Resilience of Water Supply in Practice: Experiences from the Frontline

Guest blog by Leslie Morris-Iverson and St. John Day

The protracted Covid-19 pandemic has restricted international travel, cancelled or shifted international conferences on-line and confined many of us to working from home. These changes, along with an awareness of growing and intersecting threats to water supply means it is increasingly important to hear the voices and learn from the experiences of practitioners who continue to work on the frontline. We have edited a book “Resilience of Water Supply in Practice: Experiences from the Frontline” (published at the end of 2021) to help us listen to those voices, people working for utilities, contractors, catchment organizations, or non-governmental authorities, on how they are implementing to address these increasingly complex resilience challenges.

Many service providers are striving to improve the resilience of their water supply services in some very challenging environments. This refers to improving or maintaining service levels, so they can resist, recover from and withstand multiple growing pressures and shocks, such as increased water demands, aged and crumbling infrastructure, environmental pressures (including climate change) and natural or human-made disasters.

In the book, we highlight there needs to be renewed focus on strengthening resilience to raise service levels and improve professional standards of service. If service levels decline or systems breakdown there will be little prospect of getting at least basic services to people, let alone the more ambitious target of safe, adequate and affordable water supply services for all.

To improve resilience, service providers need to imagine what a resilient water supply service will look like. They should conceptualise the key factors that underpin resilience and introduce approaches that will strengthen each component. They also need to ensure inter-linkages between these component parts. This requires detailed analysis of water resources, high quality infrastructure – fit for the local context, strong management arrangements and an adaptive or iterative approach so that learning, adjustments and improvements are continuous. This means decision-makers and service providers should be concerned with wider systems strengthening work, but at the same time they must also identify immediate actions and areas where they can achieve maximum impact.  This is often referred to as ‘doing the right thing and doing it right’.

In the book we present several case studies from different contexts. It consists of eight different examples, contributed by different authors, all of whom are highly experienced in water supply service provision. Each case study brings a different context, challenge, experiences and some practical findings and conclusions. Examples range from: managing water demand in the United Kingdom, to the Cape Town water crisis, to rebuilding water supply services in Freetown; from the challenges of rural water supply in Eastern Sudan, Tajikistan and Iraq, to improving service levels in post emergency situations.

This network is devoted to the important issue of rural water supply. Over the past decade or so, there have been numerous studies highlighting underperformance and shortcomings in community-based maintenance approaches. In this book many of the challenges faced by utilities are highlighted, and, in our opinion, much work is required to improve service levels and increase customer satisfaction. One of the main challenges, as demonstrated in the Sierra Leone case study, is how to strengthen resilience in a systematic manner, when development projects are short term, projects are pre-conceived and often fail to address the most critical problems the utility is facing.

One of the main conclusions from the book is that resilience is being improved through an iterative and adaptive approach. Frontline operators often need to start by ‘doing what they can with what they have,’ while setting realistic and achievable targets. There must be a strong focus on ensuring interventions are relevant to the local context and implemented professionally to prevent reworking and excessive costs. In editing the book, the importance listening to service providers who really are on the frontline – has become ever apparent.

We would like to thank everyone who contributed to this book being published and for assisting in making the book open access.

What I’ve learned in 10 years of working to make water, sanitation and hygiene inclusive

by Louisa Gosling on 3 December 2021 on WaterAid WASHmatters, originally a keynote speech at the 42nd WEDC Conference

Are we doing enough to make water, sanitation and hygiene services as inclusive as possible? Louisa Gosling shares her reflections on how far we have come, and what else we need to achieve.

I started working on equality, inclusion and rights in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector in 2011. The challenge then, as it is now, was to do three things:

  • To raise awareness of inequalities and exclusion by encouraging people working on WASH to think about the different needs of different people and understand the barriers they face.
  • To develop the skills and confidence of WASH professionals.
  • To get WASH professionals to recognise the limits of their expertise so that they reach out to others who can help find solutions.
Continue reading “What I’ve learned in 10 years of working to make water, sanitation and hygiene inclusive”

Candles and Rockets – low cost household solutions for better water and air quality

My name is Reid Harvey. I’m a ceramic industrial designer who has been working in water purification and energy efficient cook stoves for 30 years across Africa and Southern Asia, largely with local village potters.

