Yesterday was a little different than the previous three days, because rather than only take notes of what others have been saying, I had the opportunity to present some of my own research
In 2009-2010, I spent nine months at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (on a University of Washington sponsored fellowship) modeling the influence of small reservoirs in a small arid basin in the Upper Nakambe basin, on the Volta river, in Burkina Faso. Long story short, I thought I was going to update a model, and I ended up starting from scratch (with an “empty” WEAP model).
An excellent experience, since I learned about spatial averaging of climate data, land use and land cover datasets, how to incorporate small reservoirs into a water resources model, and the methods for how to calibrate and validate a hydrological model. Awesome experience, and I learned a ton. The title of this work was: “Small reservoirs in the Upper Nakambe, and potential trade offs with large water storage”
Dusting things off
Alas, after this process, the model went largely unused, and I moved onto other things. Then, earlier this year my supervisor on the project suggested I pick things up again and add a ‘climate change’ scenario – which was part of the original plan. I did this (using a warmer climate scenario, rather than climate change scenario, for lots of boring reasons that I won’t get into now), and again it sat for a bit, until a….
A few days ago, it was suggested that I present my work informally at the Stockholm Environment Institute’s booth at world water week…. So I put together a quick talk and prepared to present things yesterday at 1pm.
Right before the talk was about to start there were a grand total of zero attendants. No pressure! … But also a little disappointing.
Then, low and behold three very special guests serendipitously appeared:
1. Director of Waternet (which is among other things, a scholarship program for African graduate students) who is an expert on water resources … And happens to to be able to translate back and forth between English and French.
2. A representative from DGRE (Direction Générale des Ressources en Eau aka Directorate General of Water Resources; Burkina Faso), and
3. The Incoming administrator of the Nakambe River basin
So… Pretty much the best audience possible.
The director of Waternet translated huge chunks of the talk when the information was not clear from me, and I was able to answer and the specific, and direct questions of the most relevant stakeholder from the region’s management community.
The outcome of this interaction was that my research advisor now has an invitation to get in touch when she is in Burkina this fall, and there is a strong possibility that the work will be incorporated or perhaps expanded to good effect in the region.
An outstanding result from an unexpected presentation.
Here’s a quick update from today’s events. Another day of unexpected insights, great conversations, and total exhaustion. Wouldn’t have it any other way! The themes highlighted below happened to come up several times throughout the day, which made me think that they were worth sharing…
1. Be provocative – Today during one of the sessions, Ned Breslin activated the audience by challenging the idea that data collection was the ‘answer to the problem’, by saying that we needed to do something with the data puke. This totally caught me off guard, and I think sort of grabbed the audience and shook them a little. I felt bad for the speaker following Ned, since the speaker had to go right back to talking about data… woops! Ned’s comments though set the tone for the rest of the session by really asking people to move beyond patting each other on the back and trying to apply the ideals of open data sourcing with action. Later in the day, the same idea of provocation came up with the “inward investment in agriculture” session, which sought to take a critical eye to the framing of land grabbing as 100% negative. The panel, comprised of African leaders, international NGO reps, European government workers, and international financiers, was in general pro-land deals, insofar as the deals are just, sustainable, and enfranchising. This is not a perspective that is heard lately in the media, and I liked the discourse. Great, new thinking.
2. Everybody knows the value of water…. ? – During the ‘open data’ session this morning, one of the panelists mentioned that everybody knows the value of water, and I balked. This is not the case at all – everybody may need water, and everybody may think they value water, but very few pay a price that reflects its scarcity or criticality for our survival. I challenged the speaker on this point – but time elapsed before we could really discuss things. The same theme emerged later during the ‘inward investment’ session, when I suggested that the discussion of land grabs must be accompanied by the inclusion of water rights, particularly water as a property right (from the David Zetland school of thought). This spun the conversation up in a dynamic way…. right when the panel was ending! Not enough time to really get into water pricing and the granting of water property rights as a vehicle for sustainable water access, but such is life 🙂
3. Leverage your network, and if you don’t have one, create one – The past few days I’ve realized the power of Twitter. This sounds silly, but the fact that I have had the opportunity to connect with multiple people (including representatives from the US State Dept., World Bank, and the directors of Water for People, and Circle of Blue) simply because I do something that is freely accessible (that is – tweeting) is pretty phenomenal. I’ve invested a lot of time in blogging, twitter, and other internet-based ‘networks’, but the fact that I’m known as the ‘twitter-guy’ at World Water Week gives me pause. The key reason that I’m known for this is because I decided to do it. Someone else could decide to madly tweet throughout the sessions also (which would be great to have the company!), and they might suddenly be encountering the people and organizations that are shaking things up in the water world.
