Word from the Chair: The Challenge of Change

The world in which we work is changing.  Some changes may be sudden and catastrophic, for example the outbreak of armed conflict, or the impacts of flooding.  The wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Somalia have resulted in destruction of much water infrastructure.  The Pakistan floods of recent years have had similar disastrous results.  But many of the changes which are occurring are continuous, for example growth of population, economic growth, or climate change as a result of greenhouse gas emissions.  Some of these changes are quite fast while others are much slower.  In my own working lifetime I have seen populations grow by a factor of about 3 in many of the countries where I have worked.  Gradual and continuous change, but by now having massive impacts on the state of the environment and natural resources, and on demands for water.

Predicting the impacts of demographic, economic, and climate changes is extremely difficult, and full of uncertainties.  In the case of climate change, many models and scenarios are used, and the projections made can be contradictory or so uncertain as to be almost useless for planning.  It is against this background that it becomes essential to strengthen arrangements for monitoring of any changes to the water resources on which we all depend.  Monitoring is an essential element in water safety plans, and it is absolutely crucial in the wider concept of water security planning.

As I write this, I am about to continue my work on water security in Sierra Leone, a country whose water infrastructure (and water resource monitoring infrastructure) was largely destroyed in its ten-year civil war between 1991 and 2002.  Sierra Leone is well-watered, but has a growing population and an expanding industry (mining and commercial agriculture). However, it has suffered from past over-estimates of the renewable water resources and therefore monitoring of both quantity and quality of water is fundamental to the people’s and the nation’s water security.  Sierra Leone is no special case in this regard, and sound monitoring of water resources is essential in all countries which are striving to achieve water security for their people and their economies.  At the very least, all countries need representative networks of rainfall, river flow and groundwater level monitoring, with water quality surveillance at key locations.  Some of this important work can be undertaken at rural community level, while other aspects need the active involvement of competent local and national Government institutions.

The seriousness with which nations undertake monitoring of water supply services and of water resources is an indicator of their determination to achieve water security for their people.

Professor Richard Carter
Director, Richard Carter & Associates
Chair of the Rural Water Supply Network