Forming a candle filter in Burundi. (Photo: R. Harvey)

The current challenges of climate change, the pandemic and supply chain issues have struck deeply in the developing world and low-income communities. I’ve developed community water purification systems using granulated media and refined candle water filter design and production with a view to its open technology and standardization.

My life work has been to empower low-income potters and their neighbors by training them in improved ceramic processes and products. This starts in their use of local materials to make candle water filters and insulating rocket stoves. I have also trained this same population in production of biomass briquettes for use in these stoves. Because the stove gives no smoke at all, use of these briquetrtes as fuel prevents their need to cut trees for fuel or for production of charcoal. Importantly, solid fuel can indeed be burned cleanly.

Recently, while do training in Burundi, I had two breakthroughs in this work. In candle filter production, a new forming process was developed to both speed production and increase product consistency.

In production of insulating rocket stoves, a new process simplifies production of the insulating bricks. The highly energy efficient burn prevents smoke, essentially eliminating indoor pollution. A new design for the insulating rocket stove makes this portable, with upper liners for cook pots of whatever size.

Others might agree that these interventions, training the potters and their neighbors to produce the products they need, can lead to significant impacts in accomplishing nearly all of the Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs.

Building local capacity, the local economy and engaging the community in behavior change appears to be far more sustainable than sending such products into a community and leaving them reliant on external donations for the future.

I’m holding a webinar on Monday, November 22 at 10:00 am, New York time to review the breakthroughs referenced above and gather feedback about implementation strategies that would make these approaches more widespread. The link is below.

I hope you can find time to join this important conversation
Please join us for the webinar, Breakthroughs in Burundi – Innovations in Candle Water Filters and Insulating Rocket Stoves
Join the Zoom Meeting, Monday, November 22, at 10:00am, New York time,

Candle water filter and rocket stove production by local potters has not been viewed as viable. This is because of such factors as the quality and consistency of the product and low production output. Two recent innovations in the means of production have significantly addressed these factors.These are nature-based technologies of candle water filters and insulating rocket stoves that will empower those in need with livelihoods. They will reduce their community’s exposure to waterborne and airborne pollution

Disclaimer: Any claims in an RWSN member eXchange article or video have not been verified and any views presented or services provided the individual organisation does not mean that they are endorsed by RWSN or any of it executive partners or Secretariat.

Rats! Village level ecological-based rodent management

by Meheretu Yonas, Luwieke Bosma and Frank van Steenbergen

Find out more from Meta Meta Research

Hygiene is arguably the more forgotten component in WASH. Within WASH, water and sanitation systems have received much attention and there have been important programs to promote hand washing and menstrual health and hygiene, rightly so. But several other dimensions of hygiene do not get the attention they deserve, in particular village pests that carry common diseases which they transmit to humans through direct contact, food contamination or other pathways.

Pest rodents (rats and mice) are important carriers of pathogens that cause diseases in humans and domestic animals. Different rodents have different behaviour and have different propensities to transmit those diseases. Some rodents, like the roof rat (Rattus rattus), prefer to live in the houses and storage areas. Other rodents may prefer the fields.

There are about 60 known diseases transmitted to humans and animals by rodents. Examples of diseases and parasites of public health importance include leptospirosis, salmonellosis, giardiasis, murine typhus (rickettsia), capillariasis and other helminths intermittently shed by rodents. For instance, salmonellosis is the cause of 25% of all diarrhoea cases worldwide. Leptospirosis affects more than one million people annually and cause more deaths than Ebola for instance.

We advocate that integrating a Village Level Ecologically Based Rodent Management (vEBRM) approach with the activities of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) helps improve nutrition, food safety and public health in the villages in Africa and Asia. vEBRM requires awareness and understanding of rodent habits and a change in people’s behaviour, as people often create the ideal conditions for rodents to multiply. Hence, vEBRM does not seek to just exterminate the rodents, but to control their access to food, their habitats, and movements and to make use of natural enemies.

Here are three important aspects:

Aspect 1: Rodents damage and contaminate food. They are a major cause of human diseases through a multitude of transmission pathways and infect livestock as well. They may attack people, especially children and the elderly. They consume food stores, damage property and some rodents will spread bad smells and create annoying noise.

Aspect 2: Inadequate waste disposal, grain and cattle feed storage methods aid the proliferation of rodent populations in villages thereby heightening public health issues.

