Can hydropower be environmentally friendly?

GWP Senior Knowledge Management Officer Dr Danka Thalmeinerova recently moderated a panel discussion at the ICPDR workshop “Sustainable Hydropower: Progress, Solutions and Remaining Challenges”. These are her reflections from the event.

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All Danube Basin countries have committed to the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). It implies the duty to adopt all measures necessary to achieve the “good status” for all waters. One of the most difficult requirements of the WFD is the principle of non-deterioration of water status.

Under the EU Renewable Energy Directive other requirements are aimed to increase the share of energy from renewable sources. In Danube Basin, the hydroelectric power represents the most important component of total renewable energy production. Thus, the conflict arises: how to maximize benefits of hydropower generation and minimize all negative impacts?

The impacts are huge and include altered sediment dynamics and flow regime, disturbance of cemented structures on habitat and river species and disruption of ecological continuity.

According to the first Danube River Basin Management Plan, significant investments are needed to remediate negative impacts of already existing facilities to meet the requirements of EU environmental legislation. In the case of new hydropower installations, cross-sectorial dialogue of water and energy sectors is a must; without a coordinated approach, both sectors are at risk to fail achieving the objectives and legal compliance.

Although all EU countries are obliged to develop strategic documents helping sustainable decision- making on hydropower projects, there are several technical, administrative and legislative challenges. In addition, Danube Basin is international, crossing administrative and territorial borders. Many NGOs in the Danube basin pointed out that the development of hydropower still puts economic over social and environmental benefits.

NGOs also conducted a survey, according which many countries upgraded existing hydropower plants in technical efficiency, while ecological upgrade has been widely missed. In addition, environmental experts in the Danube Basin alert that hydropower projects are being assessed individually without consideration of cumulative impacts and the basin wide perspective. Effective and efficient cooperation between energy and environmental authorities and commitment to integrated transparent planning is lacking and so is stakeholder involvement.

Since 2013, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) has become active in initiating a dialogue with representatives from the hydropower sector. As an essential step in this process, the Guiding Principles on Sustainable Hydropower Development in the Danube Basin have been developed by an interdisciplinary team.

Several working sessions culminated in the organisation of the ICPDR workshop “Sustainable Hydropower: Progress, Solutions and Remaining Challenges”. This was held in Vienna, Austria on 28-29 March 2017. An Assessment Report and a collection of Case Studies and Good Practice Examples were elaborated, accompanying the Guiding Principles – all presented during the workshop and complemented with intense discussions.

More than 50 participants from 12 Danube basin countries, observers to ICPDR and EU took part at the workshop. The participants represented governments, NGOs, academia, and private sector; more important is that that energy sector, although only from Austria and Croatia, was actively joining the workshop.

The key message of the workshop was “Restoration will cost more than strategic planning” – the need to share experiences among Danube Countries and not to repeat mistakes from the past. GWP was invited to moderate the panel discussion, putting the key conclusions and highlighting the way forward.

GWP will continue to support the ICPDR, serving as a neutral platform for exchange of experiences in the application of ICPDR Guiding Principles.

More details: https://www.icpdr.org/main/activities-projects/hydropower

Posted in Development, Energy, GWP, Private sector, Water resources management | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Drugging our water resources

March 22 is World Water Day and this year (2017) the theme is wastewater. GWP offers two blogs about this subject. The first, by Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, GWP Senior Knowledge Management Officer, explained why she is going to re-think her wardrobe. This is the second blog, by Prof. Igor Bodik of the Slovak Technical University and President of the Association of Wastewater Treatment Experts in Slovakia (a GWP Partner). He explains why he may re-think his diet.

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Emerging pollutants (EPs) are chemicals that are not commonly monitored but have the potential to enter the environment and cause adverse ecological and human health effects. These pollutants include a range of organic substances such as endocrine disruptors, industrial additives, siloxanes, disinfectants, hormones, drugs, and antibiotics that are present in small concentrations. In 2005, one scientific database showed about 80 references under “pharmaceuticals and wastewater.” The same database in 2015 counted 550 references.

Another attention-grabbing statistic concerns the concentration and bioaccumulation of drugs in fish. Fish are not known to go to doctors for drug prescriptions. So how is it that a rich cocktail of painkillers, hormones, and drugs appear in fish tissues, river sediments, and groundwater? Researchers are looking into this question and one simple, if not surprising answer is: an increased consumption of both legal and illegal drugs by humans. These are then excreted by urine into sewage systems. Even where wastewater treatment plants are installed, the removal processes are not very effective in eliminating EPs before the water is discharged into rivers and lakes. Several companies are investigating the methods to advance treatment processes, but it often poses excessive cost to the operation of the treatment plants. How paradoxical that the installations that treat wastewater are a source of water pollution!

How can we control the release of EPs into the environment? EPs are currently not included in routine monitoring programmes and their behaviour and ecotoxicological effects are not well understood. They can be released from point pollution sources (e.g., waste water treatment plants) or from diffuse sources (e.g., from crop and animal production), complicating control at the source. Is it a task for engineers? Regulatory control? A change in social behavior and life style? Right now the experts are simply observers of “unexplored” types and amounts of EPs with “unknown” impact to the environment and a “flimsy” arsenal of tools to avoid potential harm to the precious water resources and aquatic life.

