Category: Water

Water, Climate, Conflict, and Migration: Coping with One Billion People on the Move by 2050

Water, Climate, Conflict, and Migration: Coping with One Billion People on the Move by 2050

By Nidhi Nagabhatla

Do migrants willingly choose to flee their homes, or is migration the only option available?

There is no clear, one-size-fits-all explanation for a decision to migrate — a choice that will be made today by many people worldwide, and by an ever-rising number in years to come due to a lack of access to water, climate disasters, a health crisis, and other problems.

Data is scarce on the multiple causes, or “push factors”, limiting our understanding of migration. What we can say, though, is that context is everything.

United Nations University researchers and others far beyond have been looking for direct and indirect links between migration and the water crisis, which has different faces — unsafe water in many places, and chronic flooding or drought in other places.

The challenge is separating those push factors from the social, economic, and political conditions that contribute to the multi-dimensional realities of vulnerable migrant populations — all of them simply striving for dignity, safety, stability, and sustainably in their lives.

A new report, Water and Migration: A Global Overview, from the UNU Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, offers insights into water and migration interlinkages, and suggests how to tackle existing gaps and needs.

The report’s information can be understood easily by stakeholders and proposes ideas for better informed migration-related policymaking. This includes a three-dimensional framework applicable by scholars and planners at multiple scales and in various settings.

The report also describes some discomforting patterns and trends, among them:

  • By 2050, a combination of water and climate-driven problems and conflicts will force 1 billion people to migrate, not by choice, but as their only option.
  • Links to the climate change and water crises are becoming more evident in a dominant trend — rural-urban migration.
  • There is a severe lack of quantitative information and understanding regarding direct, and indirect, water and climate-related drivers of migration, limiting effective management options at local, national, regional, and global scales.
  • Global agreements, institutions, and policies on migration are concerned mostly with response mechanisms; a balanced approach that addresses water, climate, and other environmental drivers of migration is needed.
  • Unregulated migration can lead to rapid, unplanned, and unsustainable settlements and urbanisation, causing pressure on water demand and increasing the health risks and burdens for migrants, as well as hosting states and communities.
  • Migration should be formally recognised as an adaptation strategy for water and climate crises; while it is viewed as a “problem”, in fact it forms part of a “solution”.
  • Migration reflects the systemic inequalities and social justice issues pertaining to water rights and climate change adaptation; lack of access to water, bad water quality, and a lack of support for those impacted by extreme water-related situations constitute barriers to a sustainable future for humankind.

Case studies in the report provide concrete examples of the migration consequences in water- and climate-troubled situations, including:

  • the shrinking of Lake Chad in Africa, and the Aral Sea in Central Asia;
  • the saga of Honduran refugees;
  • the rapid urbanisation of the Nile Delta; and
  • the plight of island nations facing both rising seas and more frequent, more intense extreme weather events; in addition, the added health burdens imposed on people and communities by water pollution and contamination create vicious cycles of poverty, inequality, and forced mobility

While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do not include an explicit migration target, mitigation of migration should be considered in the context of SDGs that aim to strengthen capacities related to water, gender, climate, and institutions. These issues resonate even as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent news stories have chronicled the plight of desperate migrant workers trapped in the COVID-19 crisis in India, and of displaced people in refugee camps where social distancing is unachievable, as is access to soap and water, the most basic preventive measure against the disease.

Add to that the stigma, discrimination, and xenophobia endured by migrants that continue to rise during the pandemic.

Even at this moment, with the world fixated on the pandemic, we cannot afford to put migration’s long-term causes on the back burner.

While the cost of responses may cause concerns, the cost of no decisions will certainly surpass that. There may be no clear, simple solution but having up-to-date evidence and data will surely help.

On World Environment Day (5 June), we were all encouraged to consider human interdependencies with nature.

Let us also acknowledge that water and climate-related disasters, ecological degradation, and other environmental burdens cause economic, health, and well-being disparities for migrants and populations living in vulnerable settings.

This article was first published by Inter Press Service News.
Cover photo by International Organization for Migration / Sibylle Desjardins
Rivers flood, seas rise – and land faces erosion

Rivers flood, seas rise – and land faces erosion

By Tim Radford

Polar melting cannot be separated from farmland soil erosion and estuarine flooding. All are part of climate change.

