Monthly Archives: July 2013

EU Support for Water, Food and Energy Nexus

The European Development Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, has expressed the potential of addressing the water, food and energy nexus in the new European Union development policy under consideration. (Water Energy Food)

AMCOW President Dr Bahaa Saad had briefed Commissioner Piebalgs, also a member of the UN High Level Panel on post-MDG agenda over the Africa consultations on water in the post 2015 development agenda. He sought the support of the Commissioner and that of the European Commission (EC) in pushing the importance of having water as a stand-alone goal in the post-MDG agenda as well as placing priority on the resource in the EU Africa relations and development agenda for the next five years.

The AMCOW President was accompanied by the Executive Secretary, Bai Mass Taal and Technical Advisory Committee Chair/Co-Chair of the European Union Water Initiative Africa Working Group, Engr. Nehal Adel Mohammed. Dr Saad informed the Commissioner that with the designation of AMCOW as a Specialized Technical Committee of the African Union, AMCOW Secretariat has continued to witness an expansion of its role and activities. He therefore called on the EC to consider supporting the strengthening of the AMCOW Secretariat’s capacity to enable AMCOW fulfil its growing mandate.

Commissioner Piebalgs expressed the expectation that the Commission will continue its cooperation with AMCOW within the planned new Africa-EU relations framework. He however stated that for water to be considered a top priority in the framework requires that African Governments accord such top level consideration to water issues in their bilateral negotiations with the EU. He equally emphasized that the potential for greater engagement in water-related activities in the regional context required strengthened commitment by relevant regional organisations.

The AMCOW President had presented the EC Commissioner with two AMCOW publications “Africa Water Atlas” and “Water Resources Management in Africa” published with financial support from the EU.


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An interview with Nick Bonvoisin, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes


Among the factors that constrain the States in addressing the nexus in a transboundary setting are missing agreements or institutions, composition or limited mandate of existing institutions, decision-making processes and weak enforcement capacity. (Water Energy Food)

NEXUS Platform: Mr Bonvoisin, could you briefly explain to our readers the background and main objectives of the UNECE Water Convention and its activities until date?

Nick Bonvoisin: The UNECE Water Convention was originally negotiated as a regional (pan-European) treaty. It was signed in 1992 and entered into force in 1996. Following a decision by the Parties taken in 2003, the Water Convention is in the process of opening up globally to States outside the UNECE region to join this framework and share the accumulated experience.

The main obligations under the Water Convention are the following: i) Protection of transboundary waters by preventing, controlling and reducing transboundary impacts, ii) Reasonable and equitable use of transboundary waters, and iii) Cooperation through agreements and joint institutions. In brief, the Convention supports transboundary cooperation in managing and protecting shared waters — both surface and groundwaters.

The activities under the Convention include support to its implementation through — for example — guidance, field projects and assistance in preparing agreements; preparation of technical guidelines; assessment of the status of transboundary waters and of pressures exerted on them; and support to cooperation on specific issues like adaptation to climate change. Among the great values of the Convention to States are the solid legal and institutional framework, and the platform for exchanging experience that it provides.

What are the key nexus-challenges that occur in transboundary basins within the UNECE region from a resource, institutional and also financial point of view? In which basins do we find first approaches/best practice in actively dealing with these challenges?

A lack of coordination and integration of policies (economic sectors, environment, climate) resulting in conflicting signals and low coherence have emerged as a major challenge in the region.

Among the factors that constrain the States in addressing the nexus in a transboundary setting are missing agreements or institutions, composition or limited mandate of existing institutions, decision-making processes and weak enforcement capacity. It is not easy for water and environment authorities to involve, for example, the energy sector and the different scales of planning complicate further the picture.

Joint bodies like river basin commissions do experience resource constraints. Often there is not adequate financing to support joint programmes available to tackle specific issues. The States could cooperate more to share also the costs of management measures which bring mutual benefits, like operation and maintenance of infrastructure, allowing also broader involvement in decision-making.

