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2020 World Water Day: Water and climate change solutions implemented by IWMI

by Dr. Amgad Elmahdi and Gladys H. Morales



24 year-old Mohan Das works on a sprinkling system energised through a submerged solar pump at a private farm in Klashar. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan / IWMI


This year’s World Water Day focuses on the inextricable linkages between water and climate change. According to UN Water, the United Nations network that coordinates the efforts of over 30 UN entities and international organisations working on water and sanitation issues, about 2.2 billion people lack safe drinking water and 4.2 billion people live without access to adequate sanitation. At the current trend, between 3.5 and 4 billion people will live with limited access to water by 2050. 1 billion of them will be living in cities. In addition, the unsustainable use of water and global heating will continue to generate competition for water resources deriving in displacement of millions of people. During his World Water Day observance message on March 16, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called 2020 the “make-or- break” year for climate action. Guterres called all stakeholders to “increase climate action and invest in robust adaptation measures for water sustainability. By limiting global heating to Klashar. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan / IWMI 1.5°C, the world will be in a much better position to manage and solve the water crisis that we all face.”


During the last three decades, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has delivered and implemented research results that have led to changes in water management that have contributed to social and economic development. IWMI is a non-profit research-for- development organisation of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the global research partnership for a food secure future dedicated to reducing poverty, enhancing food and nutrition security, and improving natural resources. At the moment, IWMI counts with offices in 13 countries and a global network of scientists operating in more than 30 countries. IWMI’s mission is to provide water solutions for sustainable, climate- resilient development in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Its vision is "a water secure world.”


Figure 1: IWMI Locations in the World


In the years that IWMI has operated, it has become the world’s foremost international knowledge centre for water, food and the environment. IWMI’s focus on research, knowledge dissemination, field-level application, and strategic alliances with national and international partners won the organisation official recognition by the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize in 2012 and wide international recognition for its work. In 2019, IWMI was also recognised by the International Water Association (IWA) Water and Development Congress for its work on Resource Recovery and Reuse (RRR) in the sanitation-agriculture interface through a business approach to RRR and for transforming it into curricula for uptake by business and engineering schools in Europe, Asia and Africa. Also in 2019, The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) recognised IWMI for its efforts in promoting the use of space technology for disaster risk reduction and the sustainable use of satellite data in disaster risk management.


IWMI’s “Strategy 2019-2023: Innovative Water Solutions for Sustainable Development”IWMI’s Strategy addresses three high-priority water challenges: Food, Climate and Growth while responding to the world’s most pressing water-related challenges: How will food security be achieved for the world’s expanding population while lowering the environmental footprint of food systems and conserving ecosystems? How will the world adapt to and mitigate climate change and build resilience to disasters and disruption? How will growth become sustainable and inclusive, with benefits shared to overcome inequalities?

Figure 2: Global Water Challenges

IWMI’s Transformational Agenda and Impactful SolutionsTo support the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development, IWMI’s research focuses on science for a transformative agenda through its three programmes: 1) Water, Food & Ecosystems; 2) Water, Climate Change & Resilience; and 3) Water, Growth & Inclusion. IWMI aims at embedding water management research that connects across the SDGs in strategies for the scaling up of solutions. Science for a transformative agenda links research with technological, institutional and policy change.



Pumping ground water in Egypt. Photo: Hamish John Appleby / IWMI


Innovative Solutions for Improved Water Management for Smallholder AgricultureThe solutions implemented by IWMI aim at improving farmers’ access to irrigation, and providing tools and methods that permit more efficient water use. This work helps countries build resilience in the face of climate-related risks, while opening new pathways to sustainable growth.


Agricultural Water Productivity (More income per drop and Kwt): IWMI’s research helps boost water and crop productivity by enhancing the effectiveness of irrigation systems and introducing other changes that lay the foundations for sustainable agricultural intensification.