Since 2013, Slovak researchers analyzed hundreds of samples from 22 urban wastewater treatment outlets serving a population of 1.4 million (out of a total of 5 million people in Slovakia). The research focused on both legally prescribed and illegal drugs and included statistics on pharmaceutical sales. Four years of results now need to be analyzed to give guidance not only to engineers who design treatment processes but also to decision makers, other sectors (especially health), and the whole society.

Just as textile companies are trying to reduce their impact on water resources (see the accompanying blog to this one, “My wardrobe malfunction and wastewater”), pharmaceutical companies need to figure out ways to make drugs biodegradable. Engineers need to invent new – and affordable – ways (using ozone, nanomaterials, green plants, etc.) of treating water. Governments may need to introduce tighter regulations or more aggressively enforce existing ones (the polluter pays principle). Obviously, we humans are not going to give up our drugs. But we can begin to push for solutions.

 

Posted in Ecosystems, Food security, GWP, Rivers, Water Pollution, Water security, World Water Day | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My wardrobe malfunction and wastewater

March 22 is World Water Day and this year (2017) the theme is wastewater. GWP offers two blogs about this subject. The first, by Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, GWP Senior Knowledge Management Officer, explains why she is going to re-think her wardrobe. 

Danka Thalmeinerova

Fortunately, I haven’t had an actual wardrobe malfunction and I hope you haven’t either. But next time you decide to buy a new pair of jeans, a blouse or a shirt, consider the following:

When you buy your jeans, let’s say at a local store in Stockholm (where the GWP global secretariat is located), they have travelled more than the highest frequent flier road warrior. Most probably the cotton came from Uzbekistan, where people suffer from limited water access for drinking and livestock feeding. The cotton may have gone on to be colored in Bangladesh or Pakistan using technology that pollutes local rivers. Skilled Vietnamese or Thai women then tailored those jeans into a “must-have” cut, and a Chinese company finally sold them to the local distributor.

So I decided, reluctantly, to look at my wardrobe. The results astonished me: I have two favorite jeans that I wear frequently, two that are rather chic waiting for nice occasions, two black ones and a red one, and three pairs that are old fashioned. There is another pair from my sister and yet another that was slightly damaged by my dog.  In total, twelve pairs of jeans! Did I really need all of them?

According to Steven Leahy, author of Water Footprint:  The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products (the winner in the scientific category of the 2015 Green Book Festival), it takes more than 7,600 liters (2,000 gallons) of water to make a single pair of jeans.

The textile industry is one of the most chemically intensive industries in each step of the production chain. Pesticides are used for growing fibers, dyes, and additives. Each of these processes involve enormous quantities of water for only a small output of finished fabric. The consumer (you and I) end up contributing to this environmental stress: detergents and other pollutants end up untreated in rivers and lakes. The textile industry is also an engine of economic prosperity, employing millions of people, many of them women, in Southeast Asia and increasingly in Africa.

The days of the “dirty” textile industry are gradually going vanish. The industry is proactive in eliminating dangerous substances and using locally grown or produced raw materials. Many companies are entering voluntary agreements to reduce their water, carbon, and energy footprint. This is promising. However, there also needs to be a shift on the consumer side (that’s right, you and I again). Today I will pack my unworn jeans to take them to second hand shop. And when the spring fashions hit the stores, I will keep my purchases to only what I actually need.

If you want to know more about the “value chain of water pollution”, you are welcome to attend the Stockholm World Water Week 2017 seminar on Water and waste management: the case of the textile industry. The seminar will present possible paths from “field to fashion” to address environmental exploitation and health hazards in the textile industry.

The second blog on this topic will be published on World Water Day 22 March. On the same day, GWP will also conduct a Facebook LIVE interview with Mr. Rami Abdel Rahman, Program Manager at the Sweden Textile Water Initiative/SIWI.  

Posted in GWP, IWRM, Sustainable Development, Water Pollution, World Water Day | 1 Comment

Towards adaptation in Costa Rica

One of the 5 winning contributions to the GWP #YouthLed Projects global contest was a capacity building project for the rural sector in the Canton of Hojancha, Costa Rica. Eloy Mendez is 25 years old and from the province of Guanacaste. He is a business manager and teacher, and has been the director and coordinator of projects of UNAFOR since 2014. Here is his story.

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In the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, the National Agroforestry Union (UNAFOR) is working with agricultural producers in implementing development projects that allow producers to improve their quality of life in rural areas.

Today, our province faces one of the biggest challenges: climate change. The increasing effects of climate change, together with “El Niño”, has resulted in severe droughts – the dry season has become longer year-by-year and temperatures are higher than previous years. With climate change, the loss of livestock and crops as well as abandoned farms for lack of water is increasing. This generating large economic losses for the agricultural and livestock sector.

In this context, UNAFOR identifies the needs of agricultural producers so that they focus on mitigating the effects of climate change.

Added to this, we have seen that one of the most vulnerable groups – youth – does not perceive a future in agricultural because if they add up the challenges of climate change along with flimsy markets, the struggle to overcome the difficulties is all uphill.

We can’t remain indifferent and that is why we are implementing a project for the application of technologies to adapt to climate change in agricultural farms. The “Adaptation Fund” channels resources for three years in three different districts for the application of adaptive technologies in 100 farms. This project received the support of Global Water Partnership through the allocation of extra resources as well as the dissemination of what we do and what we have achieved.

