Earth Day was my ‘Aha!’ Moment

Alessandra Giolo is completing Masters degrees in Global Environmental Politics and in Environmental Science at Sodertorn and Stockholm University. Her dissertation is on Transboundary Water Management. She is an intern at the GWP global secretariat, and this blog is her story of how Earth Day triggered her interest in the environmental sector.

Alessandra Giolo

My primary school was one of the first in Italy to have “Environmental Education” on its curriculum, thanks to a dedicated teacher who introduced us to what now is one of the most important and talked-about subjects in politics, society, and academia. In that class I wrote my first essay, “Earth Day: the relationship between humans and nature.” The essay was a collection of themes and works we had studied, and it was from this early age that my interest in the environment was born.

Nature and environmental politics took time to gather academic attention, but during my Bachelor studies in International Relations an inspiring professor taught us the limitations of the earth’s resources and her concern for the speed of degradation and exploitation humans were posing to the planet. That motivated me to pursue my first Master’s in Environmental Science and a second one in Global Environmental Politics, in order to have a comprehensive understanding from both the scientific and the political sides.

Today, in 2021, environmental awareness is very different, with most people having heard of environmental protection and restoration, mitigation of climate change, and the need to transition to clean energy sources. These are not only at the top of political and policy makers’ agendas, but there are targets that humanity must meet to ensure our survival. There is little doubt anymore that human interference on the planet has reached such invasive levels that we are officially living in the Anthropocene, the “unofficial” era where human activities have impacted the earth’s geology, climate, and ecosystem delivery.

The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, which so far has claimed over 3 million lives and changed nearly every aspect of human life, shows us just how much nature is more in charge than we are. This invisible enemy put humans and their activities on pause and in some ways healed parts of the environment that we had exhausted. It also showed that recovery is possible.

How did it all start

The first Earth Day was held in 1970, eight years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published. The book exposed how destructive trends were affecting the sustainability of the planet, raising awareness for the first time of the link between pollution, public health, and every living organism. In 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin (U.S.A.) took the environmental cause to heart, determined “to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda.” On April 22, 1970, millions of people gathered on the streets of Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other American cities, guided by the inspirational passion of Danis Hayes, a Stanford University student appointed as Earth Day’s national coordinator.

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organise 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organised itself,” said Hayes.

Since that day, Earth Day went global. Activities range from a talking drum chain in Gabon, Africa, to a gathering of hundreds of thousands of people at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Earth Day Network (EDN) collaborates with more than 17,000 partners and organisations in 174 countries. According to EDN, more than 1 billion people are involved in Earth Day activities, making it “the largest secular civic event in the world.”

GWP is involved in raising awareness and enhancing the knowledge and skills of professionals and youth on water issues – after all, water makes up 70% of the earth! My internship has taught me so much about water and governance, about collaboration, mutual understanding, respect, and showed me how all of us – through hard work and a vision – can contribute to a better world. Global changes are needed to ensure a future for humanity. GWP is showing its dedication, passion, and commitment to enhance this sustainability. To extend our stay on the planet for as long as possible, ensuring the long-term sustainability of water resources is essential.

Earth Day was born because individuals understood that change was needed. Passion, leadership, and vision are key to making global change happen. Marking this day is an opportunity to bring millions of people together to discuss and share knowledge and solutions to problems that involve the whole of humanity without distinctions of color, country, and religion. As is often said, there is no Planet B. This earth is our only home, and our survival depends on making changes today to how we treat this home.

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Posted in Climate change, Development, Earth Day, Ecosystems, GWP, IWRM, Partnership, Sustainable Development, Water resources management, Water security | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Monika Weber-Fahr

Monika Weber-Fahr penned these personal reflections before her last day as GWP Executive Secretary and CEO on June 30, 2020.

“So where is GWP going, now that you are leaving?” When announcing my departure from GWP, I got this question a lot, as well as three others: “Anything you regret?”, “What did you achieve?” and, my personal favorite: “You are leaving for family reasons. Does this mean women can’t hold leadership roles? Is it too much, leading an organization and being a Mum?”

GWP at extraordinary times.  I am writing these reflections at an extraordinary time.  The world is reeling in the pain inflicted by COVID – to people, families, lives, and to entire countries, both through the death sentences brought by the virus and through the economic fall-out from measures taken as we try to protect ourselves, particularly those most at risk.  The coming years will bring developments that we have never seen before:  enormous recovery packages that may or may not lead to more climate (and by extension: water) minded policies, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and dramatic changes across multiple sectors that we are only beginning to understand.  In the meantime, global temperatures keep rising, populations and their needs for water for drinking, hygiene, and for their food and other consumption keep growing, and industrial processes that waste and pollute water are changing way too slowly. Both the pressures on water – and the opportunity to negotiate a “re-set” of how we use it – are unprecedented. Never before have we seen as much attention to providing access to water to the poor. Will GWP partners around the world take advantage of this opportunity?  I would expect so!  Certainly, the regional and the global GWP teams stand ready to support with advice and input – wherever our partners and stakeholders will manage to engage in national or local decision making processes.

