finding is no surprise: Europe has a long history of drought and flood, but drought tends to leave the more permanent mark. The eastern Mediterranean has already experienced its harshest drought for 900 years and this has been linked to the bitter conflict in Syria.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that the pattern of drought on the continent is likely to intensify, and at considerable economic and human cost.

What is different is that the latest research offers detailed predictions of the nature of change, and identifies the regions likeliest to be worst hit. These include Morocco in north-west Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean of Turkey and the Levant.

“These are areas where we already detect declines in precipitation,” said Elfatih Eltahir, the senior author. “We document from the observed record of precipitation that this eastern part has already experienced a significant decline of precipitation.” 


This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Image: By Mohamed Hozyen, via Wikimedia Commons
Dry years drive cropland expansion and deforestation in developing countries finds new World Bank study

Dry years drive cropland expansion and deforestation in developing countries finds new World Bank study

By Will Bugler

A new World Bank study shows that reduced rainfall in developing countries has caused around 9% of cropland expansion and deforestation over the last two decades. The study looked at the land cover and rainfall data from 171 countries over the 23 years from 1992-2015, to see what impact rainfall anomalies (increases or decreases from the average) had on cropland expansion in subsequent years.

It’s well established that periods of drought damage crops and reduce yields for farmers around the world. However, until now little was known about the consequences of such pressures on cropland expansion. The researchers found that in developing counties, cropland expanded for up to five years following a drier-than-normal year. They did not find the same effect for increased rainfall.

The findings demonstrate the close connection between climate adaptation measures and climate change mitigation. The researchers found that regions where water infrastructure, such as irrigation, was present did not show similar cropland expansion. Adaptation measures such as improved farming practices, irrigation infrastructure or drought resistant crops, may therefore reduce the pressure on smallholder farmers to replace forested land with cropland.

These impacts will become more acute in the future as climate change is expected to reduce water availability and increase the frequency and intensity of drought events in many developing countries.

The full study can be seen here.


Cover photo by Rahbek Media on Unsplash
3 ways to put water onto the climate agenda

3 ways to put water onto the climate agenda

By Anna Huber

This year, World Water Day is focused on the interconnectedness of water and climate change. Water is the primary resource affected by climate change, with repercussions on the supply of drinking water, sanitation, and water used for food and energy production. Or in other words, as suggested by climate-change experts, “If climate change is a shark, then water is its teeth”.

Against this backdrop, young people are increasingly recognized as the driving force for action behind the climate movement – and for injecting water into the climate agenda. Currently, more than half of the global population is under the age of 30, making it the largest youth population in history and the ones who will be most affected by the climate change induced disruption of water resources.

One active youth group is the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers, an impact-orientated network of young people, who listed water as the number one social risk in the Forum’s Global Shapers survey.

Having launched several initiatives linking both water and climate change, here are three key lessons from global youth to advance an inclusive and effective climate action agenda:

1. Raise awareness

Not enough is understood and communicated about the devastating risk of climate change to the world’s water resources. Currently, 50% of our drinking water comes from glaciers, which are melting at an unprecedent speed. Higher air temperatures are causing increased flooding – which is affecting more people globally than any other natural hazard. If no measures are taken, water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, is expected to cost some regions up to 6% of their economic growth.

With water and climate change being complex topics in and of themselves, not to mention how they intersect, much remains to be done to raise awareness in a comprehensive, accessible and action-oriented way. The World Youth Parliament for Water (WYPW), a globally-recognized youth network, has therefore dedicated one of its three main working pillars towards awareness-raising. Noting the need to mainstream the unique role of water throughout the climate agenda, the WYWP is currently broadcasting “The ClimateReady Podcast”, sharing stories of youth action on combatting the climate crisis and reaching thousands of people.

All sectors can learn from these efforts, as an increased awareness of the water and climate change link will lead to an enabling environment for change and corporation, and more so, safeguard our water resources.

2. Be an advocate

Young people are organizing and uniting around the world to raise awareness through climate strikes – bridging political differences and linking separate sectors. Rather than confronting one environmental issue at a time, they are holistic in their advocacy, recognizing the strength in combining efforts.

During the 2020 Annual Meeting in Davos, Global Shapers engaged in climate work and discussions on the future of water. Their participation, enthusiasm and conviction to further incentivize young people to scale up water innovation, resulted in the stakeholder proposal to develop an award. Rather than being a one-off entrepreneurial activity, this prize aims to be a milestone in a long-term water advocacy agenda.

