Water Security in an Uncertain Future: Enhancing Water Resources Management and Planning by Reducing Climate- and Weather-Related Risks

The Marico River in South Africa (pictured above) is a major tributary of the Limpopo River Basin. USAID's RESILIM program worked to build climate resilience in the surrounding catchment. Photo credit: USAID/RESILIM

This blog was first published in ClimateLinks.

Water security is integral to the health and sustainability of our communities and ecosystems. Achieving water security, however, is challenging for several reasons including poor governance, resource competition and poorly-conceived economic development. Additionally, changing precipitation patterns and increasing temperatures are making seasonal weather more unpredictable. Collectively, these factors make it difficult to address deterioration in water quality and depletion of water supplies, heightening the vulnerability of low-income communities and local ecosystems to sudden shocks and stressors. At the April Adaptation Community Meeting, a panel of experts highlighted lessons learned from three USAID-funded projects that are pursuing efforts to inform water management decision-making processes and leverage investments for resilience in the Mara Basin in Kenya and Tanzania, Okavango and Limpopo Basins in southern Africa, and in Peru to improve water security.

USAID’s Sustainable Water Partnership and USAID/Southern Africa’s Resilient Waters Program both work in basins that cover multiple countries and ecosystems. These programs are addressing vulnerabilities by engaging stakeholders to create decision-making frameworks and water allocation plans that consider impacts to livelihoods, risks to ecosystems, and the effects of changing climate and weather patterns. These engagement efforts are informed by comprehensive climate change vulnerability assessments, which were prepared by USAID’s ATLAS project and the World Wildlife Fund in the Mara Basin and USAID’s SAREP and RESILIM projects (predecessors to Resilient Waters) in southern Africa. The findings of these vulnerability assessments are being used to frame discussions with a variety of stakeholders, such as national ministries and provincial governments, water user associations, and local communities with respect to water and land use practices, environmental changes observed within the basins, and concerns for the future. Collectively, these vulnerability assessments and stakeholder conversations are helping to inform coordinated water allocation and planning activities, including identification of suitable alternative livelihood options that reduce reliance on rainfed agriculture.

In Peru, the Natural Infrastructure for Water Security Project (NIWS), also funded by USAID, is confronting challenges related to the uneven distribution of water, increasing seasonal variation, and land degradation driven by excess grazing. NIWS Deputy Chief of Party, Gena Gammie discussed efforts to harness green infrastructure to harvest water, strengthen groundwater recharge, and manage water supplies, improving water security by reducing the likelihood of flash flooding and increasing year-round water availability. The project is demonstrating the technical feasibility, environmental benefit, and low cost of using green infrastructure. According to a study completed by the project’s implementing partner Forest Trends, natural infrastructure interventions, including pre-Incan technologies like amunas (infiltration canals), are cost effective measures that can help support the irrigation needs of upstream communities and meet the Lima’s water demand during both wet and dry seasons, in addition to reducing the likelihood of landslides. With the support of NIWS in navigating institutional and financial bottlenecks to implementation, Lima’s water utility, SEDAPAL, plans to invest one percent of consumer tariffs over the next five years to help upstream communities continue to rehabilitate the amunas and improve agricultural production.

All three projects highlight how improvements in water security requires careful consideration of stakeholder needs, scaling interventions, and understanding the relevant geography. Failure to understand these factors and their interrelationships can compound the vulnerability of low-income households and risks to ecosystems and the services they provide. More extreme weather and more variable climate patterns add an additional layer of complexity to these relationships. Planning for water security, therefore, requires that we strive to understand how changing climate and weather patterns are affecting water systems and changing the relationship between communities and their environments, and that we use this information to develop informed water security interventions that can help ensure the resilience of local communities and the ecosystems upon which they rely.

By Basil Mahayni is Deputy Director of USAID’s Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP)

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Basil Mahayni