What leadership is necessary for the water sector to develop sustainably?

17 Jun 2014 by Taz Burwaiss

what leadership is necessaryDeepa Pullanikkatil, Programme Manager at LEAD SEA talks global warming, the necessity of economic growth, climate compatible development, and solutions to better water management. Deepa is also available in our LinkedIn group to engage with your questions.

Water is life. We cannot survive in this world without water. The biggest challenge mankind is facing today – that of Climate Change, will also affect water resources.

The challenge of global warming

Sub Saharan Africa is expected to be affected by water scarcity due to climate change. According to a study by AFIDEP and PAI (2012) 15 countries in Sub Saharan Africa with 400 million people living in these places is suffering from water scarcity and this number is expected to increase in future.

Drought and water scarcity will worsen as temperatures increase due to global warming, thereby affecting the world's freshwater supplies. This calls for the urgent need to manage water resources in a manner that addresses climate change challenges.

Most of the world is in agreement that development must continue, as we have to bring millions of people out of poverty and hence economic growth is essential.

We therefore need a development pathway that will cope with and reduce the extent of climate change, while promoting economic growth at the same time. Hence, Development paradigms have to change. This is the time for the emerging model called Climate Compatible Development (CCD).

Climate Compatible Development is the only way forward

Climate Development and Knowledge Network defines 'Climate compatible development' as development that minimizes the harm caused by climate impacts, while maximizing the many human development opportunities presented by a low emissions, more resilient, future.

CCD takes the challenge of how to cope under the threats of climate change and declining water resources and addresses it by ensuring that development will be climate resilient (withstand shocks), keep emissions low, reduce poverty through clean and green growth and maximize human development opportunities. So, how exactly can we ensure water resources management and development are climate compatible?

In the context of water resources management, the main concerns are water resources infrastructure, water supply for domestic use, agriculture and livestock and its importance for fisheries and recreation.

Let us look at each of these and see how development of water resources can be made climate compatible. In particular we will look at water supplies for humans, water for irrigation and water for energy.

What are the solutions to better climate compatible water management?

With regard to water supplies for humans, the predictions are that water scarcity will increase in future, as demand grows and populations grow. Water supply for domestic use is from both surface and ground water. Both these sources are affected by pollution, over abstraction and infrastructure improvement. In order to ensure water supplies are climate compatible, we need to use future climate projections to improve reliability of water supplies. The supplies should be able to cope with changing rainfall patterns, droughts and floods and infrastructure must be built accordingly. Using water efficiently, not wasting it and increasing environment friendly technologies such as rainwater harvesting are some of the solutions.

Water for irrigation is important to most economies that are agriculture based. Using clean technologies such as solar pumps for irrigation is a way of making this sector climate compatible and mitigating climate change impacts. Soil and water conservation technologies including promotion of conservation agriculture can go a long way in reducing need for irrigated water by improving soil texture and water retention and adapting to climate change. Energy efficiency and reducing energy uses for irrigation also contributes to this cause.

Hydroelectricity provides power to many countries worldwide and is a clean source of energy as it doesn't pollute like coal power plants. How can we make hydro power generation climate compatible? Hydropower is a good method of mitigating against the climate change causing emissions. But in order to produce hydropower, our river flows must be maintained and therefore ecosystems must be functioning. Deforestation affects river catchments and causes soil erosion and siltation thereby affecting hydropower generation. Over abstraction of water also reduced flows and impacts on hydropower generation.

Power companies have to spend time and resources to dredge silt to allow their equipment to function properly. We need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and decrease amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and therefore hydropower has to be increased. Building more hydropower plants will also provide employment and have benefits to the economy.

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Picture credit: Saleem Sheikh