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FEATURE: Improving water security to meet the challenges of climate shifts

In the first of a new series of commentaries from CDKN’s senior management, Chief Executive Sam Bickersteth reports on a CDKN-backed water-security and climate-resilience initiative in Africa and asks why low-carbon technologies are being overlooked in development

At Stockholm’s World Water Week I listened to an Egyptian minister speak about the uncertainty of whether we are dealing with climate variability or climate change. Dr Mohamed Bahaa El-Din, Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation and President of the African Ministerial Council on Water (AMCOW), reminded us of how ancient Egypt’s wheat used to grow abundantly in what is now the arid Western Desert. Regardless of whether this change is due to climate change or variability we need better information and action, he said. It was impressive to see a newly appointed minister, in a country that has just undergone a revolution, embracing the need to address climate-related resilience so early on.

I was in Stockholm to launch AMCOW’s Strategic Framework on Water Security and Climate Resilient Development technical document, which CDKN and the Global Water Partnership (GWP) have jointly supported. The framework provides a comprehensive approach to integrating water security and climate resilience into development planning. It emphasises the need for better information to aid decision-making around water security and climate change, how to appraise options, plus how best to deliver solutions and monitor the process. In the face of uncertainty about climate change it promotes robust decision-making approaches and “no regrets” financing and investment strategies. CDKN is pleased to now be applying the framework, with GWP, in water programmes in eight African countries and across five river basins.

The GWP Consulting Partners’ Forum emphasised the need to improve our knowledge base for climate-resilient water management and to integrate this into existing institutions and structures. The pioneers of sustainability, said CDKN partner Dr Merylyn Hedger, have been alliances of cities, scientists and citizens who have built partnerships and taken action. Margaret Catley-Carlson enthusiastically told a series of stories of how innovative partnerships had been built to solve real problems of water management and scarcity. And another CDKN partner, Marcus Moench, reminded the Forum of the need for difficult decisions around competing demands for water and future trade-offs. “We shouldn’t pretend we can get by with just low- or no-regrets decisions,” he said.

I noted that the community of water practitioners was addressing resilience but that the development benefits of low-carbon or green investment were not being articulated. Most water-related infrastructure will have a lifespan of 30 or more years and, where finance is available, construction methods combining low-carbon technologies with resilience could create structures able to withstand climate changes and contribute to mitigating against further greenhouse gas emissions.

The 2012 World Water Week in Stockholm closed with an inspiring “vision” set out by some of the younger water scientists and professionals present. They called for a world in 2050 where we have equal access for all to: improved sanitation; safe water; food, health and wellbeing; and healthy ecosystems. CDKN, along with its partners in Egypt and other countries, continues to strive to meet this development challenge, by enhancing water and food security in the complex context of climate change and variability.

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