Aspect 3: One cannot do this alone: like community WASH, vEBRM needs a systematic collective effort.

Here are the 10 Key Rules in vEBRM:

  1. Communities should first appreciate the fact that rodents are a problem for both agriculture and public health, and that it is possible to reduce rodent populations to close to zero.
  2. Collaborative, community-based participation is imperative at all stages of household and community-level sanitary and hygienic activities and in the introduction of proper storage and house construction to create a healthy village free of rodents. Adequate cleaning, trash removal and rodent-proof trash containers are necessary.
  3. Establish robust community awareness campaigns to achieve people’s behavioural changes towards rodents, food and grain storage methods and household and community-level waste disposal so that rodents are denied access to food and harbourage.
  4. Ensure regular inspection of houses, storage areas and gardens. Immediately repair openings where rodents passthrough and take shelter, such as fencing and stone-bunds. When observed, immediately remove any harbourage, rat runways, climbing spots, etc. It is important to understand that rodents are neo-phobic and learn the locations of new objects, food sources and escape routes very quickly.
  5. Traditional brooming is a special point of attention: especially hard brooms in rodent infested households have the potential to spread rodent-associated RNA viruses and bacteria by contaminated aerosols and arthropod vectors. Hence:
    1. Ensure minimal dust blows while sweeping using water and soft brooms.
    1. Use cloth or facemask to cover the mouth and nose.
  6. Construct storage houses and materials in such a way that it is impossible for rodents to enter (Fig. 3). Ensure that roofs, doors, and windows are fit tightly, and gaps and flaws are avoided. When detected, gaps and flaws should be sealed immediately with rodent-proof material. Interrupters may also be used.
  7. Make sure some of the most sensitive household items are protected from rodents:
    • Store food, grain, drinking water, household utensils in rodent-proof containers and cabinets to avoid persistent household-level re-infestations.
    • Store children/infant food, water and feeding utensils (such as plastic infant/children feeding bottles) in safe containers at all times.
  8. Encourage keeping domestic cats (and dogs) at household level (see Fig. 1) and discourage chasing and prosecution of natural predators of rodents (such as birds of prey, wild cats, mongoose, snakes).
  9. If after all these measures rodent infestation persists: use mechanical killing methods (local and commercial traps), flood rodent burrows, and use proven biorodenticides (ecologically sustainable rodenticides originated from plant materials) or selected chemical rodenticides to manage rodent populations. Avoid using chemical rodenticides that have no user application information and production and expiry dates.
  10. Establish and implement strict village (or neighbourhood) bylaws and rules to ensure household and neighbourhood sanitation and hygiene. Use a record-keeping system that lets the community know who are not respecting the bylaws, who are the offenders. Besides, develop and implement community strategy for a solid waste disposal system (including recycling). Additionally, introduce mandatory “one pit waste each, per household and per village” rule in the village bylaws. Organize groups and committees that create awareness about community sanitation and hygiene and are responsible for enforcing the bylaws. Assign responsible bodies for trash removal and maintenance of communal trash containers and trash dumping areas (pits).

Photo credit: Meta Meta Research “Cats, one of the natural predators to control rodent populations”

Rural Community Water Supply: Sustainable Services for All

Covid-19 gave me the chance to commit to paper (or electronic form, if you prefer) some of my understanding and experience gained over several decades. The outcome is a book, published earlier this year, entitled Rural Community Water Supply: Sustainable Services for All.

by Professor Richard C. Carter

Richard encountering some resistance in Kaabong, Uganda (photo. RC Carter)

Many hundreds of millions of rural people – the exact number is not known, and it is immaterial, except that it probably lies between one and two billion – experience inadequacies in the supply of the water which they use for drinking and other domestic uses.

These inadequacies are partly reflected in the ‘normative criteria’ as defined by the human right to water which apply to water services globally. These criteria ask whether and to what extent water services are available, accessible, affordable and acceptable, and whether their quality meets national or international standards. They also highlight the importance of cross-cutting criteria (non-discrimination, participation, accountability, impact, and sustainability).

Continue reading “Rural Community Water Supply: Sustainable Services for All”

Un guide pratique pour dépasser le jargon entre les spécialistes des thématiques de genre et les praticiens de l’eau.