Water accounting: Accurate water accounting is vital for understanding hydrological processes, managing water flows and informing dialogue about water. IWMI is currently implementing a project in partnership with FAO funded by SIDA in 8 countries in the MENA region, to support the implementation of Agenda 2030 and build in-country capacity.


Monitoring floods and droughts: IWMI develops and uses tools based on modelling and remote sensing to monitor droughts and floods on a regional and country scale. In 2014, IWMI researchers helped develop the South Asia Drought Monitoring System, and now the organisation is working on a similar tool for southern Africa. Building on lessons learned in Asia, IWMI provided emergency-response maps showing crop damage caused by major floods in the Niger River Basin in 2015, and these proved useful for disaster management planning. This work is ready to be replicated and adapted to other regions in the world.


Climate-smart rain-fed agriculture: IWMI gives high priority to helping farmers who depend on rain-fed agriculture adapt to climate variability. IWMI identified ways for smallholders to store water in the rainy season for use in the dry season, adapting soil-water conservation measures to specific conditions and finding sustainable ways to improve farmers’ access to irrigation.


Storing water for dry spells: In response to successive droughts, West African governments have built hundreds of ponds and small reservoirs. These better enable farmers to diversify production by providing water for crop irrigation, livestock, fishing and groundwater recharge as well as for various nonfarm productive activities and domestic uses. IWMI researchers have mapped water storage and identified appropriate options for handling such issues as water quality and gender equality in the ownership and use of small reservoirs. IWMI’s research on the economics of using small reservoirs for vegetable production has shown they can support two crop cycles per year, with good returns on investment.


Groundwater irrigation: IWMI’s research encompasses all aspects of groundwater use and management, from resource mapping and aquifer hydrology to the selection of technologies for pumping and the creation of incentives for sustainable water use. To help unlock Africa’s significant potential for groundwater irrigation, IWMI uses the latest technology to quantify groundwater resources. In Botswana and South Africa, for example, together with its partners, IWMI employed state-of-the-art helicopterborne technology for this purpose, which shows potential for application in West Africa. In 2016, IWMI launched the Groundwater Solutions Initiative for Policy and Practice (GRIPP) to support sustainable use of groundwater resources. In 2017, IWMI completed a three-year project funded by USAID on Groundwater governance in the MENA region and its way forward.


Solar-powered irrigation: Solar-powered irrigation holds much potential for increasing agricultural production, but unregulated pumping of groundwater with “free” energy could rapidly deplete this resource. Following a recent assessment of the potential for solar-powered irrigation in Ethiopia, IWMI has undertaken similar work in Ghana and Mali, using a business model approach and suitability mapping and analysis in other region. IWMI researchers have devised a suitability-mapping tool to guide planning and investment in solar-powered irrigation, which has significant potential to benefit isolated, off-grid populations, including migrants.


Enhancing large-scale irrigation: Decades of IWMI research on large-scale irrigation have shown that institutional rather than technical issues are usually to blame for poor performance. In response, the Institute advocates involving farmers in decisions about water management, an approach that many governments have adopted. An irrigation-benchmarking tool developed by IWMI quantifies the performance of large-scale irrigation schemes, based on parameters such as seasonal and total irrigated area and water-use efficiency. The tool has helped managers avoid land degradation, optimise yields and monitor recovery of water charges to pay for operations and maintenance. Given renewed interest in large-scale irrigation for Africa and the MENA region, IWMI is updating the tool to include social and ecosystem indicators.


Optimising irrigation water use: When irrigating crops, small-scale farmers generally follow blanket recommendations, regardless of the climatic, soil and other conditions. IWMI is identifying ways to optimise water use in irrigation and thus help farmers to avoid overwatering and lower expenditures on fuel for pumping. One of the tools the Institute has tested is the Wetting Front Detector – essentially a series of tubes containing calibrated floats, which are buried in the ground around crops. When the soil water reaches a particular level, the floats automatically rise, indicating that the required saturation level has been reached. Early results from studies in Ghana suggest that the tool enables farmers to reduce irrigation water by 13% and labour requirements by 14%, compared to current practices.