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The project includes:

  • Plots with crop diversification
  • Construction of natural barriers
  • Establishment of new fodder and protein banks
  • Construction of feeding modules for livestock
  • Establishment of water storage technologies
  • Installation of drinking troughs
  • Protection and reforestation of water sources
  • Construction of water transport systems to tanks, pools and irrigation systems.

We promote the development of model farms that integrate the different technologies for the optimal use of available resources – an intelligent production system – and we provide the technical advice and required equipment.

construccion-reservorio pic2

Each farm needs to use an optimum amount of water through storage systems or wells that allow them to access available water. The water is transported from where it is stored in reservoirs (for example, geomembrane reservoirs) or PVC tanks.

Once the water is stored, it can be redistributed to water troughs built with natural barriers for an appropriate rotation system of livestock. The natural barriers can also be used as extra food and they generate microclimates that avoid overheating of the cattle herd. This water is also used in irrigation systems for agricultural crops and short grasses for cattle feed in the dry season (cane, sorghum, cratylia, Cameroon, hen). Through feed modules that have appropriate roofs and feeders, livestock have the necessary infrastructure and food to keep them without problems during the dry season.

As a final result, the producer has the tools to produce permanently during the dry season, without being affected by the drought, thanks to the intelligent use of water. Our proposal is also aimed at ensuring that the generational change in rural areas is attractive and profitable for youth, promoting family farms as a real opportunity and a way to make a living.

Lastly, as an organization that represents farmers, we want to share what we have learned and our principles:

  1. Organizations should focus on the real and immediate needs of the sector they represent.
  2. Projects should have a direct impact on the beneficiaries. It is important to avoid wasting resources in extensive training plans or consultancies.
  3. Organizations should not be seen as a competition for governmental agencies, rather as entities that support and want to help increase the good work of our institutions.
  4. We live in a world with a crisis of leadership. Organizations should spaces for youth to take relevant roles in decision-making, and we should generate these spaces.
  5. We should strongly voice our concerns and inquiries to our leaders regarding water and future water management plans. It is our duty to be informed and to take action in the matter.

A final word of thanks to Global Water Partnership for providing this space to share our experience.

This blog post is also available in Spanish.

Posted in Climate change, Partnership, Youth | Leave a comment

Communicating SDGs: The Role of Youth Employment?

Emilinah Namaganda from Uganda has been an intern with GWP in Stockholm, Sweden, since September 2016. As her internship comes to an end, she reflects on youth involvement in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 

30867038785_76cd83cf3b_z-1Photo: GWP youth event at COP22, Marrakech, Morocco, November 2016.

“Leave no one behind” is the principle on which the historic Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development is grounded. The Agenda sets out 17 sustainable development goals whose aim is to transform the world in areas ranging from poverty reduction to building sustainable cities and communities. The goals are intended to improve the livelihoods of people in all walks of life, including the richest of the developed countries to the poorest of the low-income countries. However, the President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, H. E. Mr. Peter Thomson, emphasized that SDGs can be successfully implemented only if the global public whose livelihoods are to be enhanced is fully aware of the commitments made by their governments in September 2015.

Hence, the role of raising the global public’s awareness of the importance of SDG implementation cannot be overstated. But with such a wide target group how can all relevant stakeholders – especially the “general public” – be reached?

The Office of the President of the General Assembly made several proposals including “inclusion of the SDGs on the school curricula of every country in the world, maximizing the use of traditional media and online communications to bring the message of the SDGs to a new global audience, engaging youth activists in communities around the world and by delivering high-level advocacy at SDG-related events and workshops”.

For me, this statement raises many questions. Will these initiatives be followed through all over the world, given the differences in governance systems, available resources, etc.? Will they be sufficient to reach EVERYONE? For instance, if SDGs are included in school curricula, are there enough people with sufficient knowledge of the SDGs to pass it along to students? In some places, maybe, but in many, perhaps not.

This is where youth come in. In Uganda, youth below the age of 30 years make up over 78% of the population. The country has been recognized as having the youngest population in the world. Although higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa which stands at 43.2%, many sub-Saharan countries can relate to the opportunities and challenges of such a large youth population. When a large percentage of this population is unemployed and struggling to make a living, it creates a burden on the small sect representing the work force, which inhibits growth of national economies and also promotes low standards of living. On the other hand, young people are innovative, driven, energetic, increasingly more and more educated, and ready to make their world a better place. For instance, research in 2015 revealed Uganda as the most entrepreneurial country in the world.

This is what SDG implementation needs: people interested in making their future better than theirs today, and that of their parents. Youth are curious to find ways to contribute to this vision, and in numbers large enough to reach entire populations. In countries such as Uganda, where young people are almost the entire population, spreading the word of the Agenda 2030 to the general public becomes feasible.

But how can young people be engaged in this vision? There have been several global and regional initiatives where youth have come together to speak out, and communicate ways in which they can be and/or want to be involved. This is a good starting point and necessary to put a face to the desire of youth to be involved. However, this tends to be biased. It is likely that such groups will mostly involve a few, young people with access to platforms at such levels. This does not work, for example, for unemployed youth in Uganda and many from sub-Saharan Africa. It is difficult to spread the word of Agenda 2030 when you are struggling to survive through the month. Not that we are looking for a quick fix or financial help, but instead institutions and governance systems can provide opportunities to implement our innovations and an opportunity to participate in planning our future.

