Water Currents: Water, Ecosystems and Human Development


Sustainable management of water resources and protection of vulnerable watersheds and ecosystems are crucial to ensuring environmentally viable food production and economic development. These subjects are central to the core theme of the upcoming World Water Week— “Water, ecosystems, and human development”—where USAID will be participating in a variety of sessions and events from August 26-31 in Stockholm, Sweden on topics ranging from small-scale irrigation and natural infrastructure to disaster risk reduction and watershed management, as well as a number of sessions related to water and sanitation. See the full list here.

This issue of Water Currents highlights events, studies, and research resources revolving around nature-based solutions to some of today’s most pressing water issues, reflecting USAID’s ongoing support for ecosystem preservation efforts. The strategic importance of this programming area has been emphasized not only in the U.S. Government Global Water Strategy and USAID’s Water and Development Plan, but also in the 2018 UN World Water Development Report (WWDR).

What are nature-based solutions exactly? According to the WWDR, these solutions use or mimic natural processes to enhance water availability by increasing soil moisture retention and groundwater recharge; improve water quality with the assistance of riparian buffer strips and natural or constructed wetlands; and reduce risks associated with water-related disasters and climate change through floodplain restoration and rehabilitation of coastal mangrove forests. Scroll below to explore these subjects in greater depth.



World Water Week 2018: Stockholm, Sweden. The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) coordinates World Water Week as the annual focal point for the globe’s water issues. In 2017, more than 3,300 individuals and around 380 convening organizations from 135 countries participated. The conference website provides the conference program of more than 200 sessions as well as information on the Stockholm Water Prize Award and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize.
SIWI also prepared two policy briefs in advance of this year’s conference. One brief, Building a Resilient Future through Water, emphasizes the need to adopt a resilience-building approach to designs for social and economic progress and to address market failures to adequately value water and reduce pollution. The second brief, Water: The Path to Agenda 2030 Implementation, suggests investing in sanitation and human health to fight poverty because such investments pay for themselves four times over and involving disadvantaged groups in decision-making processes.
Check Out USAID at World Water Week 2018. USAID is organizing and participating in a number of events on ecosystems, finance, gender, sanitation, and more. Visit the Globalwaters.org blog for links, event descriptions, participants, and more information on this year’s USAID-affiliated sessions in Stockholm.

Did you know Globalwaters.org recently celebrated its one-year anniversary? Click here to share your thoughts on the site with this voluntary user survey.


Nature-Based Solutions - Overviews

Nature-based Solutions for Water: World Water Development Report 2018UN Water, March 2018. Currently, water management remains dominated by traditional, human-built (i.e., gray) infrastructure, and the enormous potential for NBS remains underutilized. The WWDR 2018 illustrates that NBS can be cost-effective, and simultaneously provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.
Water Currents: World Water Day 2018USAID Water Team, March 2018. This issue contains information on World Water Day 2018 events and studies on nature-based solutions to water supply issues.


Nature-Based Solutions - Sanitation and Other Aspects

Webinar on Nature-Based Solutions: Integrating Nature into Urban Sanitation ServicesIWA, May 2018. Wastewater treatment that actively incorporates natural processes have numerous benefits including the provision of biomass and aquaculture, reduction of infrastructure costs, etc. This webinar focuses on how sanitation services can incorporate nature-based solutions into their planning and operations.
Webinar on Building Nature-Based, Resilient Water Systems: Catalyzing the Role of RegulatorsIWA, August 2018. Regulators play a key role in protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems. It focuses on the practical approaches of integrating natural infrastructure into planning and implementation from catchment to consumer.
Webinar on Nature-Based Solutions: Nature for Water UtilitiesIWA, May 2018. To explore the use of nature in ensuring safe water, the IWA in partnership with the Nature Conservancy surveyed water and wastewater utilities on their use and demand for nature-based solutions (wetlands, floodplains, soil infiltration systems, etc.) as part of water and sanitation services.