Equitable water management: IWMI has considerable expertise in determining the social, gender and institutional arrangements that are required in order for communities to adopt improved agricultural water management technologies. The approach the Institute uses for this purpose, referred to as Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), involves coordinating the development of water and land resources in an equitable manner that enhances economic and social welfare without undermining vital ecosystems


Combining “natural” and built water infrastructure: Investment in levees, dams, irrigation channels and other built infrastructure is set to expand. While contributing importantly to economic growth, such investments also come at a high cost to the environment and poor people who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. IWMI has a long history of helping to alleviate the negative impacts of dams. In 2006, the Institute led the establishment of the Ghana Dams Dialogue, a 60-member platform aimed at bringing together dam-affected communities, hydropower authorities and government ministries and reducing the social impacts of dam-building projects. Now run by a Ghanaian team, the platform is considered a model for promoting dialogue and sharing lessons learned on dam development. IWMI researchers are currently assessing how changes in dam operations can enhance environmental flows in Ghana’s Lower Volta River Basin, thus enhancing ecosystem health. A key aim is to determine how combinations of built and “natural” infrastructure (such as wetlands and floodplains) can help farmers adapt to climate change impacts.


Wastewater reuse: The growing volume of municipal wastewater produced in MENA representsa serious threat to environmental and human health but also an opportunity to combat water scarcity and pollution at the same time. Emerging successes within and beyond the region demonstrate that water and nutrients can be safely recovered and reused for multiple purposes, such as forestry, agriculture, landscaping and aquifer recharge. Building on two decades of research and capitalizing on experiences from around the world, IWMI has embarked on a new initiative with partners in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), to formulate plans and boost capacities for the safe reuse of wastewater.



IWMI’s Drone – eBee from Sense Fly. Photo: IWM


The Role of Innovation and Technology in IWMI’s Strategy: Innovative Water Solutions for Sustainable Development Science for a transformative agenda sets a high bar for IWMI’s Strategy 2019-2023. IWMI believes that research must engage system-wide innovation involving interlinked technological, institutional and policy change across scales. Water data, knowledge and information are a vital foundation for building water security, and for scaling up and accelerating change. With data, governments can monitor water resources, identify risks and assess options or innovations for policy, regulation and change. Businesses can make informed decisions on water management, investments and new technologies. Information empowers farmers to make choices that increase production, raise incomes and reduce environmental impacts. It empowers citizens to take part in planning how water is managed and builds accountability for all water users. With rapid advances in data technology, however, there is a need to transform data into useable, targeted and accessible information.


Opening access to water data and usable information for integrated water management can give countries transformative capabilities for using evidence in policy making, building consensus and making the decisions needed to intensify and accelerate investment and action on water security.


IWMI integrates research on hydro-informatics, application of digital technologies, and development and delivery of new data-driven products and services in designing and implementing its programmes for impact.!IWMI has developed a number of tools and datasets that are tested, verified and implemented in a number of countries and regions that can form the foundation to achieve the SDGs while importantly providing insights on suitability, applicability and sustainability.


These tools ranged from global, basin, country, region, scheme and local examples, such as:

IWMI’s World Water and Climate Atlas gives irrigation and agricultural planners rapid access to accurate data on climate and moisture availability for agriculture. This can inform several applications for smart agriculture.

IWMI’s Online Climate Summary Service Model provides rapid access to reliable data sets for any specified location. Emergency Response Products for Water Disasters (Droughts and floods) ranged from mapping tools, assessing extent of floods to drought monitoring tools, to insurance risk tools.