Figure 1 Dalia Soda, mécanicienne de pompes, à l’un des forages qu’elle entretient dans le village de Nzeremu, district de Salima, Malawi, juin 2016. (© WaterAid / Alexia Webster)

Autonomisation des femmes par le biais d’activités d’approvisionnement en eau en milieu rural : Un guide pratique par et pour les praticiens du Réseau d’approvisionnement en eau en milieu rural (RWSN) combine les apports et les exemples des ingénieurs avec le langage et l’expertise des spécialistes des thématiques de genre, et vise à faire le pont entre ces deux mondes. Le guide est le résultat d’un processus de co-création avec les membres du RWSN (atelier virtuel, e-discussion, édition d’une première version du document) et d’une consultation avec des spécialistes des thématiques de genre tout au long du processus pour s’assurer que le produit final équilibre à la fois les concepts clés et le jargon des spécialistes, ainsi que les contributions et les besoins des praticiens. Le guide est désormais disponible en anglais, français et espagnol.

Un guide pour qui ?

Ce guide pratique a été conçu par et pour des praticiens travaillant dans le secteur de l’eau en milieu rural – société civile, secteurs public et privé. Il s’adresse aux praticiens de l’eau pour qui l’autonomisation des femmes est un sujet nouveau, ainsi qu’à ceux qui souhaitent comparer leurs activités actuelles avec les recommandations du guide. Le guide vise à fournir aux spécialistes de l’eau un langage et des connaissances sur la meilleure façon de travailler avec des experts en genre pour mettre en place des activités plus transformatrices. L’autonomisation des femmes en tant que composante des interventions AEPHA devrait être à la fois une cause et un résultat de la réussite des programmes AEPHA sensibles au genre. L’autonomisation doit donc être un objectif stratégique en soi avec des activités, des instruments et des outils de suivi ciblés. Elle ne doit pas être traitée comme une activité supplémentaire visant à accroître la durabilité ou l’efficacité des systèmes, faisant ainsi des femmes des instruments du processus.

Un mode d’emploi pratique

Le guide est un mode d’emploi concis et pratique, à appliquer au contexte local. Le guide passe en revue les cinq facteurs d’autonomisation (accès à l’information, participation, engagement et inclusion, dynamique et structures du pouvoir, renforcement des capacités), ainsi que les différentes étapes des activités (identification, conception, suivi et évaluation, reporting). Des checklists pour chaque étape des activités ont été préparées afin de rendre le guide aussi pratique que possible. Le guide est également un mode d’emploi de ce qu’il ne faut pas faire : En tant que praticiens de l’eau en milieu rural, nous sommes souvent confrontés à des “mythes” – des croyances et des idées largement répandues mais fausses sur l’autonomisation des femmes. Le guide présente plusieurs mythes liés à chaque facteur d’autonomisation et les déconstruit. Faites attention à ces “mythes” et aidez votre équipe et vos collègues à en prendre conscience.

Figure 2 Liste de contrôle de la phase de conception

Le document est enrichi de nombreux exemples concrets. Par exemple, l’importance d’explorer les structures existantes et les dynamiques de pouvoir est illustrée par un exemple au Népal avec l’utilisation des groupes de mères existants pour la collecte des eaux de pluie, et celui des groupes musicaux traditionnels de femmes et des groupes d’agricultrices au Soudan du Sug.

Avons-nous manqué quelque chose ?

Ce guide est une contribution de RWSN à l’autonomisation des femmes dans le secteur de l’eau. En tant que réseau mondial de professionnels et d’organisations du secteur de l’eau en milieu rural engagés à améliorer leurs connaissances, leurs compétences et leur professionnalisme, le RWSN ne s’arrêtera pas là ; le guide sera accompagné d’un dialogue continu et d’activités pour les membres du réseau, alors restez à l’écoute ! Vous avez des questions sur l’un des aspects soulevés dans le guide ? Prenez contact avec le secrétariat du RWSN ou rejoignez la communauté RWSN Leave No-one Behind ( et aidez-nous à réviser et améliorer le document.

>>> Cliquez ici pour télécharger le guide <<<

*Note: Le terme autonomisation a été choisi par le traducteur, mais ne reflète pas entièrement le sens du terme anglais original « empowerment », basé sur la racine « power » (pouvoir) – faisant référence au pouvoir d’agir des femmes et designant à la fois un processus et un résultat.