Youth have shown initiative in creating a brighter future for themselves which is in tandem with Agenda 2030. Hence, discussions on SDG communication and implementation should take advantage of this group. However, this can be done effectively only with employed and productive youth. SDG-related initiatives should therefore put a strong focus on how to reduce youth unemployment. More productive and employed youth can contribute substantially to Agenda 2030. No one will be left behind!

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What about Droughts?

Droughts can be defined in various ways and the effects may differ from one country to another. GWP intern Lara Vrtovec reflects on this.

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We are about to say goodbye to the hottest year on record. According to the WMO, global temperatures in 2016 were higher than the record-breaking temperatures in 2015[i]. But isn’t this déjà vu? Didn’t we already hear this last year? Floods and heatwaves are becoming more frequent. It may be true that the extreme climatological events that occurred this year were to an extent caused by the powerful El Niño; however, the heat will not stop pursuing us just because El Niño is slowly disappearing.

When I was asked how climate change will affect my community, the first thing that popped in my mind, given that I am a citizen of a European country rich in water resources, was not droughts. Of the 21 major droughts that hit Europe from 1950 to 2012, six occurred after 2000[ii]. Are we having a drought crisis in Europe? But wait a minute, our droughts were not as severe as, for example, the drought in the Horn of Africa during 2011- 2012, which affected more than 10 million people[iii]. Nor do our heatwaves reach exasperatingly high levels of temperature (51°C) as in the town of Phalodi, India, in May.

Still, droughts can be defined in various ways and its effects may differ from one country to another. Meteorological droughts relate to a deficiency in precipitation, whereas agricultural droughts arise as a consequence of this deficiency. Hydrological droughts result from long-term soil water deficiencies, and last, but not least, socio-economic droughts can emerge as a result of all the aforementioned drought types. The latter is characterized by water scarcity that leads to a reduction of water security and potential economic losses. The differences between meteorological, agricultural, and hydrological droughts include their duration, where the longest is the hydrological drought and the shortest the meteorological drought.

Droughts affect at least 11 % of Europeans and 17 % of EU territory annually[iv]. With the warming of temperatures over the past century, the prevalence and duration of drought has also increased. It is estimated that droughts cost an average of 6.2 billion €/year in the most recent years, with an exceptional cost of 8.7 billion € in 2003[v]. However, these estimates encompass only direct economic costs, such as the cost of maintaining hydropower plants on low water flows, the cost of maintaining water treatment plants or the cost to compensate for crop losses. Droughts can have social and environmental effects as well (e.g. loss of lives, impacts on ecosystems, prevalence for forest fires, etc.). Some say that droughts are an underlying cause of mass migration to Europe.

This brings us to the question of whether are we putting enough effort in limiting these negative effects. Most of Europe’s drought policy is crisis oriented and consists of post-impact interventions. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned numbers show us that these policies are not enough and often inadequately implemented.

To make sense of this, we should take into consideration Giddens Paradox: not all threats posed by global warming are tangible, immediate, and visible in everyday life. And because of this, no matter how harmful they seem, many will not do anything concrete to prevent them. On the other hand, when these threats become apparent and urgent, it is already too late to reduce their impact. The question is: how long will it take us to resolve this paradox?

Droughts have the potential to turn into disaster. We are not able to prevent them, but reducing the gap between the impact and the ability to prepare, manage, and adapt to such events should be approached with proactive policies. However, before policies can be drafted, relevant data should be collected.

There are many country specific drought monitoring systems intended for the public. On the European scale, there is the EDO- European Drought Observatory. These forecasting models not only require good data, they need proper governmental backup plans and knowledge from the bottom up to fully evaluate how drought impacts will affect local water and food supplies.

The complex interlinkages between meteorology–hydrology–government–people should be established in a proper manner, with the sole purpose of preventing a drought crisis in Europe. National drought action plans and strategies should be implemented, not because it is a request from the EU Water Framework Directive or the Flood Directive, but because it is the state’s interest to guarantee farmers a secure crop or ensure its citizens’ water safety. We should aim to utilize water supply assets effectively by galvanizing governments to adopt national drought management plans and educating society on how to prepare for droughts. Post-impact drought recovery plans should not be our priority – they only maintain the status quo. The GWP CEE Integrated Drought Management Programme offers methods on how to develop national drought policies and strategies and how to tailor them according to a country’s characteristics and needs.

Now, if you are ever asked how climate change will affect your community, maybe droughts will be the first thing to pop into your mind! And think of it as your opportunity to take action.

[i] http://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/provisional-wmo-statement-status-of-global-climate-2016

[ii] https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/news/european-droughts-set-become-more-prevalent-end-century

[iii] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13944550

[iv] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/quantity/scarcity_en.htm

[v] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/quantity/pdf/comm_droughts/2nd_int_report.pdf

Posted in Climate change, Drought | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How to Write an IWRM Teaching Manual

It takes a lot of coffee, innumerable flip charts, face to face meetings, long hours of concentration, textual analysis, and sharing experiences. Two GWP interns share their experience of the workshop that finalized GWP’s IWRM ToolBox Teaching Manual.

By Sarah Perrine and Mario Roidt

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Over the past few years, GWP’s Knowledge Management Team conducted 12 workshops to show educators how to use the GWP IWRM ToolBox as a teaching resource. Over 170 university lecturers from 61 universities attended the workshops and completed a survey to help GWP improve the IWRM ToolBox. Three findings were unanimous: (i) The ToolBox is widely used in university education already, (ii) the most popular feature of the ToolBox are the case studies and (iii) there is a need for a manual to guide lecturers in using the ToolBox, specifically the Tools and Case Studies to complement curricula and teaching methods.

