Bring Water Into Climate Change Negotiations
BONN, Aug 8 (IPS) - Longer periods of drought, decreased river flow,
higher rainfall variability and lower soil moisture content: water is
at the heart of the impacts of climate change. Yet the precious
commodity scarcely features in climate negotiations.
Three hundred million Africans lack access to clean water; 500 million
lack access to proper sanitation, according to Bai-Mass Taal,
executive secretary of the African Ministersï¿½ Council on Water.
"Lack of water security will be exacerbated by climate change, which
directly threatens food security," says Dr Ania Grobicki, executive
secretary of the Global Water Partnership (GWP).
"There is no single dedicated United Nations agency for water, and
there's no international Convention regulating water resource
management and there is no water focus under the UNFCCC," says
Grobicki. "Water also evaporated from the text of the Copenhagen
Grobicki and her colleagues argue for a focus on adaptation measures
on the ground. Rehabilitation and maintenance of existing
infrastructure is one place to start.
GWP worked with the government and local communities in Swaziland to
rehabilitate an earth dam at KaLanga. Restoring the dam's broken-down
irrigation set-up, constructing sanitation facilities and drinking
troughs for cattle, along with raising community awareness and
training in water conservation and rainwater harvesting contributed to
improving access to water for the more than 9,600 people in the area.
Burkina Faso, where 80 percent of the population depends on
agriculture for a living, has invested in the construction of more
than 1,500 small dams since 1998. These reservoirs - built at
relatively low-cost, often with local communities contributing labour
to their construction - are a vital protection against drought.
Most African agriculture is rain-fed, says Grobicki. "As climate
variability increases and temperatures rise, water security drops
radically. Dams ensure water is available throughout the year."
The scale and operation of water infrastructure needs to be carefully
planned. "Using water from the river for irrigation might benefit a
farming community, but it could have damaging effects downstream.
Thatï¿½s why it is important to have shared decision-making. In this
process there will be trade-offs, but also shared benefits," she says.
Other adaptation measures include shifting to more drought-resistant
crops and the use of satellite imaging to reveal moisture content of
soil and guide farmers' irrigation efforts: pilot projects in several
countries already send out such information via text messages to
Water-saving technologies can further maximise the benefits of these
strategies. "Drip irrigation offers huge potential for saving water in
rural areas, while remote sensing can be used to inform farmers about
the moisture content of the soil so they know how much water they need
to use to grow their crops," says Grobicki.
Drip irrigation is a highly efficient means of watering crops and
applying fertiliser via tubing spread throughout the field.
In Zimbabwe and Malawi, smallholder farmers are coping with drought
with simple drip systems consisting of a couple of large plastic
containers on a raised platform, and 100-odd metres of plastic tubes
delivering the water to vegetable gardens.
Israeli expertise is demonstrating the system's potential in larger-
scale plots in West Africa under the African Market Garden project.
"Apart from hard adaptation measures like dams, dykes and treatment
plants, itï¿½s important to build capacity to assist decision-making
processes between countries," says Alex Simalabwi from GWP's
Partnership for Africa's Water Development project.
But investment in water infrastructure and information systems has
actually declined, according to the GWP, while more resources are
needed to address water issues.
"The [Copenhagen Accord's] fast track fund of $30 billion is not
enough," says Taal, a former minister of water affairs in Gambia. "To
ensure water security for all Africans who donï¿½t have it now will cost
an estimated $16 billion if we just spend $50 per person."
The call is for water to be recognised in climate change negotiations
as both the transmitter of climate change impacts and an important
vehicle for strengthening social, environmental and economic
resilience to them.
"We believe that water and its management can offer a unifying focus
for global, regional as well as national co-operation on adaptation to
climate change," says Grobicki. "Investments in integrated water
resources development and management are investments in adaptation."
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