Where is GWP going?  Where we are going should be clear – we have a good, jointly developed, broadly consulted on and well owned strategy, with clear targets and relevant focus areas. “Mobilising for a Water Secure World” should enable us to effectively address global crises related to water security in the COVID-19 context.  Indeed, our Regional GWP Chairs and Coordinators have confirmed: our strategy gives us the right focus to act – in particular now.   As countries and industries begin to figure out how to “build back better”, our focus on water solutions for SDGs, on climate resilience through water, and on transboundary solutions all provide a solid framework to engage with the many non-water actors that will shape the post-COVID recovery.  Our unique value is in bringing ‘voices of water’ together and to the attention of political and economic decision-makers, while mobilising action that will address the ensuing water crises.  So let’s make sure we do this, with the continued help of so many enlightened donors: mobilise more and new partners, while valuing each other and our shared journey on this road, and find ways to negotiate water-relevant solutions even in uncomfortable spaces!

Anything you regret?  An obvious one first: I do regret leaving GWP way “before my time.” Leaving early means that I will not be able to be part of and support many initiatives and steps that I truly care for: The 25th Anniversary Year in 2021 – a fabulous opportunity for the entire Network to showcase what we have achieved and what we can do more of;  working with our regional teams to learn how we can be stronger in our regions and countries and building true “Network Effects” in how we connect GWP partners – making sure each and every partner who joins increases the value of the Network; and helping the Water ChangeMaker Awards grow – a unique mechanism to bring attention to the experiences and voices that make concrete and positive change for water happen, and bringing these into the GWP ToolBox.  My biggest personal regret though, is that I had to let people go, early on in my tenure, when GWP’s finances required retrenching.  And I am glad to say that we are now on better financial footings, enabling us to weather some of the storms ahead.  Finally, a regret that I am taking with me is that I did not get to spend as much time with the team in Stockholm as I would have wanted, getting to know my host country only cursorily, and leaving with only a few words of Swedish.  The Swedish art of Lagom is something I still have to learn about a lot.

What did you achieve?  Well, there is an official list of things, shared in the announcement, coming with kind words from our Chair, Ambassador Howard Bamsey,  noting “tireless efforts to put GWP on more secure footing” and the “energy and entrepreneurial leadership” with which I had been able to “turn the organisation around.”  And then there is my more personal list of things that I feel particularly blessed by: first and foremost the personal relationships and friendships with so many so wonderful people around the world and of course in Stockholm; the magic of the two “follow the sun” Network Meetings that more than ever connected our partners around the world; speaking to the climate community at CoP25 about the “Voices of Water” and how they should matter more;  bringing to GWP the notion that our work can support water security AND be gender transformative when launching the first fully-gender focused water, climate and development program, under the auspices of AMCOW and funded by ADA and SIDA; and, of course, signing the first grant agreement with the Green Climate Fund in support of Zambia’s GCF readiness, in a fully virtual environment, using media that some of my originally skeptical GWP colleagues now feel comfortable to use.

“You are leaving for family reasons: Does this mean women can’t hold leadership roles – is this just too much, leading an organization AND being a Mum?”  Some of the younger women on the global team asked this question quietly but quite immediately after I announced my departure – and also others seemed to wonder.  Indeed, it is true: I am leaving GWP so that I can re-join my family – my teenaged sons, my husband, and our dog – who live in Vienna, Austria, and whom I saw for much of the past two years only on weekends, if that.  Commuting between work and family – with separations of weeks or months at a time – is something that many parents do: anyone working in the military, in transport (shipping, trucking, aviation), in off-shore work or in construction would be all too familiar with this and know that it often can work just fine.  So, first to remember is that having the choice to step out and to do something else is a choice that not everyone needs – but also a choice that not everyone has. Contrary to what Foreign Policy Professor Ann-Marie Slaughter originally said in her then famous “Why Women Can’t Have it All” article:  For me the choice is not between career and family, and it is not about “stepping down” but about “stepping out” into something else.  Choices like this are about building the important and precious dimension of caring into one’s life, and there are times when this matters more or is specifically needed than at other times.  This is the same for anyone – whether you are a mother or father, daughter, or son.

One last observation: the Global Water Partnership is unique: We may not see this “from within” – but in its workings and design, as a partnership and network, GWP stands out among many other similar set-ups I have seen and worked with across multiple sectors in my professional past. And in this, we all stand on the shoulders of giants – the people who built this partnership and created its knowledge over the years.  Many stand out – Ismail Serageldin, Maggie Catley-Carlson, and Letitia Obeng, the early Global Chairs; the late and greatly missed John Briscoe; the Technical Committee Chairs Torkil Clausen, Roberto Lenton, Mohamed Ait Kadi, and Jerry Priscoli; the authors of influential Technical Background Papers, in particular No. 4, No. 14 and No. 22, and, of course, of the outstanding GWP Gender Action Piece – so many were part of shaping how the world sees and works on integrated water resources management, climate adaptation, and the SDGs.  This work is carried on now by the many leaders engaged in Regional Water Partnerships and Country Water Partnerships, in the global and regional Technical Committees, and in the Global Team.  As a network, we are as good as our relationships and values.  Together, with respect and solidarity with each other, we can and do get things done.