While having a Corporate Social Responsibility programme is common, more companies could push the cause. An example is Heineken’s “Every Drop” campaign, dedicated to lowering water usage to combat water scarcity.

Choose to be a champion, mobilize for the climate-water cause and implement what you advocate!

3. Seek innovation

Since 2012, the rise in smart phones has been dramatic (to date, there are more people with a mobile phone than access to a flushable toilet). Today’s youth is the generation most accustomed to technology from an early age. With the increase of artificial intelligence, smart sensoring and blockchain, the possibilities for tackling water issues have multiplied.


This article was originally published on the World Economic Forum website.
Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Climate Resilience Through Water Supply

Climate Resilience Through Water Supply

Cities in Asia and the Pacific continue to grapple with a clean water crisis, and climate change will only amplify the challenge. In response, development experts from the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) have been preparing infrastructure projects to secure potable water supply and increase the climate resilience of cities in Myanmar, Indonesia and variousother countries in the region.

“One thing that is not clearly understood: The world has enough water,” says CDIA Program Manager Neil Chadder. “The problem with water is that it’s not always available where and when required.”

Every Drop Counts

In Yangon, Myanmar, Mr. Chadder notes that the dry season, during which Myanmar receives just 20% of its annual rainfall, has been getting longer over the past several years. Meanwhile, increased rainfall during the monsoon season stresses the local reservoirs and leads to flooding in Yangon, a low-lying city. With climate change, this seasonal disparity will become more extreme.

To secure the raw water supply for Yangon and increase its climate resilience, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) worked with CDIA to prepare for the launch of the Yangon City Water Resilience Project (YCWRP) supported by the Asian Development Bank.

Currently, Yangon pumps much of its water supply for its population of more than 5 million people from the nearby Ngamoeyeik Reservoir through an open, unlined earth canal. Evaporation and seepage along the canal results in significant non-revenue water (NRW), which is water that is lost or unaccounted for during transmission.

YCWRP will help secure Yangon’s water supply by installing a new intake structure in the Ngamoeyeik Reservoir and developing an enclosed pipeline to transport water into the city. Officials expect that this will reduce water losses by an estimated 30% and allow the city to retain the water throughout the dry season.

Quality and Quantity

CDIA’s development partners will complete YCWRP in conjunction with the Hlawga Water Supply project, another Myanmar-based effort.

The YCDC pumps water from the Hlawga reservoir in Yangon, along with several other sources, in order to supply the city with 209 million gallons per day (MGD). This is only enough water for less than 40% of the city’s population, which means that more than 60% of Yangon’s citizens instead source water through a variety of methods, such as digging wells and bore-holes on private property – a practice which accelerates soil salinization and further reduces the quality of the groundwater.

Beginning this year, the YCDC will work to replace the Hlawga’s reservoir’s existing water main, install a clear water transmission pipeline and construct a new water treatment plant. These developments will curtail the city’s systemic NRW and improve system efficiency and reliability.

Brian Capati, CDIA’s Urban Development Specialist, is overseeing the main components of the Hlawga project preparation study alongside representatives from the YCDC, with support from Agence Française de Développement and the European Union.

“Improving water quality directly impacts the health and sanitation of the population,” says Mr. Capati. He also mentions that the Hlawga project “could reap benefits for the economy and the livelihood of the city, and safeguard against water losses.”

These two projects will bolster Yangon’s water supply and climate resilience, but to fully realize this goal will require a sustained long-term effort.

“In 10 years’ time, hopefully the city will be close to where it needs to be,” Mr. Chadder says.

Project Experience Throughout Asia Pacific

The CDIA team brings over a decade of experience to their water supply and wastewater projects.

Within just the past three years, CDIA-supported projects have addressed water supply infrastructure gaps for the cities of Luganville, Vanuatu and Panaji, India. Another project improved wastewater and sanitation in the Pakistani cities of Sargodha, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzaffargarh and Bahawalpur. In 2017, CDIA also supported a project to replace the dilapidated water supply infrastructure in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Prior to the project, the city’s NRW had reached nearly 80%.

In 2019, CDIA completed a pair of development projects for the cities of Balikpapan and Singkawang in Indonesia.