The current situation and practice is something that we will evaluate and take stock of in the course of the assessment of the Water-Food-Energy-Ecosystems Nexus in selected transboundary basins, so it is too early to point at specific basins. Nevertheless, in some basins, steps have been taken to advance cross-sectoral dialogue and planning. For example, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River coordinated, in cooperation with the Sava Commission and the Danube Navigation Commission, a process of intensive, cross-sectoral consensus building between stakeholders in navigation, river ecology and water management. This process led to the adoption in 2007 of a Joint Statement on Guiding Principles for the Development of Inland Navigation and Environmental Protection in the Danube River Basin, which underlines the importance of defining joint planning objectives.

In what way can the UNECE Helsinki Convention as a legal framework help riparian countries in addressing the nexus in transboundary cooperation? Where do you see necessary interfaces to other regional and or national conventions and/or institutions?

Transboundary agreements have always been about the different water uses. In a transboundary context in particular — to reduce conflicts—a balance needs to be found between various uses and protection of the resource. This requires negotiating about the trade-offs, reducing them, and increasing synergies. What we need is an increased understanding of the inter-linkages in the nexus and dialogue, effective institutions and legal frameworks that facilitate the above, decision-support tools, sound regulations and, where appropriate, economic tools. A general prerequisite is political willingness — willingness to reconcile and share benefits.

The UNECE Water Convention is a framework Convention by nature — it does not replace bilateral (or other multi-lateral) or basin-level agreements which adapt and translate its principles into each specific setting and needs of the countries. Transboundary cooperation is firmly based on the national institutions and systems, such as monitoring networks. At best the joint or coordinating institutions at the transboundary level can draw upon the national institutions and the diverse expertise they represent, and it is the national institutions that have to play their role in the follow-up to the joint bodies’ decisions for the cooperation to result in concrete action on the ground.

The UNECE Watercourses Convention Secretariat has embarked on developing a nexus assessment tool. How will it be implemented over the next 12 months and in what way do you expect it to assist basins in dealing with nexus challenges? What additional support would be necessary or desirable?

The transboundary dimension of the nexus has so far been considered very little. One valuable contribution I believe we can make is to use the convening power of the Water Convention to bring together the representatives of different sectors to jointly identify the key inter-sectoral impacts and trade-offs, and to also find some potential solutions. The basin-level process will allow the different sectors’ views to be heard. We will mobilise high-level international expertise to analyse the relevant data for the basins in close cooperation with the national officials and help to tease out hidden opportunities and potentially sensitive issues to be addressed constructively.

Concretely, in the coming months the draft assessment methodology will be elaborated— incorporating feedback from stakeholders — and relevant indicators identified. We are currently in the process of confirming the piloting of the methodology on a transboundary basin in the course of the autumn 2013. In parallel, the UNECE secretariat is waiting for confirmations from the national authorities about the basins to be assessed. In the spring of 2014, we expect to have at least two basins in some stage of assessment, with an approach adjusted according to the experience from the piloting.

Considering the resources that we have managed to secure for the process, the aims are admittedly ambitious. Challenges around the nexus are highly topical and there is tremendous political demand for the kind of information that this work will produce. Some very promising partnerships are emerging but there is a need to mobilize more funds and in-kind support for the basin assessments and countries’ participation in particular. Additional resources would allow increasing the impact of the exercise, but the key input in any case is a genuine engagement of the participating countries and commissions.


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Delivering Water From Disaster


It is ironic that many of today’s water problems arise from the very solutions we administer. (NYT)

If one incident best highlights the perilous state of the world’s fresh waters, it’s the “pig spill” in China last March. After the slaughter and illegal dumping of a diseased herd, the authorities in Shanghai went fishing for 16,000 bloated carcasses in the Huangpu River, which flows through the city. Hardly the thing you wish to hear about if you use the Huangpu for drinking water.