**Note: Pour simplifier la lecture du document, le masculin a été utilisé. Mais ce guide a été élaboré par, et s’adresse à des practiciens et practiciennes, et experts et expertes.

Una guía práctica para superar la jerga entre los expertos en género y los profesionales del agua

Figura 1 La mecánica de bombas Dalia Soda en uno de los pozos que mantiene en el pueblo de Nzeremu, distrito de Salima, Malawi, junio de 2016. (© WaterAid / Alexia Webster)

Empoderamiento de las mujeres a través de actividades de suministro de agua en zonas rurales: Una guía práctica por y para los profesionales de la Red de Abastecimiento de Agua en Zonas Rurales (RWSN) combina las aportaciones y los ejemplos de los ingenieros* con el lenguaje y los conocimientos de los expertos en género, y pretende tender un puente entre esos dos mundos. La guía es el resultado de un proceso de cocreación con los miembros de la RWSN (taller electrónico, debate electrónico, comentarios sobre el borrador preliminario de la guía) y una consulta con expertos en género a lo largo del proceso para garantizar que el producto final equilibra tanto los conceptos clave y la jerga de los expertos en género, como las aportaciones y necesidades de los profesionales. La guía ya está disponible en inglés, francés y español.

¿Una guía para quién?

Esta guía práctica ha sido diseñada por y para los profesionales que trabajan en el sector del agua en zonas rurales – sociedad civil, sector público y privado. Está dirigida a los profesionales del agua para los que el empoderamiento de la mujer es un tema nuevo, así como a aquellos que quieran comparar sus actividades actuales con las recomendaciones de la guía. La guía pretende proporcionar a los especialistas del agua un lenguaje y unos conocimientos sobre la mejor manera de trabajar con los expertos en género para crear actividades más transformadoras. El empoderamiento de las mujeres como componente de las intervenciones WASH debe ser tanto una causa como un resultado de los programas WASH sensibles al género que tengan éxito. El empoderamiento, por lo tanto, debe ser un objetivo estratégico en sí mismo con actividades, instrumentos y herramientas de seguimiento específicos. No debe tratarse como una actividad adicional para aumentar la sostenibilidad o la eficacia de los sistemas, convirtiendo así a las mujeres en instrumentos del proceso.

Una guía práctica

La guía es concisa y práctica, para ser aplicada en el contexto local. La guía pasa por los cinco factores de empoderamiento (acceso a la información; participación; implicación e inclusividad ; dinámica y estructuras de poder; fomento de capacidades), así como por las etapas de las actividades (identificación, diseño, seguimiento y evaluación, elaboración de informes). Se han preparado listas de verificación para cada etapa de las actividades con el fin de que sea lo más práctica posible. La guía no solo explica cómo hacer sino también cómo no hacer: Como profesionales del agua en zonas rurales, a menudo nos encontramos con “mitos”, o creencias e ideas muy extendidas pero falsas sobre el empoderamiento de las mujeres. La guía presenta varios mitos relacionados con cada factor de empoderamiento y los deconstruye. Esté atento a estos mitos y ayude a su equipo y a sus colegas a tomar conciencia de ellos también.

Figura 2 Lista de comprobación de la fase de diseño

El documento se enriquece con muchos ejemplos concretos. Por ejemplo, la importancia de explorar las estructuras existentes y las dinámicas de poder se ilustra con un ejemplo de Nepal con el uso de los grupos de madres existentes para la recogida de agua de lluvia, y otre ejemplo con grupos de mujeres de músicas tradicionales y grupos de mujeres agricultoras en Sudán del Sur.

¿Nos hemos perdido algo?

Esta guía es una de las contribuciones de la RWSN al empoderamiento de las mujeres en el sector del agua. Como red mundial de profesionales y organizaciones de abastecimiento de agua en zonas rurales comprometida con la mejora de sus conocimientos, competencia y profesionalidad, la RWSN no se detendrá aquí; la guía irá acompañada de un diálogo continuo y de actividades para los miembros de la red, así que ¡estén atentos! ¿Tiene alguna pregunta sobre alguno de los aspectos planteados en la guía? Ponte en contacto con la Secretaría de la RWSN o únete a la comunidad RWSN No dejar a nadie atrásc( y ayúdanos a revisar y mejorar el documento.