The first project addressed water supply in the fast-growing city of Balikpapan, which will need an alternative water source by 2021. Mr. Capati, who oversaw both Indonesia projects, explains that, due to seasonal droughts, Balikpapan’s water supply sources could not meet the present, as well as the future water needs of its residents.

To remedy this, CDIA worked with PDAM Balikpapan to conduct a pre-feasibility study (PFS) on developing the Tengin River as a raw water source and constructing a dam on the river to control the water supply year-round. Balikpapan officials expect that this new source of water will benefit at least 54,000 households in the city.

Stabilizing the region’s water supply will benefit the Indonesian government, which will relocate its capital, currently Jakarta, due to rising sea levels. In 2024, the government will establish a new “green, smart” capital city adjacent to Balikpapan in the regency of Penajam Paser Utara.

Balikpapan will serve as the main transportation and economic hub of the newly-relocated capital.

CDIA then supported a water supply project for the city of Singkawang. As dry season gets longer, Singkawang’s two main rivers dry up, leaving its population of 190,000 without reliable water supply.

Through CDIA’s PFS, Singkawang city officials have established Lake Serantangan as an alternative and suitable raw water source to meet the city’s current and future water needs. They have declared it as a protected area, to limit human and industrial activities to preserve its water quality and conserve the watershed.

Looking Ahead

As they look ahead to future water supply projects, CDIA experts say that their team would keep working to convince city officials to proactively manage NRW. Mr. Chadder says that many city officials prioritize “showcasing flagship water projects” over the slow, gradual process of locating and repairing leaks in their water supply systems.

“The challenge is to point out to the city how much you can improve on your existing system,” Mr. Capati explains, “and how much you can save in the local and also the national budget” by eliminating NRW.

Mr. Chadder says that “if [cities] were only to control the amount of water they waste, we could delay future investment significantly.”

“We have to better protect, take care of and utilize this particular resource and stop wasting it,” Mr. Chadder concludes. “At CDIA, we want to improve resilience through greater efficiency and application of engineering knowledge.”


This article was originally published on the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) website.
Cover photo by Edward Suinao/DFAT on Wikimedia Commons.
Water (in)security: the art of resilience

Water (in)security: the art of resilience

By Nicholas Simpson

South Africa’s National Water week takes place from 16 to 22 March. Dr Nicholas Simpson, from the African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI) at the University of Cape Town, was part of a research project focusing on why people opt for off-grid solutions in response to disruptions in supply of water or energy and what the effect of those actions might be.

Water security is more often thought about at high levels of water-resource planning, governance and national security – South Africa’s co-dependent relationship with Lesotho illustrates one example of this. However, less thinking has gone into considering how the everyday actions of the general population contribute towards or compromise water security1.

The Art of Resilience, a research project within the Global Risk Governance Programme, set out to explore just that during the Cape Town drought to consider what household-level actions and practices emerged as people searched for ways to secure access to water.

“Climate shocks are increasingly disrupting the ability of the state to deliver key public services.”

Climate shocks are increasingly disrupting the ability of the state to deliver key public services,2 particularly for sectors at high risk from climate variability, like water. Over the past five years, globally significant climate hazards, augmented by climatic changes, have created disruptive shocks, which have undermined service delivery.

California and Sydney saw their electricity disrupted by unprecedented wildfires; Puerto Rico and Beira had their electricity and water systems severely disrupted by hurricanes. After three years of drought, Cape Town came within days of declaring “Day Zero” where large portions of the city would have their water shut off.

Since the frequency and intensity of these events are anticipated to increase in years to come, we were interested to see how people secure their lives when the state appears unable to do it for them. Our observations centred on why people opt for off-grid solutions in response to disruptions in supply of water or energy and what the effect of those actions might be.

Landscape scale disruptions

Events like the Cape Town drought are considered “landscape scale” disruptions2 by scholars. These disruptions can potentially change how we do things and allow for the scalable adoption of innovations that might otherwise be ignored, such as rainwater harvesting tanks prior to the drought3. We were interested in the effect of these disruptions on the actions and mindsets of people across various levels of society2,4.

The conventional approaches of the City of Cape Town were challenged by the potential of a ‘new normal’ in climate risk and their ability to deliver water during severe droughts. Although there was internal resistance, there was a clear shift in the City’s approach to water, and the general population, as the drought became increasingly severe4.