On the other side of the world, Greg Lyons tends a stretch of the Merrimack River in Massachusetts as a citizen volunteer. One by one, Lyons collects some of the 8 million plastic treatment disks released by a wastewater plant that malfunctioned in March 2011. The disks, two-inch wafers caked with sewage, today serve as a reminder of how massive public waterworks designed to protect the environment can sometimes go haywire. Lyons’s catch by October 2011: 16,000 disks. The situation would have shocked 19th-century Transcendentalists who used the Merrimack to inspire a modern philosophy of humans in kinship with nature.

And then there is the Ganges, arguably the most polluted large river in the world. Each year it carries 16,000 tons of ash from cremated bodies along with a cocktail of sewage and toxic chemicals produced by a dense population and rapidly developing economy. This is no way to treat the goddess Ganga.

A panorama of our conflicted relationship with water is unfolding not only with the sensational fishing expedition for pigs or sewage disks, but with the countless decades of neglect and millions of misguided decisions we make daily regarding this essential resource. This was a chief finding of 350 water experts who recently issued the Bonn Declaration on Global Water Security.

And yet waterborne threats remain under the radar. Exposure to unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation results in 3.4 million deaths, mostly poor children, each year from diarrhea, yet this fact never makes the news. Threats also are rising in rich countries like Australia. In January, after drenching rains, residents of Brisbane were asked to restrict water use after the city’s drinking water dwindled to just a six-hour supply. This occurred after the city’s main treatment plant became clogged with sediment washing down from poorly managed land upstream. Across the United States, despite advanced pollution controls, more than 200 million people live within 10 miles of degraded fresh water. Europe is a global hotspot of aquatic biodiversity loss.

It is ironic that many of today’s water problems arise from the very solutions we administer. Proliferation of costly, so-called hard-path engineering, like centralized sewers and large dams, provide undeniable benefits, such as improved hygiene and stable water supply. But they also degrade waters with pollution, obliterate natural flow cycles and block the migration routes of fish and other aquatic life. By throwing concrete, pipes, pumps and chemicals at our water problems, to the tune of a half trillion dollars a year worldwide, we’ve hung a huge technological curtain between the clean water flowing through our faucets and the background array of problems in our rivers, lakes and groundwater. It is no surprise that the public is largely unaware of this or its growing costs.

And virtually unknown to most is the collateral damage to freshwater biodiversity arising from mismanaged watersheds and waterways. Despite overuse and contamination, freshwater ecosystems host a trove of diverse life, almost 10 percent of all known species and one-third of all vertebrates. The 20,000 aquatic species now extinct or imperiled are sending us an important message about our stewardship of fresh water.

Although water has figured prominently in the U.N. development agenda for decades, the world is at a critical juncture as the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Goals take shape over the coming 12 months. In the wings looms a hastily designed and politically motivated post-2015 development agenda. The developing world argues for autonomy in pursuing whatever water-related goals it deems necessary for growth, with a more or less singular focus on the basics of clean drinking water and sanitation. In contrast, the developed world argues for all nations to adopt a broader perspective emphasizing environmental protection, yet is retreating from financial support for the poor to help realize this outcome.

These two perspectives can be reconciled. While it is imperative that we meet the water and sanitation needs of all people, it would be wildly counterproductive if success were achieved at the expense of nature. In a financially strapped world, it is hard to imagine how preservation and sensible use of the rivers, lakes and wetlands would not be a valued component of any long-term development plan. And with the specter of climate change, the very water systems we today abuse, if better managed, could climate-proof society, for example by employing wetlands as natural shock absorbers against floods.

The price tag and environmental damage of poor stewardship and hard-path water management strategies mean that we need to design solutions that deliver basic water services while preserving freshwater ecosystems for future generations.

We are not against sensible deployment of water engineering. But by exporting to poor countries identical versions of the developed world’s model for water management, we risk locking the development agenda into a vicious cycle of capital-hungry and energy-intensive solutions, resource degradation and overuse, and an expanding reliance on costly remediation. We advocate instead a do-no-harm strategy in lieu of emergency care and endless rehabilitation of damaged water systems.

If we fail, we will still have development — but not the sustainable kind.