Tomorrow I hope to keep up the provocation, networking, and engagement – despite my inevitable zombie walk as a result of tonight’s late hour 🙂
By Patrick Keys
Today was my first full day at Stockholm World Water Week – an event I’ve wanted to attend since I first heard about it several years ago. This year’s theme, Water and Food Security, is particularly close to home for me since I have worked quite a lot on rainfed agriculture issues, not to mention the content of this blog.
AgWater Solutions panel, Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved
I thought it would be useful to run down some of my key first impressions from the day’s proceedings. Full disclosure: I’m serving as a Junior Rapporteur for SIWI, the conference organizer (SIWI stands for Stockholm International Water Institute); Junior rapporteur is a fancy phrase for “Junior Reporter” – I’m taking notes and synthesizing key points on the theme “Good Governance for Water and Food” from the many sessions I attend.
So, here are some preliminary reflections:
1. Good mix of technical presentations and high level thinking: At an international water conference like this, it is likely hard to strike the right balance between general, high level discussions and specific technical presentations. I would have guessed that its easier to attract the former, and harder to find audiences for the latter. However, just today I was able to sit in on some excellent sessions that seemed to merge the technical and applied realities on the ground (e.g. an excellent presentation from the AgWater Solutions team) as well as a great overview of a new multilateral, multi-stakeholder initiative named AGWA (Alliance on Global Water Adaptation), with nuanced discussion of the tradeoffs between built and green infrastructure. I’m very pleased to see the breadth and depth of the work here… very exciting.
2. Diversity of attendance: Given that the only other major international conference I have attended was COP15 in Copenhagen (2009), I am very pleased to see both the diversity in nations, cultures, and ages represented. I expected to see a broad range of countries represented here in Stockholm, given the importance of water and food security, and the relatively international bent of SIWI. However, I’m surprised at the range of institutions that are present, and even more surprised by the representation of younger participants (e.g. under 30). Not that under-30’s aren’t supposed to be here (ahem, otherwise I’d have to leave), but that they are so clearly engaged and already a part of important and diverse work all over the globe. Seeing this type of engagement in a substantive capacity (not just ‘interested’ in water, but represented NGO’s, Investment firms, International finance corporations, etc.) provides a different level of energy at the conference than I expected.
3. Casual and approachable: When I went to COP15, I can’t really communicate how profoundly I felt like an outsider. I attended lots of sessions and listened to lots of speakers, but I didn’t ever really feel that I could engage with other participants at the conference without feeling like I was wasting their time. Here, so far at least, there seems to be a real interest to connect with other water professionals and there is a pervasive casual and approachable dynamic. This is so critical to the ‘offline’ discussions and coffee chats that will take place over the course of the week and contribute greatly to the informal outcomes and partnerships between individuals and groups. I’m already looking forward to the many more insightful conversations to be had over altogether too much free coffee.
Thats all I have for now. Not the usual water security pontificating, I know, but wanted to let folks know what the SWWW is like so far.
Also, if you’re so inclined, you can follow my live-coverage on my Twitter account @watersecurity. I also recommend following the event with the search tag #wwweek and the junior rapporteurs are also tweeting with #Jrap. Lots of great coverage!
What is The QANAT? A weekly digest of water security highlights. If you have suggestions for next week’s QANAT let me know! The QANAT is named after an ancient water supply system.
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Image from Wikipedia
China Changes Plans for Trans-Boundary Brahmaputra River. Ooska News (June 26, 2012)
The Chinese government announced on June 23 that it plans to increase tourism and create a national park in Tibet near the Brahmaputra River, rather than pursue construction of a massive and controversial dam.