“There were also many people whose mindsets and actions did not change in response to the drought.”

One of the most obvious changes made by the City was the revision of the water tariff. This was in response to reduced overall water consumption during the drought period, which reduced revenue for the City and threatened the sustainability of the City’s budget5. These changes highlight the importance of flexibility and backup systems (redundancy) in infrastructure, finance and governance domains5.

But there were also many people whose mindsets and actions did not change in response to the drought3,6,7. This was most evident in those accustomed to, or requiring, large amounts of water and therefore resistant to reducing their consumption.

Climate gating

We related these climate risk responses to emerging trends, particularly the cascading uptake of off-grid water sources – a decentralising water security phenomenon we call ‘climate gating’3. Off-grid alternatives like boreholes and water tanks were just some of the innovative arrangements that emerged, at extraordinary scales, to secure household-level water access and build private reserves while expanding general reserve margins3.

The figure that follows illustrates the chronology of rainwater harvesting tank sales data for a popular tank manufacturer in South Africa, the number of registered boreholes and well points, and the reduction in the number of households consuming more than 20 000 litres per month over the drought period3.

Figure 1: Rainwater harvesting tank sales data, number of registered boreholes and well points, and reduction in number of households consuming more than 20 000 litres per month, Cape Town, Sept 2016–April 20193.

The securing actions of the private sector highlights the importance of alternatives and backups. Boreholes and rainwater tanks are a means to redundancy – an expression of resilience at a household level. The unintended consequence of these new off-grid capacity arrangements meant that the City was faced with public governance challenges, not least of which was the undermining of revenues collected for water.

Reconfiguration of water systems

We used the Cape Town drought case study to draw attention to the entrenching effect of climate shocks on areas of privilege and inequality of water access7 – where those with access to the grid (unlike many in informal settlements) decided the grid was not good enough to secure their needs.

The figure that follows sketches how the governance of water has changed due to off-grid supplies and asks questions about the reconfiguration of water systems facing climate disruption7.

Figure 2: Mentalities, transitions and pathways accommodating partial nodes of water security7.

This highlights the mentalities and behaviours that have not changed in the private sectors that were able to secure water through off-grid means. Although the drought has changed mindsets and has enabled novel pathways to new sources of water, we question how ‘climate gating’ has allowed the behaviours of the affluent to remain largely unchanged.

Reliable and equitable access to water will become increasingly challenging in the face of anticipated disruptions to city-wide infrastructures caused by climate change and variability.

The water capacity generated by ‘climate gating’ – whether through boreholes, wells or water tanks – has decentralised water reserves. This has allowed water resilience to become more distributed, diverse and self-healing than an assessment of the Cape Town water supply prior to the drought may have suggested.

The Cape Town drought illustrated the need for the public sector to consider the distributional effects of their actions for the broader populace, particularly those most vulnerable. These observed climate risk responses to water access could signal a more permanent shift towards a dual system in which the rich become self-providers and more resilient, while the poor remain exposed and dependent on the public provision of water.


References

  1. Mutongwizo, T., Holley, C., Shearing, C. D. & Simpson, N. P. Resilience Policing: An Emerging Response to Shifting Harm Landscapes and Reshaping Community Policing. Polic. A J. Policy Pract. (2019) doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/police/paz033.
  2. Simpson, N. P. Accommodating landscape-scale shocks: Lessons on transition from Cape Town and Puerto Rico. Geoforum 102, 226–229 (2019).
  3. Simpson, N. P., Shearing, C. D. & Dupont, B. Climate Gating: A Case Study of Emerging Responses to Anthropocene Risks. Clim. Risk Manag. (2019) doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crm.2019.100196.
  4. Simpson, N. P., Shearing, C. D. & Dupont, B. When Anthropocene shocks contest conventional mentalities: A case study from Cape Town. Clim. Dev. 12, 163–168 (2019).
  5. Simpson, N. P., Simpson, K. J., Shearing, C. D. & Cirolia, L. R. Municipal Finance and Resilience Lessons for Urban Infrastructure Management: A Case Study from the Cape Town Drought. Int. J. Urban Sustain. Dev. 00, 1–20 (2019).
  6. Simpson, N. P., Shearing, C. D. & Dupont, B. ‘Partial functional redundancy’: An expression of household level resilience in response to climate risk. Clim. Risk Manag. 100216 (2020) doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crm.2020.100216.
  7. Simpson, N. P., Shearing, C. D. & Dupont, B. Gated Adaptation during the Cape Town Drought: Mentalities, Transitions and Pathways to Partial Nodes of Water Security. Soc. Nat. Resour. (2020) doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2020.1712756.