In response, GWP collaborated with five professors from GWP´s Partner network to create the IWRM ToolBox Teaching Manual. The professors involved come from universities in Panamá, Brazil, China, Zimbabwe, and Kazakhstan and have thorough experience teaching IWRM and using the ToolBox. The concept of the Teaching Manual was conceptualized within GWP, but it’s the professors that contribute their experiences, lessons learned, teaching anecdotes, and sample lectures. The purpose of the manual is to provide a handy, online source of study materials to lecturers teaching water-related courses.

The final Workshop (really, a writeshop) to put the manual together started on a snowy Sunday in Stockholm. We met the professors in the lobby of the hotel before sitting down to breakfast together. While socializing, the names we’d seen so regularly in emails and publications came to life as we connected professional biographies to faces and mannerisms. For the past four months, we had been in regularly contact with five professors to compile their expertise and experiences to create a teaching manual.

The day was long, with conversations on how to break down the complex concept of IWRM into tangible components. We decided on 6: The Environment and Climate Change, Social Aspects, Water Governance, Economics, Planning and Decision Making, and Technical Infrastructure. Within each component we included more detailed Teaching Subjects as diverse as “International Water Law”, “Ecology” or “Assessment Instruments” all connected to the IWRM components. Using this format, a lecturer will be able to easily choose a component and review the teaching subjects to determine what is most appropriate to add in their course. We then continued to review, discuss and adapt already written chapters of the Teaching Manual, streamlining and transforming it into a consistent product.

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On Monday, the concepts and texts where becoming clear and tangible. Because the professors are such an erudite group, we picked their brains on IWRM education during the afternoon. We invited GWP staff and external guests to listen to presentations – under the title “Can IWRM be taught?” – which showcased challenges and opportunities faced by professors when teaching IWRM.

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Dr. Jean-Marie Kileshye Onema showed how WaterNet creates the opportunity for students to study an IWRM Masters course in different countries in the SADC Region. After students complete their core module in Zimbabwe or Tanzania, students choose a specialized program that continues in one of the other 7 Universities in SADC countries that are part of the programme.

Prof. Dr. Barbara Janusz-Pawletta heads the IWRM Masters course at the German-Kazakh University in Almaty. She is on her way to linking academia, government, and private sector in a new learning philosophy by closing gaps between them.

Prof. Dr. Yiqing Guan provided an overview of Hohai University of China and their role in advancing research and the practice of Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering.

Prof. Dr. Carlos Saito presented Concept Maps, a teaching approach that gives students the opportunity to understand different water related concepts such as IWRM, Water Security, or the Human Right to Water, by connecting them in concept maps.

Prof. Dr. José Fábrega, who is educating hydraulic engineers in Panamá, shared with us the importance of teaching engineering students that technical solutions are never isolated but are interconnected with institutional, political, and social issues – a challenge he solves by using the IWRM ToolBox.

The seminar was informative, providing information about the reality of teaching IWRM in five different contexts. We concluded the workshop with a quick wrap-up, a timetable for further tasks, and final goodbyes. Off we went our divergent ways into the snowy, dark cold of Stockholm with the warm contentment of having had a week’s worth of experiences – although it was only Monday.

Posted in IWRM, Partnership, Water resources management | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eating Insects – Drinking Toilet Water

We need to increase water and food security. Eating insects and recycling wastewater can contribute to these goals. This blog, written by GWP intern Mario Roidt, draws parallels between the “yuck” factor of insects and the “ick” factor of recycled wastewater. Must we start eating worms, crickets and grasshoppers, and drink water that has passed through a treatment facility after it has been through our bodies and toilets?

Eating Insects

Insects: how are these little spiky, chirping, buzzing, often displeasing creatures supposed to help us improve food security and sustainable development and in addition increase water security?

15129626555_14e40b6ca7_m(Photo: Flickr – Neville Nel 2014) [1]

This discussion is necessary because the planet’s natural boundaries are being challenged and we need to look for solutions – even ones that seem odd. Population growth and living standards are leading to an increased demand for animal proteins. The livestock sector accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. And let’s not forget about the effect of meat production on water resources: 1 kg of beef uses up to 15,400 liters of water mainly used for producing fodder for cattle. Vast amounts of freshwater are degraded in quality due to meat production. These environmental challenges, closely connected to the world’s protein needs could be addressed with insects.

Entomophagy – the consumption of insects – is one solution to meet the growing demand of animal protein. In my opinion, the joint work of FAO and Wageningen University in its 2013 report, Edible insects: prospects for food and feed securitymarks a milestone in the discussion about eating insects. Advantages of consuming insects include:

Feed Conversion: Insects are cold blooded and don´t need to maintain body temperature. Thus, they have a capacity to convert plants into animal protein in a much more efficient way. Crickets, for example, are 12 times more efficient than cattle in feed-to-meat conversion rates.

Organic Side Streams: Insects have the potential to be reared on organic side streams enabling a more sustainable conversion to insects as food or feed for livestock.

Greenhouse Gases: Unlike pigs and cattle, most insects hardly produce methane, urine, and manure. Greenhouse gas emissions of investigated insects is lower by a factor of 100 and production of ammonia is lower by a factor of 10 compared to pigs and cattle.