Oddly enough, no one has asked me what I am grateful for – when gratitude is the dominant feeling for me as I leave.  The list of people and experiences I am grateful for is long.  Most of all, I am grateful for – and humbled by – the opportunity that I had in being part of the journey of the many leaders that come together through this extraordinary Network.  So many of you are driving positive change, often with little or no means – but built on unique knowledge, relationships, and motivation. You are an inspiration – thank you all for this!

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Mobilising the agriculture and water sectors to address climate change

GWP Technical Committee Chair Dr. Jerome Delli Priscoli attended and spoke at the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) annual conference in Marrakesh, Morocco, on November 9, 2019. Here are his reflections.


The focus was on agriculture and adaptation policies necessary for meeting climate change. The overall purpose was to facilitate dialogue among the technical, Ministerial, and donor communities, and to identify relevant issues and to share experiences.

One of the sessions in the scientific advisory meeting was focused on water. Thankfully, it was clear that the panelists understood the importance of water management – perhaps not surprising since, globally, 70% of water withdrawals are taken by the agriculture sector.

Speakers elaborated on how soils need carbon and the role it plays in carbon sequestration. Other speakers called attention to soil degradation and its role in civic unrest. Other topics included:

·         the need for new maps of food insecurity and the need for world-level systems analysis

·         how Africa is facing the scourge of variability, esp. droughts and floods

·         a focus on eating habits and obesity and on how food is wasted along the value chain

Discussions on the use of precision technologies based on the digital revolution were most interesting. The presenters showed how such technologies and spatial temporal data is applicable even for the small farmer. The “Dry Arc” initiative of CGIAR was described and how it is attempting to inform decision makers. The countries in the Dry Arc will likely suffer the most from climate change.

Groundwater, water harvesting, and watershed management and their link to soil management was discussed, as well as the link to migration – a subject addressed by GWP and FAO.

Mark Smith of IWMI reviewed the new GCA paper “Climate Change and Water” and its five components: information and learning; action frameworks to build resilience; system diversity; infrastructure; and technology. FAO spoke of parallels of land tenure and water tenure and access to rights.

There was an excellent discussion on insurance. It seems French reinsurance companies have been partnering with local African insures of crop insurance in several countries. To meet tariff levels, countries must subsidize the gap between what people can pay and the required tariff. I asked: if governments are subsidizing, could that public money be better used on investing in prevention measures? This prompted the following response from the insurers: insurance will not solve the climate change problem. I highlighted the GWP Technical Committee Perspectives Paper “Climate insurance and water-related disaster risk management” which attracted interest: much of the discussion revolved around residual risk as the place where reinsurance fits.

The results of the scientific advisory groups and the donor’s groups were brought to the Ministers of Agriculture and to leaders of selected multinational and IFIs. I was most struck with several ministers who politely but explicitly said that there is too much focus on mitigation and what Africa and their countries really need is more focus on adaption: ‘the world must deal with the imbalance of mitigation and adaptation.’ From my own work on water and civilization, I would say they are on the right side of history. Thus, the great interest in infrastructure investment which of course is not a new theme in Africa. This observation was also backed by the World Bank. Some estimated a cost of around $200 billion will be necessary in next decade. The African Development Bank mentioned that 60% of employment in Africa is in agriculture even if urbanization is rapidly increasing.

The agriculture community is similar to those of us who work in water: they say agriculture is central to all the other SDGs, just like we say it about water! Same with wanting our respective sectors high on the political agenda; same with the need for training in the use of digital/smart technologies; same with the need for more research and knowledge sharing, esp. south-south; and that SDG 17 on partnership is essential. And finally, that Ministers of Finance should be at these meetings.

All that sounds like a call for an integrated (holistic) approach to solving the world’s development challenges!

Posted in Agriculture, Climate change, Food security, Water resources management | Leave a comment

How to turn an internship into a new career

Karen González Downs joined the GWP global secretariat in Stockholm, Sweden, in Spring 2019, for what she thought would be a three month internship. But nine months later, she is many experiences richer – and has a new Master thesis, and a new job! This is her story.

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Karen Gonzáles Downs (2nd from the right) with her fellow interns.

When I moved from Nicaragua to Germany in 2017 to pursue my Master’s degree in Environmental and Resource Management at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg, I had a relatively easy plan to graduate and move back home. However, coming from a country with limited opportunities for young professionals, I decided I should take advantage of living in Europe and gain as much professional experience as possible. So, after several months of looking and applying for internships, I was selected to join GWP as an intern for what initially was going to be three months.

I joined the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Unit, with a focus on the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, especially Central America. When I arrived, I had a different vision of what the organisation was about. I had never worked for an international organisation, let alone its global office. However, I was pleasantly surprised by GWP and its uniqueness. It is an organisation that works in 13 regions worldwide, but the team in the Stockholm office is quite small, allowing for less hierarchy and more teamwork.

My experience as an intern ended up being different than the experience of my fellow interns. A few weeks after I started working with the team, I got the opportunity to stay longer, to write my master thesis with my GWP supervisor as my thesis supervisor. Because of this opportunity I ended up extending my three months internship to a nine-month internship/master thesis placement.