Climate heating often ensures that calamities don’t come singly: so don’t forget what erosion can do.

In a warmer world the glaciers will melt ever faster to raise global sea levels ever higher. In a wetter world, more and more topsoil will be swept off the farmlands and downriver into the ever-rising seas.

And the pay-off of silt-laden rivers and rising sea levels could be catastrophic floods, as swollen rivers suddenly change course. Since many of the world’s greatest cities are built on river estuaries, lives and economies will be at risk.

Three new studies in two journals deliver a sharp reminder that the consequences of global heating are not straightforward: the world responds to change in unpredictable ways.

First: the melting of the ice sheets and the mountain glaciers. Researchers warn in the journal Nature Climate Change that if the loss of ice from Antarctica, Greenland and the frozen rivers continues, then climate forecasters and government agencies will have to think again: sea levels could rise to at least 17cms higher than the worst predictions so far.

“Avulsions are the earthquakes of rivers. They are sudden and sometimes catastrophic. We are trying to understand where and when the next avulsions will occur”

That means an additional 16 million people at hazard from estuarine floods and storm surges.

In the last 30 years, the flow from the Antarctic ice cap has raised sea levels by 7.2mm, and from Greenland by 10.6mm. Every year, the world’s oceans are 4mm higher than they were the year before.

“Although we anticipated the ice sheets would lose increasing amounts of ice in response to the warming of the oceans and the atmosphere, the rate at which they are melting has accelerated faster than we could have imagined,” said Tom Slater of the University of Leeds, in the UK, who led the research.

“The melting is overtaking the climate models we use to guide us, and we are in danger of being unprepared for the risks posed by sea level rise.”

Dr Slater and his colleagues are the third team to warn in the last month that observations of climate already match the worst-case scenarios dreamed up by forecasters preparing for a range of possible climate outcomes.

Erosion risk rises

The latest reading of glacial melt rates suggests that the risk of storm surges for many of the world’s greatest cities will double by the close of the century. But coastal cities – and the farmers who already work 38% of the terrestrial surface to feed almost 8bn people – have another more immediate problem.

In a warmer world, more water evaporates. In a warmer atmosphere, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also increases, so along with more intense droughts, heavier rainfall is on the way for much of the world. And the heavier the rain, or the more prolonged the drought, the higher the risk of soil erosion.

In 2015 the world’s farmers and foresters watched 43 billion tonnes of topsoil wash away from hillsides or blow away from tilled land and into the sea. By 2070, this burden of silt swept away by water or blown by wind will have risen by between 30% and 66%: probably more than 28 bn tons of additional loss.

This could only impoverish the farmland, according to a study by Swiss scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It could also impoverish people, communities and countries. The worst hit could be in the less developed nations of the tropics and subtropics.

But the flow of ever-higher silt levels into ever-rising seas also raises a new hazard: hydrologists call it river avulsion. It’s a simple and natural process. As conditions change, so rivers will naturally change their flow to spill over new floodplains and extend coastal lands.

Survival in question

But river avulsions can also be helped along by rising sea levels. Since 10% of humanity is crowded into rich, fertile delta lands, and since some of the deadliest floods in human history – two in China in 1887 and 1931 claimed six million lives – have been caused by river avulsions, the question becomes a matter of life and death.

US scientists report, also in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that rising sea levels alone could make abrupt river avulsion more probable, especially as delta lands could be subsiding, because of groundwater and other extraction.

The dangers of avulsion are affected by the rate of sediment deposit in the river channels, and this is likely to rise with sea levels. This in turn raises the level of the river and eventually a breach of a levee or other flood defence will force the river to find a swifter, steeper path to the sea.

Cities such as New Orleans and the coastal communities of the Mississippi delta are already vulnerable. “Avulsions are the earthquakes of rivers,” said Michael Lamb, of California Institute of Technology, one of the authors.

“They are sudden and sometimes catastrophic natural events that occur with statistical regularity, shifting the direction of major rivers. We are trying to understand where and when the next avulsions will occur.” – Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
Iran: decades of unsustainable water use has dried up lakes and caused environmental destruction

Iran: decades of unsustainable water use has dried up lakes and caused environmental destruction

By Zahra Kalantari, Davood Moshir Panahi, Georgia Destouni

Salt storms are an emerging threat for millions of people in north-western Iran, thanks to the catastrophe of Lake Urmia. Once one of the world’s largest salt lakes, and still the country’s largest lake, Urmia is now barely a tenth of its former size.