This article was originally published on University of Cape Town news.
Cover image by Bob Metcalf on Wikimedia Commons.
Food production will be threatened by climate impacts on water warns UN

Food production will be threatened by climate impacts on water warns UN

By Will Bugler

A new UN report warns that global food production will be altered fundamentally by climate change. Released to coincide with World Water Day on 22nd March, the report warns that food insecurity will result from even small shifts to growing seasons and water availability. The findings of the report show how important ‘slow onset’, gradual climate change effects will have massive impacts on human systems.

The World Water Development Report, emphasises that increased food insecurity could lead to price rises which, in turn, would increase rural poverty. Recent studies show that changing regional rainfall patterns will have significant impacts on wheat, soybean, rice and maize production, and that climate impacts will be felt significantly by 2040 in most regions.

Some regions would experience drier conditions, while other face permanently wetter conditions. Land currently dedicated for wheat cultivation in India, for example, would get more precipitation between 2020 and 2060, assuming current trends in greenhouse gas emissions. In certain agricultural regions of countries like Mexico and South Africa, however, 87 and 99 per cent of the land, respectively, may receive less rainfall.

Quoting the study, the UN report says that, broadly speaking, the tropics and the north would become wetter, while parts of Africa, the Americas, Australia and Europe would become drier. In India, 100 per cent of the land dedicated to rice cultivation, 91 per cent of land for maize and 80 per cent for soybean would face wetter conditions within the next 40 years.

The report also emphasises that rainfall in many areas is expected to fall in shorter, more intense bursts. This is less useful for agricultural production, which often requires rains to be spread across a longer growing season. It could also lead to flooding and other extreme events that threaten crop production and access to markets.

According to the report, there are several important climate change drivers that make the world’s agricultural systems especially vulnerable, these include: 20 years of increasing surface water flows, followed by substantial reductions in surface water and groundwater recharge, changed seasonality of runoff and peak flows, increased peak flows and flooding, and increased salinity.

Areas of significant vulnerability

The report highlights several regions of especially high vulnerability to slow onset climatic shifts. These include the Indus and Ganga-Brahmaputra agricultural systems which “face limited room to adapt to climate change in the first instance”, the report said.

Non-monsoonal sub-Saharan Africa was also categorised with a ‘very high’ vulnerability, according to the report. The region could witness declining yields because of increased rainfall variability and more frequent droughts and floods.

Water scarcity was a particular concern for agricultural production, as adaptation options are limited when water levels cross critical thresholds. Challenges for agricultural water management are two-fold. “First, there is the challenge to adapt existing modes of production to deal with higher incidence of water scarcity (physical and economic) and water excess (flood protection and drainage).” The report said. “second, the challenge to respond to the policy drives to decarbonise agriculture through climate mitigation measures that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance water availability.”

The current global food system is able to meet growing calorie demands today, however the report notes that the number of those severely undernourished is rising in absolute terms. As the global population rises, demand for food will too. This will be accompanied by competing demands on water from industry and services which could threaten food security. Early investment in adaptation and resilience building, focussing on water conservation and management must be a global priority.


Cover photo by Joe Saade (CC By-NC-ND 2.0)
Tap big data to fight floods and droughts in Africa

Tap big data to fight floods and droughts in Africa

By: Claudia Sadoff

Big data can help African countries better weather the storm and survive the drought, argues Claudia Sadoff.

About this time last year, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were reeling from Cyclone Idai, a severe flood. Zimbabwe is currently facing the opposite: a devastating drought, leaving millions without power and on the brink of starvation.

Such water extremes are not new in Sub-Saharan Africa but they are likely to become more frequent and more intense in the years ahead, as rising temperatures make climate change adaptation a matter of life or death.

It is no longer possible to prepare for the traditional wet and dry seasons of the past. As Zimbabwe has found out, one year could bring unprecedented storms while the next brings record water scarcity.