The title of my thesis is “Alignment between the Nationally Determined Contributions and water-related sustainable development goals in six Central American countries”.  It aims to provide an analysis of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama and its links with water-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

To be honest, it has been a challenge. I have been working on my thesis while continuing as an M&E intern part-time; this has not been easy and sometimes with all that stress and frustration I felt defeated. But what I appreciated the most has been the constant support and encouragement from the team, my fellow interns and my supervisor.

Writing and developing a Master’s thesis can be a slow and challenging process that can be quite lonely. My thesis placement at GWP has been a very enriching experience, I have learned to work independently and on my own terms. I was also able to challenge myself and choose a topic outside my comfort zone and above all, I learned how important it is to ask for help in difficult and frustrating moments.

Yes, my internship in GWP has been a lot of desk work, but it wasn’t boring, and I got to work with and learn from an incredible team. I learned how an organisation like GWP functions and its value contributing to water security and Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) implementation. I took the lead to develop a new M&E tool in the form of country factsheets that will allow for an easier understanding of the work that GWP has done for the last 25 years.

All GWP interns got to go as part of the GWP delegation to this year’s Stockholm World Water Week and I never felt like just an intern; we were there as part of GWP and that was encouraging.  We also got to attend the monthly staff meeting and quarterly business meeting, and we got to learn what GWP is doing worldwide.

As my last day in GWP is approaching, my first day in my new position is also around the corner. In the next weeks I will leave Sweden for Switzerland to join the Ramsar Convention Secretariat as Assistant Advisor for the Americas. Throughout the whole application process, I have been backed up by constant support from the GWP team. I have had my CV reviewed with great and useful feedback, I received valuable advice on how to best present myself during the interview process, and above all I have had unconditional and uplifting support during the stressful waiting days before getting a positive response from my new employer.

Overall, my experience at GWP has been challenging and rewarding, and living in a beautiful, modern and international city as Stockholm has been a great extra advantage. In the future, If I could change one thing in GWP, it would be the inclusion of more interns from least developing countries. I happened to be the first one from Central America and I hope that I opened the door for more students like me, because yes, we come from less privileged countries and that makes our point of view different than other young professionals – we have unique knowledge and life experiences to share and an international and multicultural organisation like GWP needs that uniqueness.

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Innovation and IWRM in Central American communities

Civil Engineer Axel Martinez, 26, from Nicaragua, spent five months as a Young Professional Development Initiative Intern under GWP’s Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP)He worked in GWP Central America’s regional office from August to December 2018. In this blog post, he shares reflections on his activities. 


Central America is a narrow strip that unites the two great Americas. Despite its small size, it is one of the most bio-diverse regions on the planet, dreamlike landscapes, happy people, diverse cultures, and abundant natural resources – especially water resources. However, it is one of the most vulnerable regions of the world to climate change. To address that challenge it is crucial to implement the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach. GWP Central America is working to promote IWRM and strengthen local capacities in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

I was fortunate to be selected as an intern for WACDEP’s Young Professional Development Initiative. As part of the internship I had the opportunity to travel through the region and work with experienced professionals, as well as young professionals, who like me, work every day for the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6): Clean water and sanitation for all – with the important pledge of leaving no one behind.

I was tasked to document success stories in the implementation of IWRM in WACDEP pilot projects, and write case studies. The stories had to include the different points of view of the actors involved in the project, as well as their lessons learned – the knowledge they considered useful and valuable for successful interventions.

Central American extremes

The effects of climate change in Central America are reflected in more intense, recurrent, and prolonged hydro-meteorological phenomena that are manifested in two extremes of the same spectrum: floods and drought. Other variables such as rapid environmental degradation, lack of territorial ordering, institutional weaknesses, a polarized political scenario or lack of resilient infrastructure make this challenge more complex.

My investigations focused on the Central American “Dry Corridor” and Panama’s Arco Seco (dry region). The drought, boosted by “El Niño” – the Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon – put the region in jeopardy, causing severe damage to the agriculture, hydropower, and WASH sectors. The drought put the water and food security of a large part of the population at risk, especially of dispersed rural communities that, due to the nature of their condition, do not have the means to face extreme situations of this type. These were the communities that the pilot projects were for. While the common challenge faced by these communities was drought, innovation was the common response. GWP Central America articulated the efforts of its members and connected them to benefit the communities, by bringing dispersed sectors together.

In places where water services are not available, rainwater harvesting systems have been an effective alternative. In Honduras, a geomembrane storage technology was developed that reduces costs by 75% versus other methods such as plastic tanks. GWP Central America saw the opportunity to extend the technology to the rest of the countries in the region, and to implement IWRM and a gender approach.

In a youth-led project in El Salvador, women were trained to implement the systems, thus enhancing their role in community decision-making and demonstrating that equality in community water management is possible. This project included other actors: the national government, municipality, private sector and international cooperation. The young professional who led this project put this solution on the global map, winning funds at an international level. The project will go on to a second phase in El Salvador. And today this technology is offered in the regional market and the Honduran government is interested in adopting it into public policy in response to droughts.

In Panama, innovation was also key, but this time through clean and renewable energy for the extraction of water in a community of “Arco Seco”. They used a pump powered by wind energy. The academic sector led the project – the Technical University of Panama (UTP) coordinated, with the support of the central government, for the necessary studies and the community gave on-site support. It is noteworthy that the students were fully committed to the project and were able to put their skills into practice at the service of their local context in an investigation that continues to look for ways to improve future projects. The initiative is also an example of solutions focused on the Water-Energy-Food nexus. It was awarded the UTP “Cuásar Prize” of Social Innovation.

