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.

What you always wanted to know about central and southern Africa’s climate – A beginner’s briefing in 15 minutes or less followed by discussion

Please join us for this Future Climate for Africa webinar by climate change expert Neil Hart.
Friday 17 March 2017, 11:00-12:00 (London, GMT); 13:00-14:00 (Johannesburg)

Register for the webinar here.

Climate modelling is a key tool in tackling the effects of climate change. Future Climate for Africa is a research programme that aims to generate fundamentally new climate science, and to ensure that this new science has an impact on human development across Africa. The UMFULA research team is using climate models to try and improve information about the future climate of central and southern Africa. Their aim is to provide decision-makers with the best possible scientific knowledge on how rainfall, temperatures and associated conditions like drought are likely to change in the region in the next 5-40 years. The researchers also seek to help decision-makers understand which aspects of the future climate are simply uncertain – and to explore the implications for investments in development planning and infrastructure that could endure for decades ahead.

This webinar by Neil Hart of the University of Oxford will explore in brief some of the research questions that the FCFA teams are pursuing in central and Southern Africa. This webinar is not for climate specialists but for anyone who is interested in how they could be using climate change information to make more climate-resilient development decisions.

Dr Hart will explain in brief and in layperson’s terms how climate models project as clear a view of the future climate as possible, but are often misunderstood or used incorrectly. He will debunk some common misunderstandings about climate models. The seminar will use illustrations from what we already understand about central and southern Africa and discuss the implications for making climate-informed decisions.

Dr Hart will cover the basics in 15 minute or less then open the discussion for participant questions and answers.

Read Dr Hart and his colleagues’ contribution to the report Africa’s climate.

Read the full Africa’s Climate report here: http://2016report.futureclimateafrica.org/

Social Dimension of Water Resource Management in Sri Lanka – Part 5

by Delgollage Senevirathne, Assistant General Manager (Sociologist) at the National Water Supply & Drainage Board (NWSDB), Sri Lanka.

(8) The social consequences of failure to control excessive ground water extraction

There are many instances where excessive groundwater extraction affects the availability of groundwater for other users leading to social consequences. Over extraction of ground water from a plot of land has a negative impact on the use of groundwater from the adjacent land users in case of simultaneous extractions are affected. If one party continuously extracts groundwater it will impact the aquifer and will become unsustainable in recharge levels.

In Sri Lanka, there is no legal provision to control use/ extraction of groundwater in terms of quantity and quality parameters.  Hence there is a need to introduce controlling legislation to manage the groundwater resources which is impacting on social consequences. Continue reading “Social Dimension of Water Resource Management in Sri Lanka – Part 5”