Hope in big data

Instead, Africa’s best hope may come in the form of big data, and monitoring water resources so that countries can take more informed decisions to better weather the storm and survive the drought.

This year’s World Water Day, which falls today (22 March), focuses on how water and climate change are inextricably linked. The devastating impact of Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe in particular offers a vivid example of how climate change is linked to the abundance and scarcity of water.

“It is no longer possible to prepare for the traditional wet and dry seasons of the past.”

Claudia Sadoff, International Water Management Institute

And when it comes to adapting to climate change, knowledge is power, which is why a new programme to gather continent-wide information on water could be a game-changer.

A satellite imagery platform called Digital Earth Africa has previously focussed on land resources such as forests. But it will now aggregate data from remote-sensing technologies, which will allow scientists at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to develop applications for detailed analysis on continent-wide water levels and supplies.

Crucially, this information will be held in the Open Data Cube, an open-source resource for earth observation data, which will give unprecedented levels of access to information on the situation across Africa.

Harnessing water resources information

By pooling this information and making it publicly available, it will be possible to create an accurate picture of water resources to forecast shortages and water needs, and develop strategies to manage water-related climate risks.

For example, such data, collected over decades and amounting to huge capacities,  will allow governments to assess, monitor and report on water resource availability and use, and to balance water allocations across different sectors including agriculture and health.

It will also help scientists such as those at the IWMI to develop extreme scenario models, enabling authorities to take a “prevention is better than cure” approach.

As well as water accounting, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) researchers will be able to make use of the data to create flood and drought models that can then be used to develop early warning systems, not just within counties or districts but across wider regions.

When Cyclone Idai struck, it impacted an area from the coast of central Mozambique beyond the Zimbabwe border and the southern tip of Malawi, all requiring different levels of response but which could have benefitted from greater coordination across the region.

“It is vital that we work together to develop systems to manage and secure water resources, allowing countries across Africa to thrive.”

Claudia Sadoff, International Water Management Institute

Similarly, the disaster led to flooding of the Zambesi and Limpopo rivers, which run through multiple countries including Botswana. By better using regional data, these climate disasters can be handled and addressed in a more coherent way at a large scale.

New systems will aim to give sufficient notice of imminent extremes so that families can evacuate from an area facing a flood or storm, for example, or claim against drought-related insurance.

These applications will be rolled out in some countries with a view to developing additional services and extending them across the continent.

Supporting African-grown innovations

Finally, beyond developing applications and working with partners, the IMWI also sees enormous potential to support African-grown innovations to develop water-related tools that benefit countries, communities and businesses.

While there is a growing community of data science, start-ups and digitalisation in Africa, there is also a gulf between the potential of new data technologies to improve water resource management in Africa and the realities of their limited application on the ground.

To realise its promise and help build resilience to water extremes, this project would also need to overcome barriers to adoption such as awareness, expertise and cost in using the data.

But given that water is so intrinsically linked to climate change and impacts food, economic and social security, it is vital that we work together to develop systems to manage and secure water resources, allowing countries across Africa to thrive.

In climate change-induced emergencies such as floods and droughts, tools and technologies that aid their effective management can be the difference between sinking and swimming.


This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.
Cover photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
Podcast: Adaptation and Water Security with Dr Catherine Grasham & Dr Ellen Dyer

Podcast: Adaptation and Water Security with Dr Catherine Grasham & Dr Ellen Dyer

Living in poverty often means a struggle for water security. Rapid urban growth, unregulated pollution from industry, extreme floods and droughts, along with a lack of reliable and safe drinking water, and increasing damage to water ecosystems threatens economies and undermine the lives of the poor. Climate change is going to make these impacts even worse. But talking about water security means different things to different people. There is a danger that, in trying to become more resilient to a changing climate, that decision makers create situations that unintentionally reduce populations’ water security.

In this podcast episode, we speak to Dr Catherine Grasham and Dr Ellen Dyer from REACH to learn all about their work on water security and resilience. REACH is a global research programme funded by UK aid and led by the University of Oxford that work with a global network of academic, government, practitioner and enterprise partners.Their research looks at how to improve water security for the poor by delivering world-class science that then can transform policy and practice.


Cover photo by DFID on Flickr.