During the internship, Alex also supported GWP Central America in preparing for a regional SDG6 event, workshops on incorporating IWRM in risk management planning, and in integrated drought management, as well as youth events. Alex also highlights the work of volunteers of the Central American Youth Water Network for Water, and community-based water management organisations that work every day to conserve the world’s resources. A Spanish version of Alex’ blog is available on the GWP Central America website.

Posted in Climate change, Drought, Floods, Gender, GWP, IWRM, Partnership, SDGs, Youth | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Empowering communities on implementing IWRM in South Asia

By Paridhi Rustogi, a Young Professional Development Initiative Intern under Global Water Partnership’s flagship Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP). Paridhi was an intern with the GWP South Asia (GWP SAS) Regional Office from September 2017 to July 2018, working on developing knowledge products and capturing success stories from the region. These are her reflections.


Faced with a rapidly changing climate regime and severe environmental challenges, Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) is being championed by rural communities across South Asia. By consolidating resources – natural and economic – communities are able to fortify their water resilience and as a result augment their food and water security. These efforts are strengthened and led by the GWP SAS  Regional Office, which operates through six Country Water Partnerships based in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

As a Young Professional Development Initiative Intern under GWP’s WACDEP, I explored South Asia’s water resources and vulnerabilities in-depth and captured success stories through case studies that explored implementation of IWRM at the grassroots and watershed level.

Population growth and an unwavering dependence of agriculture on rainfall necessitates interventions that safeguard access to quality water resources even in periods of lean rainfall. Access to water in southern states of India – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu was accomplished by GWP India and the DHAN Foundation through reviving traditional water harvesting structures with the support of rural communities who contributed in cash and provision of labour services. In targeted communities, Water User Associations (WUA) and Farmer’s Federations – Vayalagams – have actively managed small-irrigation schemes; by providing them ownership, projects costs reduced and programme efficiency increased by fostering stakeholder engagement.

However, rising temperatures and torrential rainfall – manifestations of climate change – threaten to stall progress that is already delayed in most parts of South Asia, bringing adaptation activities to the forefront. In Pakistan’s desert areas of Tharparkar and Cholistan, a severe drought has hindered the livelihoods of local residents. GWP Pakistan’s solution was to provide aid, capacity development opportunities like soap manufacturing and garden kitchen concepts, and to reinvigorate local ponds and wells to support cattle rearing. This desert development approach relied on community-based water supply and management. Community members were handed over the management of village ponds, nurseries and wells.

Guided by national policies pertaining to climate change adaptation, GWP Pakistan’s interventions aimed to bridge the gap in the practical application of existing policies. Using both a top-down and bottom-up approach by enabling Training of Trainers (ToTs) at the village level, community participation was encouraged. IWRM was used as a guiding policy and local authorities were involved in decision-making and project implementation.

Reeling from the damage of a large landslide in central Sri Lanka, GWP Sri Lanka expanded its work in the Ma Oya basin by engaging local community members in rehabilitation work and awareness raising on climate change adaptation. The complexity of this disaster highlighted the need for speedily operationalizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in future activities and highlighted a decided shift from disaster relief to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Engaging with the community helped identify the most important form of DRR – a model that involves and is supported by local communities, particularly women.

One of the key activities was raising awareness among schoolchildren on water and sanitation and providing rainwater-harvesting tanks to store water to fulfil the daily needs of the school. By enabling regular access to water, female student enrolment improved, leading to a step in the right direction for active student engagement. Students can be the most important conduit of DRR information in their communities. Emphasis was laid on creating a connection between children and their environments.

While Pakistan’s deserts suffer from droughts and Sri Lanka’s Central province from poor water management, in Bhutan, despite plentiful water resources, uneven spatial and temporal distribution of water bodies makes them hard to access. This limits the growth opportunities of farmers in the Lingmutey-chu Basin who struggle to tap sufficient water for successful irrigation. Implemented by GWP Bhutan, the Bajo Siphon project best demonstrates a successful low-investment climate adaptation initiative.

Conflict management to pacify various stakeholders was a key part of cultivating access to siphon irrigation for farmer communities. By improving access of affected parties to irrigation water, mutually beneficial arrangements were set up. Public authority had a key role to play in this process of providing water supply and sanitation services while it was the community members had to maintain and reap its benefits. The success of the Bajo project has improved the livelihoods of local farmers through a simple application of technology. This project also demonstrated the successful collaborative efforts between the community, government, and non-governmental agencies.

GWP’s IWRM ToolBox identifies the various tools that can be used to carry out successful IWRM in the field and greatly influenced the thought process behind these interventions. By connecting communities to IWRM resources and capacity building, fruitful solutions to withstand climate change and rising environmental pressures can be sought. South Asia, home to a quarter of the world’s population provides a neutral platform for water and climate development initiatives. GWP South Asia’s work in the field has created significant lasting contributions in the lives of targeted communities.