>>> Haga clic aquí para descargar la guía <<<<

*Nota: Para simplificar la lectura del documento, se ha utilizado el género masculino. No obstante, esta guía ha sido elaborada por los y las profesionales y expertos y está destinada a ellos y ellas.

A practical guide to overcome the jargon between gender experts and water practitioners

Figure 1  Pump mechanic Dalia Soda at one of the boreholes she maintains in the village of Nzeremu, Salima District, Malawi, June 2016. (© WaterAid / Alexia Webster)

Women’s empowerment through rural water supply activities: A practical guide by and for practitioners of the Rural Water Supply Network combines inputs and examples from engineers with the language and expertise from gender experts, and aims to bridge between those two worlds. The guide is the result of a co-creation process with RWSN members (e-workshop, e-discussion, editing of the draft) and a consultation with gender experts throughout the process to ensure the final product balances both the key concepts and jargon from gender experts, as well as inputs and needs from practitioners. The guide is now available in English, French and Spanish.

A guide for whom?

This practical guide has been designed by and for practitioners working in the rural water sector – civil society, public and private sectors. It is addressed to water practitioners to whom women’s empowerment is a new topic, as well as to those who would like to compare their current activities with the recommendations of the guide. The guide aims to provide water specialists language and knowledge on how best to work with gender experts to build more transformative activities. Women’s empowerment as a component of WASH interventions should be both a cause and an outcome of successful gender-sensitive WASH programs. Empowerment, therefore, should be a strategic objective in itself with targeted activities, instruments, and monitoring tools. It should not be treated as a bonus activity to increase the sustainability or effectiveness of systems, thus making women instruments of the process.

A practical How-to-do

The guide is a “How-to-do” concise and practical, to be applied in the local context. The guide goes through the five factors of empowerment (access to information; participation; engagement & inclusiveness; power dynamics & structures; capacity-building), as well as throughout the stages of activities (identification, design, monitoring & evaluation, reporting). Checklists for each activity stage have been prepared to make it as practical as possible. The guide is also a “How-not-to-do”: As rural water practitioners, we often come across ‘myths’ – widely held but false beliefs and ideas about women’s empowerment. The guide presents several myths related to each empowerment factor and deconstruct them. Watch out for these ‘myths’ and support your wider team and colleagues to become aware of them too.

Figure 2 Checklist of design stage

The document is enriched by many concrete examples. For instance, the importance of exploring existing structures and power dynamics is illustrated by an example of Nepal with the use of existing mothers groups for rainwater harvesting, and the one of traditional women musical groups and women farmer’s groups in South Sudan.

Have we missed something?

This guide is one contribution from RWSN towards women’s empowerment in the water sector. As a global network of rural water supply professionals and organisations committed to improving their knowledge, competence and professionalism, RWSN will not stop here; the guide will be accompanied by ongoing dialogue and activities for the members of the network, so stay tuned! Do you have questions on any of the aspects raised in the guide? Get in touch with the RWSN Secretariat or join the RWSN Leave No-one Behind community ( and help us revise and improve the document.

>>> Click here to download the guide <<<

New from WaterAid: Piped water supply services: strengthening management models in rural and small town contexts

Re-blogged from WaterAid

Many governments have set ambitious targets for reaching people with piped water services. Providing water taps in people’s homes is one way of achieving safely managed access in line with the Sustainable Development Goal for water. But installing more household taps must come with stronger efforts to professionalise service management, ensure adequate levels of support, and that services are inclusive. Without paying sufficient attention to these and other aspects, there is a risk that piped water supply services will under-perform in low income areas, resulting in poor service levels and lost investment. There are, of course, alternatives to tapped water supplies, and these should be considered where a piped service is not viable.

This publication is the second in a series focused on management models for piped water services in rural and small town settings. The first publication, Management models for piped water services, set out the factors that affect the sustainability of piped water, presenting ten different management models. This publication is a decision-making resource and is designed to help practitioners select or strengthen management arrangements for piped water supplies in different contexts. It compares the viability of the ten management models against the following four variables:

  • Commercial viability and economies of scale
  • Technical complexity, connectedness and local capacity 
  • Sector policy, legislation and financing arrangements
  • Regulation and accountability mechanisms, local preferences, and ensuring inclusive services for all

Top image: Nawoli Jesca, 25, commercial officer, and Nkundizana Julius, 25, team leader of the Busolwe Piped Water Supply System check on a pipe to the main water reservoir in Butaleja District, Uganda, November 2018. 