Water Use: Due to a much smaller volume of agricultural products to feed insects, the water footprint of insects is considerably lower. An example is the mealworm with a water footprint of 4,300 liters per kilo (remember that beef has 15,400 liters/kg).
(Source: FAO 2013)[2]

As an outcome of the FAO-Wageningen report, the first International Conference on “Insects to Feed the World” took place in 2014 in the Netherlands with 450 participants. In 2015, the “Journal of Insects as Food and Feed” issued its first volume. In 2016 the book “Insects as Sustainable Food Production” by Dossey et al. digs deeper into the topics on how to mass produce insects, process them, and include them into our diet.

October 23, 2016, is the second World Edible Insect Day, giving the impression it has reached global importance. Countless articles and cookbooks have emerged discussing the topic and offer menus on how to make insects a pleasurable dining experience. All over the western world – but in isolated cases – restaurants and online shops are offering edible insects. In California, the worm taco is available, restaurants fry grasshoppers, and online shops around the globe offer edible insects including suggestions how to cook them at home.

Over 2 billion people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America include more than 1,900 species of edible insects in their diet. It is common practice, culturally embedded with indigenous knowledge about the nutritious value of the different species.

Eating insects seems a logical solution towards more sustainability and would probably be a regular occurrence in the Northern world if it weren’t for one small thing – the yuck factor. We associate insects with filth and decay. When worms and cockroaches come to our mind, we squirm. At best, we think of a nice summer evening with the buzzing of bees, chirps of crickets, and the twinkling glow of fireflies. But eating them…………………………………………… NO WAY.

This reminds me of a topic that similarly triggers faces distorted with disgust – the reuse of wastewater into drinking water through a closed loop technical system known as recycled water.

Drinking Toilet Water

While technically and scientifically safe and rational, the practice of treating wastewater with the technical means to restore it to drinking water quality in order to increase water security in dry regions still attracts criticism and resistance. Like eating insects, there is nothing wrong with it, it just feels wrong. Many water users would argue that freshwater must come from nature to be perceived as clean.

Luckily, and unbeknownst to most water users, some countries have implemented the recycling and reuse of wastewater for years. Israel, the world’s water reuse champion, treats 70% of its sewage to reuse it. Spain is second with a sewage reuse rate of 17%. Other arid and semiarid areas, such as the southern USA, Australia, and MENA countries are reusing treated wastewater without discharging it to receiving waters. Most of this water is used for irrigation, but the potable use of treated wastewater is also discussed.

Even though technically safe and environmentally sustainable, recycled water is not welcome everywhere. Especially not for drinking. The people of Toowoomba, Australia, rejected the idea in a referendum in 2006.

More common is the concept of “indirect potable reuse” where treated wastewater is discharged into a reservoir before used as a drinking water source, for example in Virginia, USA, or recharged into the ground before being pumped up for drinking water, for example in California, USA.

newater_bottle_ndp_2014-jpegSingapore is one of the places where the ick factor of drinking toilet water becomes real. There, wastewater is purified and some of it finds its way in a bottled water called NEWater. Being aware of the treatment technologies and considering myself a supporter of water reuse in arid regions, I did feel the ick factor when I had my first NEWater bottle in my hand. I drank it and – no surprise – it tasted fine. But I do understand why large parts of society feel uncomfortable with the thought of drinking water that has left their house through the toilet.

(Photo: Wikipedia – Hz. Tiang 2014)[3]

In Portland, USA, the Oregon Brew Crew has started to produce beer entirely brewed with treated wastewater. Oregon State has approved the idea, allowing people for the first time to drink treated wastewater in the form of beer. However, the drink is only available at special events and is not yet allowed to be sold or served in bars.

Parallels in a changing society

It appears that human consumption of insects and drinking recycled water face similar challenges on their way to becoming a normal part of our consumption patterns:

  • Both can contribute to increasing water and food security around the globe;
  • For large parts of some societies, the concepts are outside of social norms and cultural practices;
  • Experts share the view that these concepts should challenge current practices;
  • Scientific understanding and knowledge have increased to a level ready to implement from a technical point of view;
  • Pilot projects – emerging in isolated cases – are starting to challenge common practices and preconceptions.

It is not the first time that behaviors have changed from disgust to common practice nor will it be the last. At first it did not seem acceptable to Western societies to eat raw fish and algae. Today sushi is widely accepted. In the United States, it was not common to eat organs such as liver, tripe, or kidney. But in the time of scarcity when World War II was ongoing, the US government decided to strategically introduce organs (waste from slaughter) into America’s kitchens – successfully. Today, livers, tongues, tripe, and kidneys are part of our diet and millions of people eat them without hesitation.

The American Committee on Food Habits concluded, based on more than 200 studies, that familiarity changes the way we consume. “To change peoples’ diets, the exotic must be made familiar,” Duhigg concludes in his book The Power of Habit. While researching this blog, it seems to me that we are starting to slowly challenge that ick factor through an increasing amount of literature, debates, and pilot projects helping us get familiar with a strange subject.

roidt(Photo: Roidt 2016)

I couldn’t wait until the first insect restaurant opened up around the corner so I ordered some online and fried them up with chili and lime: Grasshopper a la Mexicana. I still feel the yuck but it tastes better than I expected. If served by an experienced chef, I could get used to it. In fact, it would be a good idea to wash down that yuck factor with a recycled water beer the next time I am in Portland.