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The SDG Knowledge Hub: Communications for SDG Action

GWP Central America (GWP CAM) recently worked with journalists to highlight the importance of communications around the landmark 2030 Development Agenda and, in particular, the Sustainable Development Goals. GWP CAM invited IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub to submit an article to an issue of Entre Aguas that focused on this subject. It is written by Lauren Anderson, Writer/ Editor, SDG Knowledge Hub.


In 2015, the global policy community adopted the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as its roadmap for sustainable development. The Agenda is wide ranging, with 169 targets spanning interlinked objectives related to the social, economic, and environmental prosperity of the world’s people.

Since the Agenda’s inception, stakeholders have stressed that development gains can’t be made in isolation. There has been an emphasis on understanding how the SDGs interrelate, and how multiple development objectives can be achieved in tandem; as well as how to avoid a zero-sum game, where one Goal is achieved at the expense of another. For instance, the ‘Synthesis Reports’ on water and urbanization just released for the July 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) highlight how achieving objectives on water and sanitation (SDG 6) and on sustainable cities (SDG 11), respectively, requires and spurs progress on multiple other SDGs. The reports offer the joint position of relevant UN agencies, which ask for their respective issues to be treated as cross-cutting.  This means they should be considered in every possible facet of policy making and implementation.

Yet, given the historically fragmented approach to sustainable development – by the UN with its separate agencies, by the Member States with their separate treaties, by national governments with their separate ministries, and by numerous other stakeholders – the need to now capitalize on linkages, to mainstream issues across and within sectors, and to take the broad-based approach the SDGs demand – presents an enormous challenge. Think of a government ministry on agriculture suddenly tasked with water conservation priorities. Or a UN agency addressing conflict incorporating biodiversity conservation into its agenda.

These are not small jumps to make, but make them we must if we are to achieve the SDGs as they are intended – all of them together, with no one left behind. To do this, we have to knock down the color-coded towers and rebuild rainbow style. We have to share, and we have to exchange. We have to communicate.

The SDG Knowledge Hub

This is where platforms like the SDG Knowledge Hub have an important role to play. The Hub, managed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), reports across the continuum of SDG implementation. It is a virtual space that tracks and analyses progress on the SDGs, so stakeholders can gain an understanding of the linkages between the Goals as well as the policy and processes that influence their implementation. The Hub does this through weekly SDG Updates that feature news written by policy experts as well as commentary authored by experts external to our organization. We strive for fact-based reporting that keeps the pulse on the development agenda, its influencers and its implementors.

It is this well of knowledge, which spans the Goals and the globe, that supports implementation of the development agenda. Sound reporting – on who is doing what and why to achieve the SDGs – provides stakeholders the ability to traverse the Goals; to see what is working as well as what is needed. We’re knocking down the silos, and we are handing out bricks of knowledge in every color to our readers. By doing so, we are bringing the development community closer and encouraging collective responses to vast global challenges.

The SDG’s resounding and primary objective is “no one left behind.” In the context of what we do, this means assuring transparency. Achieving 17 Goals with 169 targets by 2030 is a mammoth undertaking, and no single entity has the capacity to follow everything that is unfolding. This is where transparency is compromised. For instance: governments may lack the resources to place delegates in every negotiating room of a Climate or Biodiversity Summit, but they need to know what is happening. Similarly, civil society organizations may not have the staff to patrol the numerous side-events launching research results and initiatives, but they need to be apprised of outcomes. And many others – with varying roles and responsibilities – need to know, so they are not “left behind.”

The SDG Knowledge Hub helps to address this challenge by lifting the veil on international policy fora and bringing our readers a synopsis of the initiatives, events and outcomes that are influencing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Our contribution to leaving no one behind is assuring that anyone, regardless of their location or status, can get the best information possible on the development issues that affect them.

We believe our approach is working, as stakeholders have told us that the SDG Knowledge Hub has inspired them to act. In one instance, our example led to the establishment of a regional knowledge hub for agriculture, food security and natural resources. Others have used our reporting to find new stakeholders working within their field of practice and taken a more interdisciplinary approach as a result of the Hub. This is evidence that communications beget action.

Communications also drive behavior change, and this is critical when it comes to progress on the Goals. Many of the SDGs, if not all of them, require each of us to think and act differently – to stop using single-use plastics, to stop buying illegal wildlife products, to stop wasting food, to seek peaceful resolutions to conflict, and so on and so forth. The success of the 2030 Agenda depends on all of us making better choices, and sound communications can arm people with the information to act and the will to change. Just look to initiatives like the #CleanSeas campaign to stop marine plastic pollution, the #WildforLife  campaign, which addresses consumer demand for ivory that fuels elephant poaching, and the Eat.Think.Save campaign, which tackles food waste. Each of these raises awareness and encourages people to make small changes that have big impacts.

In this regard, the SDG Knowledge Hub is one more foot soldier on the ground, helping to spread the word, through our two-million+ page views per year, our calendar of events, and through our social media engagement. While we will never know the true reach and impact of the Hub, we will keep working towards the knowledge provision, transparency and communications on which, we believe, achievement of the SDGs depends.

The SDG Knowledge Hub is indebted to our contributors, our readers, and our funders – the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). For more information please visit or follow us @IISD_SDGs.