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Water and Sanitation Still Not Top Priorities for African Governments

MDG : Water scarity in Africa : Nigeria : Young women and girls carry water

It’s often not money that prevents leaders focusing on sanitation but legal barriers, and lack of interest and infrastructure. (Guardian)

The figures are shocking. According to the UN Environment Programme (Unep), more than 400 million Africans now live in water-scarce countries; 300 million people still do not have reasonable access to safe drinking water and nearly 230 million people defecate in the open.

But the reasons African governments cite for not implementing integrated water management policies or meeting commitments they have made to provide sanitation are many and varied. A survey of officials by Unep in 40 African countries suggests they are not mainly constrained by a lack of money.

Congo-Brazzaville, Nigeria and Sierra Leone don’t even have a formal water policy, they told the UN and African Union in the report, referred to this week at the World Water Week in Stockholm. São Tomé and Principe said it did not have the necessary laws in place; Cameroon said it had no one to champion the cause of water provision, and 25 countries, including Namibia, Swaziland, Rwanda and Mozambique, said they did not have enough human capacity.

Some governments were brutally honest about their failings. Congo-Brazzaville said it could not get the private sector or civil society interested, Burundi that it had experienced too many changes of ministries, and Ghana that it had problems collecting revenue from local sources. Liberia said it had difficulty accessing donor funds, and Libya and Zimbabwe said they did not have the infrastructure.

Only 18 African countries cited money as a constraint to developing water resource management. Ghana and Liberia said they found it hard to access donor funds, and Burkina Faso and Congo-Brazzaville said a big problem was slowness in mobilising financing.

But there is a growing belief that it makes little sense for governments to make more commitments on water and sanitation. Haba Arbu Diallo, former Burkina Faso water minister and chairman of the Global Water Partnership in west Africa, argued for a moratorium on more commitments. “Many African countries [at this rate] will need two or three millennia to meet their MDGs,” he said. “If urbanisation continues at this pace in 10 years’ time, every African country will be faced with a massive challenge. The time has come to stop making commitments and to implement what we have already agreed to.”

On sanitation, says a report by the African Ministers’ Council on Water(AMCW), Africa is making little progress and is likely to miss its MDG target by more than 300 million people. Only nine African countries are on track to meet their targets.

A statement from the third African Conference on Sanitation and Hygiene added: “The poorest 20% are 20 times more likely to defecate in the open than the richest 20%. The impact of this hidden scandal is devastating to health and quality of life.”

Rwanda has emerged as the poster child for hygiene and sanitation, largely because of high-level political support. More than 54% of the population has decent sanitation, from fewer than 1.5 million people in 1990 to more than 5.5 million today. “In Rwanda, political prioritisation for sanitation and hygiene has come from the very top. This unprecedented level of support has been critical,” said Therese Dooley, of Unicef.

Some progress has been made elsewhere too. “Before we were not even allowed to say toilets or defecation,” she said, “but now we see UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon using these words, which greatly increases exposure and awareness of the issue.”

But water and sanitation are still not top priorities for governments, despite overwhelming evidence that a country’s development and people’s wellbeing depends on efficient use of water.

The secretary of the AMCW, Bai Mass Taal, from Nigeria, said the best way to push water and sanitation up the political agenda is to find new ways to measure the contribution of water to development. “It is very important to provide a basis for highlighting the pivotal role of water resources as an essential ingredient in the advent of a green economy in Africa,” he said.


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Water, Women and Marital Violence in a Bangladesh Village


This study explored the implications of a groundwater development project on women’s workload and their exposure to marital violence. (Global Water Forum)

The global water crisis has affected women and men in many different ways. There is evidence that millions of women carry a double burden of disadvantage from the water crisis.1,2 In many instances, water development projects and water privatization restrict women’s access to water, further increasing their burden.2,3In rural Bangladesh, women are primarily responsible for domestic water use and men are mainly engaged in irrigation.4 However technology-intensive water development initiatives have largely emphasized irrigation, thus facilitating men’s water needs.5,6

Gendered roles and marital violence in rural Bangladesh

Marital male violence against women is widespread in rural Bangladesh. A recent study showed that almost 62% of married women were subject to either physical or sexual violence by their husbands.7 However, women are not abused randomly. Researchers mention many cases of wife battery being used as a punishment for failing to fulfill gendered household obligations.8,9 This study explored the implications of a groundwater development project on women’s workload and their exposure to marital violence.10 Fieldwork was conducted in a northwest Bangladesh village between July 2004 and July 2005.