Even looking at flood maps can’t convince coastal residents their homes will be underwater

Even looking at flood maps can’t convince coastal residents their homes will be underwater

By Risa Palm and Toby W. Bolsen

Advertisers understand that providing consumers with the facts will not sell products. To get people to stop and pay attention, successful advertising delivers information simply and with an emotional hook so that consumers notice and, hopefully, make a purchase.

Climate communication scientists use these same principles of messaging—visual, local, and dramatic—to provide facts that will get the public’s attention. Such messaging is intended to help people understand risk as it relates to them, and perhaps change their behavior as a result.

As social scientists studying the effectiveness of climate change communication strategies, we became curious about a particular message we found online. Some houses advertised for sale in South Florida were accompanied by banner ads with messages such as “Flooding hurts home value. Know more before you buy. Find out for free now.” The ads were sponsored by the First Street Foundation through its website FloodIQ.com. The nonprofit foundation provides detailed aerial photos of present and future flooding as a consequence of rising sea level.

My colleague and I decided to survey residents of coastal South Florida to better understand how information affected their attitudes and opinions. Did these messages developed by a nonprofit organization change the perceptions of coastal residents who live in low-lying areas about the threat of coastal flooding as a result of sea-level rise?

Defining the danger to property by zip code

Many studies of climate change communication and response have been based on national surveys or more local reviews of counties and states susceptible to a range of coastal flooding. We focused our survey on a single region and a population at greatest risk: those who live in zip codes along the South Florida coast where the probability of flooding in local neighborhoods is extremely high.

Maps can be a way to see potential flood risk. [Image: floodiq/courtesy of the author]

With permission of the First Street Foundation to reproduce their maps that represent what flooding in the future might look like, we developed a survey to understand the effectiveness of tailored messages. How would this messaging impact residents’ beliefs about climate change and sea-level rise? We also asked if residents believed their communities and homes were at risk.

We surveyed more than 1,000 residents living in 166 zip codes in South Florida between October and December of 2018. All those surveyed were at risk from either the direct or indirect effects of flooding to their homes, including a decrease in property values, as coastal property is perceived as a less desirable destination.

We sampled residents of seven metropolitan areas, including Tampa-Saint Petersburg-Clearwater, Fort Myers, Key West, Miami-Dade County, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, and Vero Beach. Half the sample received a map of their own city, rendered at a scale so that their city block was visible. The maps illustrated what could happen just 15 years from now at the present rate of sea-level rise if there were a Category 3 hurricane accompanied by storm-surge flooding.

[Photo: Asael Peña/Unsplash]

Does visual information make a difference?

The study was intended to assess how residents might perceive the vulnerability of their property and their communities to severe storms. We asked residents about their political affiliation and their support for policies such as zoning laws, gasoline taxes, and other measures to address climate change.

Surprisingly, we found that those who had viewed the maps were, on average, less likely to say they believed that climate change was taking place than those who had not seen the maps.

Further, those who saw the maps were less likely than those survey respondents who had not seen the maps to believe that climate change was responsible for the increased intensity of storms. Respondents who classified themselves as Republicans had the strongest negative responses to the maps.

Those who saw the maps were no more likely to believe that climate change exists, that climate change increases the severity of storms, or that sea level is rising and related to climate change. Even more dramatically, exposure to the scientific map did not influence beliefs that their own homes were susceptible to flooding or that sea-level rise would reduce local property values.

Consistent with national surveys, party identification was the strongest predictor of general perceptions of climate change and sea-level rise. However, the majority of homeowners denied that there was a risk to their property values, regardless of political affiliation.

What does it take to change minds?

We believe that the motivation of our respondents, their underlying beliefs when forming an opinion, is important when reflecting on these survey results. Specifically, people often process information or learn in a way that protects their existing beliefs or their partisan leanings.

In the case of our respondents’ general beliefs about climate change and its connection to sea-level rise, those who belonged to the Republican Party may have dismissed the maps either because they challenged their party’s stance on the issue or because they did not view the information as credible given their prior views. In the case of our respondents’ views about the future effects of sea-level rise on property values, all of the homeowners we surveyed, regardless of their partisanship, may have been motivated by their personal financial interests to reject the notion that sea-level rise would reduce their own property values.

It is important to emphasize that targeted information about climate change may lead to unintended effects. While accurate and easily absorbed information is important, it will take a much more nuanced approach to change the way people understand information. As advertisers well know, it takes more than facts to sell any product.


This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Epicurrence on Unsplash