- Pat’s thoughts: The positive tone between China and India is very welcome – and perhaps an additional sign of regional hydro-cohesion. The concept of China diverting any significant tributaries of the Brahmaputra would be potentially devastating for India and Bangladesh – and likely protested aggressively – so this is a very positive development.
PA says in talks with Israel over water shortages. Ma’an News Agency (June 28, 2012)
The head of the Palestinian water authority said Wednesday that discussions with the Israeli side were ongoing to increase quantities of drinking water without raising prices. Israel seeks to increase the price of one cubic liter of water from 2.60 shekels to 3.70 shekels, which will cost the Palestinian treasury around 700 million shekels, Shadad al-Ateli said.
- Pat’s thoughts: I must be missing something, because this price is crazy. 3.7 shekels is equal to 94 US cents. That is nearly 1 dollar per liter of water! Is the article wrong? Is my exchange calculation off? Can this other article have just all quoted the same wrong source? If not, this is an insane price for water provision (especially if the numbers in this 2009 article are even close to the mark… Israeli’s were paying approximately 8 shekels per cubic meter, or $2 USD per cubic meter. At the quoted rate above, Palestinians would pay 3700 shekels per cubic meter…). I’ve now convinced myself that something must be wrong, but what?
Government officials, athletes call on public to further strengthen support for Grand Dam construction. News Dire – Ethiopian News Source (June 1, 2012)
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on the occasion said construction of the Dam will be completed due schedule if Ethiopians at home and in the Diaspora further strengthen the ongoing support for construction of the Dam. Hailemariam, who is also Chairperson of the Public Coordination National Council for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, said construction of the Dam will be finalized if the ongoing participation of the public further continues.
- Pat’s thoughts: I’m uncomfortable with the large amount of emphasis being placed on voluntary contributions for the completion of this dam. It is the government’s responsibility to levy fair taxes to cover the initial costs, as well as secure private financing to help fund the dam. Given the lack of full transparency in this whole process, I am skeptical that the money being raised is actually being used for the dam – but I do hope I’m wrong.
DESALINATION & WATER SECURITY
Ensuring the security of water, ‘a strategic commodity on par with oil.’ The National (June 30, 2012)
The creation of a strategic reserve of 26 million cubic metres of fresh water in the Empty Quarter is part of a major drive to ensure that the UAE always has enough to meet its needs.
Unlike other countries which don’t have the finances to solve the problems, here money isn’t a problem,” he said. “They have a physical scarcity which they can solve by an expensive solution. Looking at the bigger picture, food and water security are important.
- Pat’s thoughts: The fact that the UAE is pumping enough desalinated water into an aquifer to supply drinking needs for 90 days is pretty astonishing. It shows wealth, foresight, and pragmatism. Although the environmental impacts of desalination are significant, countries like the UAE are stuck with it as a means for providing water to its rapidly modernizing population. Experiments such as the UAE’s artificial recharge of artificial freshwater may be a surprising window into our collective future.
Desalinated water could help quench a thirsty Egypt. Egypt Independent (June 26, 2012)
Over 40 percent of Egypt’s desalinated water is used by the tourism sector, and roughly 20 percent is utilized by the industrial sector, according to a 2010 report by the Center for Future Studies (CSF), a think-tank at the Cabinet’s Information Decision Support Center.
“We need to try to localize different technology, which would reduce the cost, allow us to enhance the Egyptian industry, and have complete control over water resources [in terms of producing water],” said Shakweer.
- Pat’s thoughts: Aside from the obviously cool fact that Egypt has a “Center for Future Studies”, I think this is an interesting idea for improving economic competitiveness regionally as well as improving water security. This could be a tremendous point of collaboration and partnership with Israel, if the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood leadership were interested in stabilizing the region.
Seventy dead, 200 000 stranded in Bangladesh. AlertNet (June 27, 2012)
Days of rain in Bangladesh, some of the heaviest in years, have set off flash floods and landslides, killing at least 70 people and stranding about 200,000, police and officials said on Wednesday.
Agriculture officials said it was too early to estimate crop damage. “In flash floods, water recedes soon after the rain stops, So we don’t anticipate any major damage to rice and other crops,” one official said.