Low-cost Mobile Weather Stations are designed to help IWMI monitoring the weather more closely and transfer that technology to developing countries. The Water Data Portal (WDP) provides access to many verified datasets. It is a "one-stop shop" for meteorological, hydrological, socio-economic, spatial data layers, satellite images as well as hydrological model setups. The data in the WDP, both spatial & non-spatial, are supported by standardised metadata and are available for download.

Eco-Hydrological Databases contain specific information pertaining to various aspects of functioning, requirements and management of freshwater ecosystems. Regional Drought Monitoring System (DMS) and prediction for the MENA region.


Water Innovation. Photo: IWMI


Water Models and Software such as: Water Innovation. Photo: IWMI Catchment Water Allocation Tool (CaWAT): a decision support system for rural water resources management to support integrated irrigation and aquaculture development in small to medium watersheds. Global Environmental Flow Calculator (GEFC): a tool for rapid assessment of Environmental Flows (EFs).Options AnalysiS in Irrigation Systems (OASIS): a planning model for medium to large-scale canal irrigation systems (typically several thousand hectares). It specifically takes account of surface-groundwater interactions to assess the impacts on water use, depletion and productivity of a broad range of interventions in irrigated agriculture.PODIUMSim: a framework to develop scenarios of water and food supply at river basin, sub-national and national level.


Main challenges faced by the Middle East and North Africa to achieve SDG6: Ensure Access to Water and Sanitation for All

Four years since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, UN-Water reports show that the world is off track to achieve the water goal. Hence, the same goes for all water related SDGs with only 10 years left to harvest them. Amid lots of highlights on what we need to do, governments must decide how to incorporate SDG 6 targets into national planning processes, policies and strategies and set their own targets, taking into account local circumstances and contexts including cultural ones. Localisation of SDGs has received a great deal of attention among government officials and policymakers. While MENA countries are the front-runners in presenting their voluntary national reviews (VNRs), there is still a long way to go in terms of the localisation process in MENA countries and the implementation of the SDGs. The SDGs are not just a global reporting exercise, however, but rather involve a global program that embraces country-led efforts. Guided by the ideas contained in the 2030 Agenda, each nation must seek to become more prosperous and sustainable, while contributing to the global effort at the same time.


884 million people lack access to improved drinking water sources, most of them located in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania (World Health Organization & United Nations Children’s Fund, 2017). The water crisis in the MENA region stands at the forefront when considering water- related challenges that impede progress towards sustainable development, in which the region has to become a global hotspot of unsustainable water use. Under climate change (with a potential of 4 degrees Celsius increase in temperature), unsustainable consumption and over- abstraction of surface and groundwater resources exacerbate water scarcity and threaten long- term sustainable development. All countries in the MENA region have high to very high-water stress (water withdrawals are more than 40% of total renewable freshwater availability), much higher than global averages.


Other challenges are lack of investments in demand management and non-conventional water; country conflicts; lack of coordination between institutions with mosaic settings; lack of targeted polices and supporting institutions and regulations; lack of capabilities in NEXUS approach and integrated management; and lack of effective voluntary & advisory policy instruments”, which are also linked to community participation instruments; and lack of effective water governance and data sharing.


In the coming decades, as populations grows, demand rises, and global climate change looms, per capita water availability in the region is predicted to drop in half by mid-century. As water turns into a growing scarce resource in the region, cooperation both within countries and among riparian countries is a must. Meeting these challenges will require bold actions and new mindsets on water management to mainstream the SDGs.


As UN Secretary-General Guterres highlighted during his March 16 communiqué, “primary medium through which we perceive the effects of climate disruption, from extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, to glacial melting, saltwater intrusion and sealevel rise.” May this year’s World Water Day be a wake-up call to each and everyone of us to play a role and act now. We must limit global heating and make better water management a habit starting from how we use and consume water in our daily life.!See our call to action on Water and Climate Change



About the authors: Dr. Amgad Elmahdi is Head of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region at the International Water Management Institute. Gladys H. Morales is CEO of GHMG STRATEGIES




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