Nature-Based Solutions - Flood Control

Water Security Implementation: Toolkit #5USAID Sustainable Water Partnership, 2018. A wide range of tangible actions and measures can improve water security. These can be broadly listed under several categories: gray as well as green infrastructure; policy, regulatory, and institutional measures; and social and behavioral change measures.
Implementing Nature-Based Flood Protection: Principles and Implementation GuidanceThe World Bank, 2017. The objective of this document is to present five principles and implementation guidance for planning, such as evaluation, design, and implementation of nature-based solutions for flood risk management, as an alternative to or complementary to conventional engineering measures.


Nature-Based Solutions - Ecosystems

Waterfront: Ecosystems and EconomicsSIWI, August 2018. This issue of WaterFrontlooks at the connections between humans and nature, such as the alarming threat to the world’s major aquifers. Other articles discuss how the World Bank wants to bring ecological expertise into its projects at an earlier stage and highlight new tools that help infrastructure planners calculate climate risks.
Ecosystem-based Approaches to Adaptation: Strengthening the Evidence and Informing PolicyIIED, July 2018. This report presents findings from a literature review and interviews with a wide variety of stakeholders at the project site in the Paz River basin in El Salvador, where local ecosystem-based adaptation interventions aimed to improve mangrove management and restore water flows, with a view to building adaptive capacity through action learning.
Effects of Human-Driven Water Stress on River Ecosystems: A Meta-AnalysisNature, July 2018. This meta-analysis showed significant effects of human-driven water stress, such as increases in algal biomass and metabolism and reduced invertebrate richness, abundance, and density and organic matter decomposition. Water stress also significantly decreased phosphate concentration and increased the concentration of pharmaceutical compounds.
Water-Related Ecosystems and Biodiversity are Crucial in Adapting to Climate Change in AfricaCampusa, July 2018. This study found that countries most vulnerable to climate change display greater degradation of their biodiversity and ecosystems. This also leads to a vicious circle, since the more degraded their ecosystems are, the more vulnerable these countries are to the effects of climate change. Adaptation based on ecosystems encompasses the use of biodiversity and the benefits of ecosystems as part of a general adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.
Financing Watershed Services in the Foothills of the HimalayasWater, July 2018. In this paper, the authors discuss the potential for financing improvements in watershed services in the foothills of the Himalayas through payments for ecosystem services.
Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EbA) and Water SecurityUSAID, August 2017. The evidence summary explains that EbA can support water security by increasing water quantity and enhancing water quality, and minimizing impacts to water security from extreme weather events.


Nature-Based Solutions - Agriculture

Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) for Agricultural Water Management and Food SecurityFAO, June 2018. Implementing successful NBS for water management is not an easy task, as many ecosystems are already severely degraded. This webinar shares perspectives from FAO and other organizations on the potential for and use of NBS to sustainably improve the management of agricultural water.
Water Pollution from Agriculture: A Global ReviewFAO, 2018. Agriculture, which accounts for 70 percent of water abstractions worldwide, plays a major role in water pollution. Farms discharge large quantities of agrochemicals, organic matter, drug residues, sediments, and saline drainage into water bodies. The resultant water pollution poses demonstrated risks to aquatic ecosystems, human health, and productive activities.
Basin Stories: Upper Tana-Nairobi Water FundInternational Water Association (IWA)Nature Conservancy, June 2018. In an effort to reverse the deteriorating condition of rivers, the Nature Conservancy established the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund, in collaboration with others, to finance and educate the farmers in sustainable farming practices. The initiative has translated to improved livelihoods for the farmers upstream, and increased water supply and improved water quality to Nairobi as well as the downstream communities and ecosystems.
Quantifying and Mapping of Water-Related Ecosystem Services for Enhancing the Security of the Food-Water-Energy Nexus in Tropical Data–Sparse CatchmentScience of the Total Environment, January 2019. This study quantifies and maps water provisioning and soil erosion regulating services from both demand and supply sides in a spatially explicit manner. It considers the Wabe River catchment of the Omo-Gibe Basin in the tropical data-sparse region of East Africa.

Water Currents is produced biweekly by USAID’s E3 Water Office. Each issue contains recent news and articles on water sector issues, partner and donor updates, latest sector research, and a special focus on one topic. Please provide your feedback and suggestions by contacting the waterteam@usaid.gov.


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