[1] https://www.flickr.com/photos/nevilleslens/15129626555/in/photolist-p3XhSg-gG5Ab-cYaTNY-boEV1r-panTao-boFo3F-5USc5D-o61uPX-feB2c2-gGrr1K-kpyL78-vpJVEK-dGN8D1-jgRdKH-gkERE-a2K2Bk-jgT4Dw-o4sGrk-nGmimA-6ttbh5-oj1AQe-7VjJSF-o2EY73-boENpZ-boF1oe-a38mfB-oxvFQY-oRLxeh-JZNXP-6LhXZC-8TgZ7T-ooicV4-e38wLF-jgRene-a2K2wK-44bS5t-aryk6d-9uzThJ-9LpUXC-fgFFrD-josWx-nexx95-a4KXkE-4jbZG-otFgMT-cKVDA-ajKhNH-d5v22-9V8vyi-51AppZ

[2] http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf

[3] https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37243671

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Youth Reflections on the Climate Chance Summit

Youth representatives were at the Climate Chance Summit, held in Nantes, France, on 26-28 September 2016. Vivien Deloge, a member of the World Youth Parliament for Water (WYPW), wrote down his thoughts on the event in a guest blog for GWP. He says that youth can move mountains with very limited means.

climate-change-conference

In Nantes, 20 young professionals and students showcased the recommendations they officially presented at the COY11 and COP21 last year. Gathered in a White Paper entitled “Un Paris pour l’Eau”, they focus on 4 thematic areas: agriculture, health, water sharing, and climate risks. These recommendations are stemming from national consultations conducted on water, climate and the role of youth in 17 Francophonie countries. Finalised in Paris, they were officially handed to French Ministers Mrs Ségolène Royal, Minister of the Environment and Mrs Annick Girardin, then Minister for Development and Francophonie, by 52 young representatives at the COP21. This process was made possible with the support of the Office Franco-Québécois pour la Jeunesse (OFQJ) and Global Water Partnership (GWP).

For example, in the White Paper youth is calling for a moratorium on the use of chemicals in production process; for the development of water treatment techniques to eliminate these chemicals residues; and for education and awareness-raising action to help younger generations to protect their health preventively and not only curatively.

Waiting for these recommendations to be taken over by decision makers, we have started to implement them within our own youth organisations, such as the World Youth Parliament for Water and its national chapters. For instance, do-it-yourself workshops were organised in France to show young people how to create chemical-free cosmetics having no impact on water quality. Youth-led reforestation actions are also taking place in Brazil, Togo and Burkina Faso, while youth and media awareness-raising was organised in Togo on water, poverty and climate change.

So what is the key intake from this? Well, youth can move mountains with very limited means! And young professionals can actively participate in decision-making process – in line with the philosophy of sustainable development – by making meaningful recommendations reflecting their concerns and priorities. However, in the Nantes Declaration (adopted at the end of the Climate Chance summit), the only reference to youth was made through education, awareness-raising and capacity building. With the support of GWP and OFQJ, we decided to convince the organisers to officially acknowledge in the Declaration the role we have to play in decision-making process. We conducted side negotiations to emphasise the need for the organisers to recognise the active role of youth, and we raised attention on social networks, calling for not letting youth behind.

Thanks to the amazing help of GWP and OFQJ, we were so successful that two of us were invited to be on stage during the whole session of the Closing Plenary! I was lucky enough to be one of the two selected, and I decided to take this opportunity to shake classical thinking and speeches up and publicly call for an addendum to the Declaration stating that involving us in decision-making is the way to ensuring transition. The organisers readily reacted and replied that they could not amend the Declaration by themselves. However, since all the signatories were in the room, he offered them to accept this addendum by acclamation. What came next? A tremendous round of applause!

I was thrilled to witness our success and to receive so many expressions of gratitude and congratulations after the plenary, which highlighted the need for youth inclusion and intergenerational cooperation to ensure a sustainable future for all. I am highly looking forward to the next developments at the Youth Forum of the Budapest Water Summit and at the COP22, to keep the momentum and highlight the meaningful role we have to play in tackling water and climate issues! #FutureIsNow

Watch video: Climate Chance – Side-event OFQJ

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Harvesting Rainwater, Sustaining Life

Rainwater harvesting is not a modern practice. It has been practised since ancient times and it is still used to address current water challenges. Konstantina Toli, Senior Programme Officer with GWP Mediterranean, writes a blog post about lessons from the GWP regions.

Storm Clouds Over the Rockies

“When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.”

Shakespeare, Twelfth Night  

Rain: a toy, a nuisance, a source of disaster, a source of life. It quenches the thirst of plants, crops and animals and sustains their life. When strong, it can cause flooding. When it starts, we run away to find shelter. When scarce, we plead for some more.  When wise, we harvest it.

Rainwater harvesting is not a modern practice. It has been practiced since ancient times. Elaborate water harvesting, conveyance and storage systems from as early as the Bronze Age can be found in the Minoan civilisation in Greece (from ca. 3500 BC); the Indus Valley Civilization (3000-1500 B.C.); the Mayan in Central America (from 2000 BC) or later the Incas in Peru (from 1200 AD). Sophisticated rainwater harvesting systems providing water to palaces, cities and villages can be found in each civilization. Some of these, like the water collection system in Tikal, Guatemala, built by the Mayas (200-900 AD) is considered a masterpiece of low-cost water engineering, which can offer significant lessons and can be replicated, adapted to modern needs, as people move to the highlands to farm nowadays.