As the waters recede, extensive salt marshes are left exposed to the wind. These storms are getting saltier and are now happening more often – even in the cold and rainy seasons of the year. As more drying uncovers more salt marshes, things will only get worse.

Salt storms pose a direct threat to the respiratory health and eyesight of at least 4 million people living in both rural and urban areas around Lake Urmia. Increasing soil salinity reduces the yield of agricultural and orchard crops grown around the lake, while the lake has shrunk so much that boating is no longer possible, resulting in a loss of tourism.

Urmia 1986-2016. Salt marshes have been exposed as the lake has shrunk. (Source: Google Timelapse)

This dramatic decline is down to human activity. Over the past three decades, Iran has followed a succession of five-year economic development plans, part of which involved providing large government loans for the agricultural sector to expand and switch from being primarily rain-fed to irrigated. To provide the necessary water for the farms, as well as for growing domestic and industrial use, more than 50 dams were constructed on rivers that drain much of north-western Iran and flow into the lake.

While these dams siphoned off the water that once fed the lake, the drying process was intensified by climate change. The rate of rainfall has reduced in recent decades and the Urmia basin has experienced several multi-year droughts.

All this has left a massively shrunken lake and a host of associated economic, social and health impacts. Yet what’s happening with Lake Urmia is just one example of water-environmental problems emerging right across Iran.

Iran is getting warmer and drier

In a recent journal article, we examined how both climate change and human activity had affected hydrological changes in Iran in recent decades. The country has 30 main river basins, and we gathered three decades of key hydro-climatic data for each, including surface temperature, precipitation, how much water was stored underground in soil and rock, surface runoff (the amount of excess rainwater that cannot be absorbed by the soil), and measures of evaporation and transpiration from plants.

We then calculated the average values of each of these variables over two 15-year periods, 1986-2001 and 2002-2016, and compared the two. This allowed us to see what was changing in each of these basins and by how much.

Our work showed that Iran’s main river basins have got warmer but are receiving less precipitation, are storing less water underground, and seeing less runoff.

Rusting boat on salty ground, lake and mountains in distance.
A boat is left to rust as Lake Urmia shrinks. Tolga Subasi / shutterstock

Some river basins where precipitation and runoff decreased still saw an increase in evapotranspiration (the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration). This may seem odd at first, as less rainwater surely means there is less water to evaporate or for plants to transpire. Lake Urmia, for instance, is an endorheic basin, which means nothing flows out of it and all water that flows in eventually evaporates (this is why the lake is salty). But why would evapotranspiration have actually increased, even as the basin is fed by less water?

This is actually an indicator of human activity. First, all those dams generally increase the surface area of the body of water, compared to the natural flow before the dam was built. Artificial lakes and reservoirs, therefore, leave more water exposed to air and direct sunlight, thus increasing evaporation.

But it’s also down to farming. As more crops are grown, more water is transpired by plants – and more water is needed to grow those plants. To add water where needed, farmers have turned to groundwater and large-scale water transfer engineering projects.

This use of water to maintain and expand human activities is unsustainable and has serious environmental and socio-economic consequences, particularly in this dry part of the world, as seen by changes to Lake Urmia. Policymakers need to mitigate the adverse hydrological changes and associated socio-economic, environmental and health impacts, and move towards something more sustainable.

This article was originally posted on The Conversation.
Cover photo of Lake Urmia, Iran from Flickr by Ninara.
UCCRTF backs training for improved early flood warning in Central Viet Nam

UCCRTF backs training for improved early flood warning in Central Viet Nam

By Trang Dinh and Bas Stengs

Modernizing flood forecasting and warning often comes with the requirements of knowledge transfer and expertise enhancement for forecasters, decision makers, and the residents in local communities. To ensure that the Flood Forecasting and Warning System that is being built for Hoi An city and VGTB Basin — a major catchment in Viet Nam—is able to operate effectively, an extensive collaborative modelling and training programme was held from July 2019 to February 2020, with support from the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF).