3 ways to improve water security for climate resilience

1. More accurate and granular analysis of climate risk is needed to increase relevance of climate information
2. Metrics for monitoring climate resilience in water systems are critical to track progress and inform investments for water security
3. New institutional models that improve water security will be critical for climate resilience

Dr. Katrina Charles, REACH Co-Director

In case you missed it, last week REACH launched its new Water Security for Climate Resilience Report, synthesising six years of interdisciplinary research on climate resilience and water security in Africa and Asia. You can also read a summary of the full report with recommendations.

The REACH programme has been partnering with RWSN since 2015.

Water security and climate resilience are interlinked.

This may seem like a simple statement, but in reality it is a complex relationship. Water security and climate resilience are both about managing risks – from water-related issues and climate-related hazards, respectively – to achieve better outcomes for all sectors of society. There are intuitive relationships at large scales, but underlying them are complexities shaped by the environment, and our interactions with it.

Climate change headlines often focus on temperature increases. These changes will be significant and have severe impacts as highlighted by the heatwaves in recent weeks in North AmericaPakistan and India. These increases in temperature come with dramatic changes to our weather, in turn affecting the complex water systems that are essential to so much of our lives and our planet. Floods and droughts are the most visceral example of this impact, which also receive regular coverage on the news. But climate change is affecting water security for humans and ecosystems in many more subtle ways.

Climate change is impacting our drinking water supplies. There is a limit to how much capacity they have to absorb weather extremes, especially for smaller systems. Heavy rainfall is linked to many major waterborne outbreaks in developed countries. A major drought led to severe water rationing in Cape Town in 2018, nearly causing the city’s taps to run dry, known as Day Zero. The report highlights that for smaller water systems that people outside cities rely on the impact of weather is often less clear, but the evidence is that there is limited climate resilience.

Water quality varies with weather. Rainfall increases the mobility of faecal contamination, with different types of system more vulnerable to heavy rainfall, exposing the users to diseases such as typhoid. Without reliable water supplies, people use a range of water sources to meet their water needs year-round, trading off risks between reliable water supplies that might be saline or expensive, with seasonal but unsafe water sources. Climate change will increase weather extremes leading to increased contamination and less reliability.

Fresh water scarcity is increasing. Industrialisation and urbanisation are increasing both the demand for fresh water and its pollution, with toxic compounds that are difficult to remove. Climate change is amplifying these threats by reducing the availability of reliable water, increasing salinity, especially in coastal areas, and changing river flows that flush saline and polluted water. Reduced river flows from changing rainfall patterns will increase exposure to pollution for those who rely on river water for washing and bathing, and increase saline intrusion from the coast. Building resilience requires better management of fresh water resources to reduce the increasing contamination that is making water harder to treat.

Women using river water for washing in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Sonia Hoque
Women using river water for washing in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Credit: Sonia Hoque

To build the adaptive capacity of water systems to cope with changes in climate, climate information needs to be available to water managers at the appropriate spatial and temporal scale. Ensembles of global climate models provide useful information about global climate, but analysis is needed to identify the relevant climate models that best capture local climate. More investment is needed to provide the tools that water managers need to make informed decisions to increase climate resilience, such as accurate projections at local scales and seasonal forecasting based on understanding of local climate drivers. The information needed varies for different users, but is critical to build resilience for managers of small water systems, reservoirs, and basins.

The report synthesises six years of interdisciplinary research by the REACH team across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Collaborations in our Water Security Observatories have allowed us to understand how water security risks are experienced, how inequalities are created and reproduced with new policies, and how new tools and science can support better decision making. The report highlights the impact the REACH programme has achieved with funding from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), in partnership with UNICEF, for the benefit of millions of people. It concludes with three recommendations for to advance water security for climate resilience:

  1. More accurate and granular analysis of climate risk is needed to increase relevance of climate information
  2. Metrics for monitoring climate resilience in water systems are critical to track progress and inform investments for water security
  3. New institutional models that improve water security will be critical for climate resilience

Climate change will increasingly affect water availability and quality, with devastating consequences for the most vulnerable. Improving water security is critical to build resilience to the changing climate.