- Pat’s thoughts: This is a devastating flood, and it looks as though other areas have been hit in the region (e.g. India). I appreciate Reuter’s non-inflammatory tone when it comes to whether food crops will be affected. As this is the beginning of the region’s monsoon, I hope this event is recovered from quickly, and serves as an opportunity to identify weaknesses the emergency response system.
What is The QANAT? A weekly digest of highlights (from news websites, blogs, etc.) related to water security, broken up by topic.
The QANAT is named after an ancient water supply system comprised of a series of vertical shafts that drain into a long horizontal tunnel, connecting a mountain aquifer to a community, field, or livestock pond. Check the wikipedia page for an excellent overview.
Water Plan to take effect by 2012. China Daily (June 11, 2012)
A policy featuring the principle of water rights is undergoing a test run in Zhangye, Gansu province. Farmers there are given a water quota based on the scale of the land they are cultivating and the types of plants they grow. If they use less water than they are given, they can trade the quota left for money.
- Pat’s thoughts: Amazing. I can’t believe China is leading the charge on this. I’m very interested to see how well this works.
Smart hand pumps promise cleaner water in Africa. BBC News (June 8, 2012)
…researchers at Oxford University have developed the idea of using the availability of mobile networks to signal when hand pumps are no longer working. They have built and tested the idea of implanting a mobile data transmitter into the handle of the pump.
- Pat’s thoughts: Mechanical training of local community members should be an integral part of this; otherwise there’s (yet another) bottleneck with the external aid community.
Officials call for action as Bethlehem villages run dry. Ma’an News (June 11, 2012)
Without water, and without… water rights, there can be no viable or sovereign Palestinian state,” Attili warned.
- Pat’s thoughts: True. But there would be very little to stop Palestinians from drilling new wells, if Israel Defense forces were to withdraw from Palestinian lands and functionally eliminate their ability to monitor these activities.
Dams and Politics in Turkey: Utilizing Water, Developing Conflict. Middle East Policy Council (2012)
On July 11, 2009, the government of Turkey announced the construction of… eleven dams in the Hakkari and Sirnak provinces along the border with Iraq and Iran. These dams are not constructed for hydroelectric power purposes. Neither will they be used for irrigation, since the area is sparsely populated… These additional dams are being constructed as a wall of water, with the sole purpose of making it difficult for PKK guerrilla fighters to penetrate Turkey’s borders.
- Pat’s thoughts: Very interesting. If this assertion is true, then this is a blatant use of water infrastructure as primarily a defensive measure. Can anyone think of instances where this is the primary use of the infrastructure?
As water bills rise, utilities struggle for funds. Reuters (June 12, 2012)
About 85 percent of respondents said average water consumers had little to no understanding of the gap between what they pay and how much it costs to provide water and wastewater services.
- Pat’s thoughts: Let prices rise to reflect costs and the consumers will realize how much water is worth.
AGRICULTURE & LAND
Land and Rio+20: Protecting an Irreplaceable Resource. IFPRI (June 13, 2012)
Called land degradation and, in arid and semi-arid regions, desertification, this phenomenon leads to an annual loss of 75 billion tons of fertile soil. “About 24 percent of global land area has been affected by land degradation,” writes IFPRI Senior Researcher Ephraim Nkonya…
- Pat’s thoughts: This is a sleeping dragon in terms of potential impact on global food supplies. Its definitely an awake dragon for the small-holder farmers throughout currently Africa dealing with this. For more on this, check out David Montgomery’s “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization”
Squeezing Africa dry: behind every land grab is a water grab. GRAIN (June 11, 2012)
Those who have been buying up vast stretches of farmland in recent years, whether they are based in Addis Ababa, Dubai or London, understand that the access to water they gain, often included for free and without restriction, may well be worth more over the long-term, than the land deals themselves.
- Pat’s thoughts: Fantastic work here. Henk Hobbelink (GRAIN’s director) contacted me sometime ago about the issue of land grabs and since then has produced this great piece. I’ll be digging into this over the weekend and expect to share more detailed thoughts with you then.