The on-the-job training program was held in Tam Ky, Quang Nam, the mid-central province of Vietnam under ADB Grant 0462-VIE[1]: Urban Environment and Climate Change Adaptation Project. Key deliverables of the project are: 

  1.  a Flood Forecasting and Warning System (FFWS);
  2. supporting the Provincial Hydrological and Meteorological Centre;
  3. a Decision Support System (DSS); and,
  4.  supporting the Provincial Steering Committee for Disaster Prevention, Search and Rescue (PSCDPSR).​
Officers of Standing Office of Provincial Steering Committee for Natural Disasters Prevention, Search and Rescue participating in the Decision Support System training, February/2020, in Tam Ky, Quang Nam Province. Credit to Dang Thi Kim Nhung, Emergency communication & Management Specialist of Vietnam Institute of Water Resources Planning.

The project, underway since March 2018, is led by a consortium of Deltares (Netherlands), HaskoningDHV Nederland B.V. (Netherlands), SUEZ Consulting (SAFEGE) (France) and the Institute for Water Resources Planning (Vietnam).  The FFWS and DSS for the Vu Gia-Thu Bon river system, was considered to be one of the most urgent (non-structural) project measures. The FFWS system is designed to improve the procedures for flood warning and timely evacuation, while the DSS enables the analysis of both structural and non-structural measures regarding flood management, and the study of water shortage problems and salinity intrusion during dry periods.

The project applied a state-of-art flood early warning system, called “Delft FEWS” – an open, flexible, free-of-charge software package developed by Deltares, to the Vu Gia Thu Bon river basin. This was paired with an upgraded MIKE river basin modelling package and a new Delft3D marine model to create an integrated FFWS.

​Training to ensure long term sustainability

The goal of the training is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the FFWS, by building the capabilities of system developers and operators. A collaborative approach was deployed through a series of technical on-the-job training sessions, allowing participants to gain knowledge and know how to operate and maintain the FFWS and DSS in the future. The specific objective of the technical working and training sessions was to train the staff in using the calibrated models and operate the FFWS and DSS, and to teach them the process of building, calibrating and maintaining the systems.

​One participant, Mr. Truong Xuan Ty, Chief of Standing Office of the Provincial Steering Committee for Disaster Prevention, Search and Rescue, said “we currently don’t use any forecasting software. If we can better understand the flood forecasting and flood warning models, by using the FFWS+DSS, this will greatly improve the efficiency of the decision making and will speed up the warnings to the communities”.

​A total of nine training sessions were delivered to end users such as the Provincial Hydro-Met Centre (PHMC), the Mid-Central Regional Hydro-Met Centre (RHMC) and the Provincial Steering Committee for Disaster Prevention, Search & Rescue (PSCDPSR). The training was divided into two main components: (i) Catchment and river model development and (ii) Delft-FEWS flood early warning system configuration and operation.

​The on-the-job training was organized at the end users’ location in Tam Ky city, Quang Nam province. Priority was given to the group of potential operators: forecasters from PHMC and RHMC and technical officers from PSCDPSR, by delivering intensive instructions and knowledge ensuring as much interaction as possible between trainers and trainees. Characteristics of the training sessions included: 

  • Each technical session introduced a specific topic providing expertise on applicable tools, software, features, required data, know-how to self-configure and operate the models through various practical exercises.
  • Demo versions pre-configured for the project were provided for demonstration and practice during and after each session.  
  • The demo versions were updated to reflect comments and requests from end users during and after each session. Agile work plans for the following sessions were arranged together with the end-users at the end of each session, to incorporate the user needs as much as possible.

​The training was designed and lead international consultants. Because most local officers are not fluent in English, language barriers were a considerable challenge. To overcome this, a Vietnamese user interface was developed for both software systems and the training was delivered in Vietnamese by local trainers.

​With the final training session held in February this year, a recap of the complete training was done with lots of room for interaction, by means of a Q&A session and a variety of user-selected practical exercises, such as the Delft-FEWS basic configuration and river catchment model set-up. The fact that most exercises were completed with little or no support from the trainers proved that the local skills on modelling, flood forecasting and warning had significantly improved through the concept of “learning by doing”. 

​For further information about the project and the training, please contact the authors: Bas Stengs ( or Trang Dinh (

This article was originally posted on the Asian Development Bank Livable Cities Blog.
Cover image by Ngocnb at Vietnamese Wikipedia
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.


  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:
  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:
  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:
  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:

This article was originally published on University of Cape Town news.
Cover image by Bob Metcalf on Wikimedia Commons.