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Setting a goal is just the beginning: Improving measurability of the SDG indicators

By Elizabeth Frödén, Masters Student in Hydrology, Hydrogeology, and Water Resources, Stockholm University. Elizabeth was an intern with GWP from April to June 2018, working with the knowledge management and communications departments.


When the UN first introduced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, they were met with both enthusiasm and scepticism. The 17 ambitious goals aim to be achieved by 2030, but how is their progress being tracked along the way? This topic will be discussed in the context of the UN SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation at the upcoming High-Level Political Forum, which runs from the 9th to the 18th of July in New York.

Although the 17 goals are quite broad, they are broken down into a total of 169 specific targets. Each of these targets are measured with 1-3 indicators, and these are the key to measuring the success of the SDGs as the world moves towards 2030; however, not all indicators are created equal. Some are clearer than others, and to show that, the UN has three tiers for classifying their indicators:

  • Tier I: Indicator is conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, and data are regularly produced by countries for at least 50 per cent of countries and of the population in every region where the indicator is relevant.
  • Tier II: Indicator is not conceptually clear, has an internationally established methodology and standards are available, but data are not regularly produced by countries.
  • Tier III: No internationally established methodology or standards are yet available for the indicator, but methodology/standards are being (or will be) developed or tested.

Tier III indicators are a point of concern. Without the proper ability to track the status and progress of the targets, it is not possible to see if the world is on track with the SDGs. The indicators are critical in determining where work needs to be done.

There are Tier III indicators amongst all the 17 goals, including in SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. The water-related Tier III indicators are:

  • 3.2: Proportion of bodies of water with good ambient water quality
  • 6.1: Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time

The challenge in assessing 6.3.2 is primarily that nation-wide, regularly tracked water quality data is institutionally and financially challenging for some countries, making the base data required to track water quality limited. One method of improving this is to highlight well-established monitoring systems as examples for countries lack adequate databases, as is noted in the UN synthesis report.

6.6.1 presents a similar challenge, in that it aims to measure a trend over time. With limited historical data, it is difficult to establish a trend for all countries. The next step for improvement, as described in the UN synthesis report, is to improve global data on the extent of water bodies and on certain water quality parameters (turbidity and chlorophyll-a).

Luckily, work is already being done to improve these and other Tier III indicators. With a few exceptions, the Tier III indicators have workplans in place, elaborating the process of moving them up in the tier system and therefore making the status and progress of their associated targets easier to measure.

According to their work plans, efforts to improve indicators 6.3.2 and 6.6.1 are in motion. The main takeaway from indicator 6.3.2’s workplan is that there is a clear methodology for its assessment in place, and that it is expected to be moved to Tier II. For 6.6.1 the emphasis is on efforts to make measurements more universally understood and standardized.

It has already been successfully demonstrated that improving the indicators is possible. Indicator 6.5.2: proportion of transboundary waters with an operational agreement, was originally classified as Tier III and has since been reclassified as Tier II. This improvement is of particular interest to GWP. For example, GWP focused its Technical Background Paper 23, Measuring transboundary water cooperation: options for Sustainable Development Goal Target 6.5, on the methodology of measuring 6.5.2, thereby increasing access to standardized methods. GWP has also incorporated the methodology of 6.5.2 in its Water Governance and International Water Law training in Africa, which takes place annually from 2015-2020 in Uganda, including the 2018 session which was just conducted from the 25th to 27th of June.

The continued improvement of Tier III indicators is critical for moving forward. In the UN report on SDG6, it is emphasized that the world is not on track to reach its water and sanitation targets by 2030. However, there is time to make a change. The work being done to improve the indicators may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but it is with gradual, bottom-up improvements that the world will be able to get back on track and ensure clean water and proper sanitation for everyone.

GWP will be at the High Level Political Forum (#HLPF2018) from 9 to 18 July.

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Making water and life simple to understand

Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, former Senior Knowledge Management Officer at Global Water Partnership, reviews a recently-published book about… what else? Water!


As a former senior knowledge management officer in a top water organization, I believed that one couldn’t say anything really new about water. World leaders chant that without water there is no life and without good management of water resources further development of humanity is impossible.

And yet the World Economic Forum has continuously rated “water crises” as one of the top global risk since 2012. So, where are we making mistakes in addressing water problems?

Let’s start from the beginning: education. Water is easy to teach at schools – children water flowers which then grow and green. As children grow older, they learn about the simple H2O formula, biology brings examples about how living organisms need water, and geography is full of studying springs, rivers, lakes, and oceans.

But water education after that is more difficult. It takes a long time before an engineer is competent to design a waste water treatment plant or a multi-functional water reservoir. It requires many specialists to understand and apply hydrological laws to movement, distribution, and the quality of water. Things get complicated as water is not only a physical medium, but has a social and economic dimension. Thus, good management of water resources relies on specialists in the behavioral sciences such as economics, public health, demography, and political science. Yet, we must start somewhere…

One way is to read Practical Hydraulics and Water Resources Engineering by Melvyn Kay (full disclosure: we are former colleagues). The book was published in its third edition by CRC Press in 2017. Although it is primarily for engineers, it brings real life examples. We all know that a cork floats and a piece of steel sinks. What is behind that? When a domestic water tap is turned off quickly, why is there sometimes a loud banging noise in the pipe? Where is the best site for abstracting water from a river for irrigation?