Women's community meeting, Bangladesh. Source: waterdotorg

Women’s community meeting, Bangladesh. Source:waterdotorg

The water development project

Groundwater was the only reliable source of water in the vicinity of the study village. There were three means of lifting groundwater: deep tube-wells (DTWs), shallow tube-wells (STWs), and handpumps. DTWs and STWs are operated by motorized pumps and are exclusively used for irrigation, whereas shallow handpumps are used for domestic purposes. However, in the dry season, only a few handpumps lift water because of a lowering of the groundwater table.4 The project facilitated DTW-based irrigation. This contributed to an increase in the area’s agricultural productivity, however many households faced a domestic water shortage in the dry season because the extra irrigation water lowered the groundwater table further.

Gender roles, dry season water crisis and women’s workload

Women’s water needs were mostly related to their domestic obligations, whereas men’s water needs were mostly related to irrigation. The study estimated that, on average, a woman spent 7 hours and 25 minutes daily on domestic water-related work, but a man spent only 19.2 minutes. In the dry season, to fulfill their obligations, women had to walk to distant wells, which resulted in an increase of their domestic workload (see Table 1). A number of women (15.1%) also faced severe difficulties in fulfilling their obligations because of the extra time spent collecting water (see Table 1). Therefore, the development project actually reduced the ability of women to fulfill their normative gender role.

Table 1. Survey of dry season water shortage, increased workload, and women’s difficulties. Note: *11 households that did not have any female members who carried out water-related work were excluded.

Table 1. Survey of dry season water shortage, increased workload, and women’s difficulties. *11 households that did not have any female members who carried out water-related work were excluded.

Women’s obligations, increased workload, and marital violence

Data indicated that women were obliged to unconditionally obey their husbands. A 36-year old woman exemplified this obligation: “but I made a mistake, as I argued with him… ”. The interviews also indicated that women were expected to manage time. A woman that had experienced violence said it occurred as a punishment for failing to fulfill her household duties. It also illustrates how the lack of water contributed to make the situation worse:

I went to fetch water… It took a long time because there was a long line… but when I came back, I saw that the man was home. He asked me to serve lunch…. I replied that it took a long time to collect water (as our nearest three handpumps had dried out). But he said that it was my problem if other women can cook on time for their husbands! So when I told him to go to see the deep (DTW)…he got angry and started beating me… I did not argue anymore; rather I went to cook…”.

The other informants supported a perception of marital violence being very common and justified, for a range of reasons such as burning the food while cooking, not having washed the husband’s clothes, not making good-tasting food, etc. Because the water crisis meant that women had to walk to distant wells, sometimes several times in a day, it directly challenged the basic gendered norm system and increased the possibility of socially justified violence.


The water development project largely facilitated men’s irrigation water needs by installing DTWs. Irrigation water had become available all year, whereas the domestic water supply decreased. Many women thus had to walk to distant wells for domestic water collection, which increased their workload. This challenged their possibilities of fulfilling household obligations, thereby increasing the risk of normative marital male violence against women as a punishment for their failure.

In a patriarchal social context, a gender-blind water development project may have severe negative consequences on the lives of many women. We suggest that any water sector projects (e.g., irrigation, fisheries, or health and sanitation projects) should take women’s contextual gendered roles and obligations and social aspects of marital violence into account. Before implementation, there is a need to explore how the development project may influence or be influenced by social norms that determine the relationship between men and women. At the same time, it is important for development interventions to challenge the existing gendered norm systems and to initiate a discussion within the community on gendered roles, rights and obligations.


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