Many areas around the world face water scarcity. Among these, numerous islands, mainly due to their small catchment areas and poor or seasonal rainfall. For them, rainwater has always been a valuable water resource.

Rainwater harvesting is part of the tradition in the Greek islands, where local materials are employed and expertise was developed. Santorini Island, a global landmark of natural beauty yet with very limited fresh water resources, boasts of its water management heritage, with ancient findings from as early as the Cycladic civilisation (ca. 3100-1600 BC). The island has a unique heritage of hand-crafted rainwater harvesting cicterns, constructed by local craftsmen and plastered using Theran soil from the volcano eruption. Hundreds of cisterns are scattered all over the island: in houses, communities and plots of land. Yet, as in most islands, in the past few decades, with the expansion of the water supply networks, rainwater harvesting has been abandoned, while the demand for water increases, resulting to unsustainable solutions to cover it.

Many Greek islands encounter water scarcity challenges due to their limited freshwater resources and impacts of emerging climate vulnerability, thus putting local water security at risk. This affects the local economic activities, which depend on seasonal tourism and small scale agriculture, as well as the ecosystems safety.

GWP Mediterranean, acknowledging the need to revive this traditional practice in the water scarce Greek islands, developed the “Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) Programme in the Greek Islands”, in 2008. Through a multi-stakeholder partnership, it brought together the local authorities of the islands, the private sector (Coca-Cola system and The Coca-Cola Foundation) and a regional organisation. The RWH Programme has a holistic approach and evolves around 4 pillars: rainwater harvesting applications in public building and areas showcasing various technologies available; educational programme for students and teacher trainings; capacity building for local authorities to manage their water resources efficiently and training for technicians on how to enhance local expertise on installing and maintaining RWH systems; and awareness raising on critical water challenges and the potential of rainwater harvesting to cover domestic secondary uses, as well as farming needs.

Due it is acknowledgement by the local communities for its contribution to change the mindset of water use to a more sustainable, mobilising also non-conventional water resources, The RWH Programme has since 2011 expanded to the Maltese islands, then in Cyprus and recently in Sardinia Italy. For its holistic approach and the contribution to local water security and climate change adaptation, GWP-Med received the second global award as a Water Showcase at the 7th World Water Forum (April 2015, Rep, of Korea) and continues its efforts to expand it in other water scarce areas around the Mediterranean.

Similar to the challenges in the Mediterranean, across the globe, Central America has experienced drought for the past 3 years, which has had a significant impact on the population at large, but particularly those who live in the Dry Corridor of Central America and the “Arco Seco” of Panama. GWP Central America has identified strategic allies to implement water harvesting pilot projects in the Dry Corridor of Honduras to provide an alternative to water scarcity in rural communities. Many communities in this area have no other water source and the responsibility of providing water for the homes usually falls on the most vulnerable: women and children.

Pilot projects implemented in the region included the installation and maintenance of rainwater harvesting systems in Honduras, with a geomembrane bag.  Going beyond installation, GWP Central America carried out a training for women who live in rural areas and are community leaders. These women were trained on how to install and maintain such a rainwater harvesting system at home. Empowering and training them to fit this low-tech system at home, made them more confident and positive. Having a water resource at home, provided through a water harvesting system, changes their lives. Following the success of the training on RWH, the training will be replicated in El Salvador and beyond.

The project also involved actors from the private sector (AMANCO-Mexichem-a private global company that manufactures plastic pipes), and CARE-PROSADE, a project that promotes food security in southern Honduras and allowed synergies with the academia (Zamorano University in Honduras). A demo system was installed in an agricultural plot, in order to showcase the potential of rainwater harvesting for agricultural use.

While water scarcity is not always the main challenge, in other areas, lack of water supply networks can be the driving force behind rainwater harvesting. In the Caribbean, several communities in various countries, such as Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; The Bahamas; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Jamaica; Martinique; St. Lucia; St. Kitts and Nevis; St. Vincent and the Grenadines are not connected to a water supply network. For these communities, rainwater is a valuable source of water-sometimes, the only one available. GWP Caribbean saw its potential and started promoting and demonstrating modern rainwater harvesting practices that could be adopted by water scarce communities to secure water availability. They built a model rainwater harvesting system as an educational resource to enhance awareness of rainwater harvesting in the region and created the Rainwater Harvesting Toolbox. Since 2010, the model has toured the region in every possible event, demonstrating a safe way to harvest and reuse water for domestic use. At the same time, they created a resource kit the rainwater harvesting toolkit, where one finds all necessary information on how to build a rainwater harvesting system, health and safety regulations and tips, best practices and technologies available. This open source tool has been a valuable resource for the Caribbean, enabling the uptake of related technologies in the region.

In a changing world, with increasing population and needs for water, rainwater harvesting can provide a reliable source of water fit for secondary uses as well as for farming. GWP regions have taken various steps towards mobilising this resource, in their efforts to contribute to local water security and climate change adaptation. A number of technologies, from low-cost to high-end are available and able to cover all needs for rainwater harvesting, under various climatic and other conditions. Know-how and experience is accumulated and shared through the GWP network and beyond. All what is left, is our action to harvest water, It’s easy! Just try it out!

Learn more: GWP Mediterranean, GWP Central America, GWP Caribbean

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