As the author points out … “developing a qualitative understanding of hydraulics and solving problems mathematically are two different skills.” From Archimedes’ principle of choosing the right kind of pump to a stone-skipping experiment to the design of dams – this can all be understood without deep mathematical equations that frustrate “non-engineers.” The book also has extra chapters about water resources engineering and water resources planning and management.

At the end of the book, the chapter “Water Myths” makes us think about a naïve perception that an increase in water use efficiency saves water. Many global organizations and national regulators push for measures to invest in “saving water appliances” when irrigating the fields. In practice, each drop of water saved is used to expand agriculture production rather than to leave the water to the ecosystem. Also, an increase in water use efficiency tends to be accompanied by a decrease in the volume of water available to downstream users and the environment. Thus, water basin managers should not be interested in individual farms but focus as a whole on farmer groups along a river or basin.

By the way, we know that the vortex goes in a clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere. What about demonstrating this experiment on the equator in Kenya? This book will encourage you to experience some of those “Eureka!” moments to find how the science of hydraulics works.

Posted in IWRM, Water resources management | 1 Comment

What does global progress look like?

By Gemma Gasseau, Master Student in Global Political Economy, Stockholm University. Gemma was an intern with GWP between April and June 2018, focusing on knowledge management.


What does global progress look like? You now have the chance to find out, at least as it concerns water: “The world is not on track”[1]. However, there is still time to catch up, so the time to act is now. By using the enabling tools illustrated below, it is possible to improve water security, and in this way to affect positively all the other goals.

This information is outlined in the report that the UN has drafted on the global status of SDG 6 (the water goal) and its six targets: The Sustainable Development Goal 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation. The Global Water Partnership (GWP) worked with UN Environment to provide baseline data for the report. The report will inform the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (which will be held in July 2018). The HLPF reviews, yearly, the 2030 Agenda, and this year there is a focus on SDG6.

The first part of the report presents an overview of the status of the targets, making use of the latest data for the 11 global indicators associated.

  • Did you know that 844 million people still lack even a basic water service and 2.1 billion people lack safely managed drinking water? The first target, safe and affordable drinking water for all, is described as a huge challenge.
  • Equally, target two, on sanitation and open defecation, is defined as a major challenge: 4.5 billion people worldwide lack a safely managed sanitation service in 2015. In the Least Developed Countries only 27 per cent had basic handwashing facilities, and some 892 million still practice open defecation.
  • One of the challenges related to target three, concerning water quality and wastewater, is to collect reliable data on water quality, as many countries do not have the capacity to provide a full assessment.
  • Concerning target four on water efficiency, the report states that more than 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress: here, innovation in agriculture, the largest water consumer by far, can play a key role in improving efficiency.
  • The average degree of implementation of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) at the national and transboundary level, target five, was 48 per cent (medium-low). However, IWRM must be a priority as it is “the most comprehensive step that countries can make towards achieving SDG6.” The report acknowledges the key role GWP has had in analyzing successes and failures and learning lessons. On GWP’s website, there is the IWRM Toolbox and practical case studies.
  • The link between water-related ecosystems protection and restoration (target six) and water security is underlined in the report which cites a GWP perspective paper: Linking ecosystem services and water security – SDGs offer a new opportunity for integration. However, data are still insufficient to measure the progress of this target.
  • Target 6a concerns international cooperation and capacity building and is crucial for all the other targets since it addresses finances; also for this target, the data are still insufficient to assess progress and better indicators need to be developed.
  • Target 6b is stakeholder participation, with emphasis on the participation of local communities. The report states that levels of participation remain comparatively low, even if better monitoring must be developed since the indicator only considers quantitative data on participation and neglects the qualitative aspect of it.

Then, the report provides interlinked recommendations for enabling and accelerating progress on the targets: strengthening global partnerships; implementing IWRM; improving transboundary cooperation and eliminating inequalities. As means of implementation, finance, capacity development, data monitoring, and good governance are equally important. Indeed, the report quotes GWP in saying that the “water crisis is mainly a crisis of governance” (Towards Water Security: A Framework for Action).

Finally, the report explores the connection between water and other goals. In fact, a coordinated and integrated approach to 2030 agenda is essential. Water is central for progress on the three fundamental levels on which the SDGs are built: social (as a basic human right), economic (as necessary for any productive activity), environmental (as a part of ecosystems). Therefore, the report illustrates and explores key connections of Goal 6 to other goals. Among the others, economic growth, environment, and climate change are listed. In this regard, the report cites two GWP knowledge products: Securing water, sustaining growth (with the OECD) and Benefits of Action and Costs of Inaction: Drought Mitigation and Preparedness – a Literature Review (with the WMO).

Does all that sound interesting to you? Do you think we can improve the way we monitor global progress?

If so, then Join the Conversation here!

A public dialogue has been launched from May to September 2018 to discuss the findings of the Synthesis Report in a multi-stakeholder setting. The overall feedback has been collected, and you now have the opportunity to discuss the main messages coming from the report and the way forward.

[1]  UN water, The Sustainable Development Goal 6 Synthesis Report 2018, Highlights

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