Submitted by James Dalton on Tue,10/27/2015

By James Dalton of IUCN’s Water Programme.

Around 40% of the world’s population lives in river basins that span two or more countries. These transboundary water systems include over 445 aquifers, more than 1,600 lakes and reservoirs, and 286 rivers. They are fundamental to the well-being of societies in terms of healthy people, healthy nature, and economic wealth. Yet population growth, climate change and a host of other threats are putting enormous pressure on these critical resources with far-reaching ramifications.Read more


Submitted by guest blogger on Sat,10/24/2015

By Vanja Westerberg of IUCN’s Global Economics and Social Science Programme.

Kicking off the recent 16th annual Biodiversity and Economics for Conservation (BIOECON) 2014 conference, keynote speaker, Professor Salzman, took us through a fascinating history of drinking water, showing the way in which societies have attempted to supply it in time and space. But for whom, in what quantity, when and at what price, if any, should potable water be supplied?Read more


Submitted by Rebecca Welling on Tue,10/13/2015

There is growing recognition that water security is critical for sustainable economic development, reducing poverty and adapting to climate change. Yet a key aspect often overlooked in efforts to meet this fundamental need is the role played by ecosystems such as rivers, floodplains and wetlands – or ‘natural infrastructure’.

This is where the WISE-UP project, led by IUCN, comes in. It shows the value of natural infrastructure as a ‘nature-based solution’ for climate change adaptation and sustainable development. As the impacts of rainfall variability, along with population and economic growth, increase competition for water, solutions are needed that maximise the benefits provided by the basin – food, water for irrigation and energy production and so on – whilst maintaining the needs of the basin ecosystem itself.

Focussing on the Volta and Tana River basins of West and East Africa respectively, WISE-UP works with decision makers, encouraging them to consider solutions that are based on both natural and built infrastructure (including dams and irrigation channels).

Dialogue with decision makers to identify and agree trade-offs lead to conversations on more equitable and effective solutions that suit all stakeholders including farmers, local communities and government agencies. However, these conversations need the right tools and knowledge to integrate natural infrastructure into future planning and investment choices, together with the latest climate information to understand the future pressures on river basins.

Key questions arise in these conversations: are the initial project findings relevant to stakeholder needs? Is the research accessible, communicable, and applicable for key decision makers? Is there anything that project partners feel that hasn’t adequately been covered? 

Some of these questions were raised at the recent ‘action learning’ meetings held in Nairobi and Accra, led by our partners, the African Collaborative Center for Earth System Sciences (ACCESS) – University of...Read more

Submitted by guest blogger on Mon,09/21/2015

By Jerome Koundouno of IUCN’s Office for West and Central Africa.

The recent Stockholm World Water Week provided plenty of opportunities to explore the links between water and land rights, and the importance of these rights for ensuring sustainable development at both local and national level.

This was my second time at World Water Week. As regional coordinator of the Global Water Initiative (GWI) in West Africa, based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, I travelled to Stockholm with colleagues from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and partners from Mali and Senegal.

‘Water for development’, the theme that set the scene for this year’s conference, made the link with two big events on development and climate: the Sustainable Development Summit taking place next week in New York and the UN climate change conference in Paris in December. As a result, many of the sessions and workshops were about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how to ensure water is thoroughly integrated into the expected climate agreement.

This year’s theme fitted particularly well with our GWI work in West Africa on how to make large water infrastructure – especially dams and irrigation schemes – better in terms of benefit sharing and food security for local people. We presented a side event ‘Toward economically viable and socially just dams in West Africa’ in collaboration with representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR, a Senegalese think tank) and local communities of the Niger River Basin.

Women working in irrigated rice fields in Bagre, Burkina Faso © Global Water Initiative

Women working in irrigated rice fields in Bagre, Burkina Faso © Global Water Initiative

...Read more


Submitted by guest blogger on Thu,08/27/2015

Authors: Laetitia Pettinotti (BC3), Marloes Mul (IWMI), Beatrice Mosello (ODI) and Naomi Oates (ODI)

At the Stockholm World Water Week and in the run up to the United Nations Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development goals, “water for sustainable development” is top of the international agenda. Ensuring that investments will benefit all, from national to local interests, is the challenge at hand.

Over the last decade, there has been a revived interest in large scale water resource development. The argument is that large dams for irrigation and hydropower generation can contribute to adapting to climate variability and to mitigating risks, while boosting economic growth and reducing poverty.

However the potential for ecosystem services to contribute to water management, thus for nature to perform as natural infrastructure has frequently been neglected. The key question is: how can portfolios of built and natural infrastructures support pro-poor and climate resilient development? Drawing on research from the WISE-UP to Climate project, we pose this question based on two proposed developments in the Tana and Volta River Basins.

Rural-urban water transfers in the upper Tana, Kenya

The Tana River Basin provides over 70% of Nairobi’s water supply and produces a significant proportion of the country’s hydroelectric power. Many rural households intimately depend on the river’s ecosystem services to support their livelihoods and food production - crops, fish and livestock.

Although the river is coming under increasing pressure and its catchment is being degraded rapidly, the Tana Basin is relatively water rich compared to the neighbouring Athi Basin, where Nairobi is located. To help meet growing demands, the proposed ‘Northern Water Collector Tunnel’ (NWCT) has been designed to transfer an additional 140,000m3 from the upper Tana to the capital. The project is estimated to cost 6.8 billion Kenyan shillings.

Inter-basin transfers are a means to tackle imbalances...Read more

Submitted by Claire W on Tue,08/04/2015

Did you know that the world today creates as much data in 10 minutes as in all of human history up until the year 2003? That is a lot of information. Amongst all this noise, how do environmental messages stand a chance of being heard? Or better, to have an impact and instigate change?

This interesting fact – and many others – I learned at the recent European Communications Summit in Brussels, a yearly conference organised by the European Association of Communications Directors (EACD) attracting over 700 communication professionals from around the world. The EACD had invited me to speak on the new IUCN Water infographic ‘Going with the Flow’, recently published in The Economist, along with a blog post on valuing water infrastructure services. ‘Infographics: how to speak ecology to economists’ was the title of my presentation, and I later realised this fitted perfectly with the tone and topics of the conference.

The Summit focused on ‘disruptive innovation’; the impact of game-changing developments on our work, industries, and the way we live – and how to anticipate this. “We can now safely say we live in disrupted times, when the frequency of disruptive innovation is higher than ever before”, said Herbert Heitman, EACD President.

Some of the big trailblazers in 2015 are AirBnB and Uber, in the top five of start-ups revolutionising business. For a full listing, check the CNBC Disrupter 50 List of companies whose innovations are changing the world as we know it.

No example could have illustrated this better than the news of Paris being gridlocked by angry taxi drivers over the mobile application ‘Uber’. The news was making headlines whilst Uber’s Head of Communications, Gareth Mead, was speaking. “The fear instigated by disruption can upset progress, but it can also greatly serve as a catalyst for change”,...Read more

Submitted by Mark Smith on Fri,06/05/2015

Article originally posted in Economist Insights on World Environment Day.

Can you manage what you don’t measure?  Produce such as coffee, cotton, and oil are traded commodities that are measured, managed, negotiated and priced based on market supply and demand.  Yet, what happens when measuring things of great value that are more nuanced, more complex, not commodities, not privately owned and not traded in markets,  such as rainfall, rivers, wetlands, or biodiversity?

Designed for the World Forum on Natural Capital, this infographic illustrates the short-term value of felled trees to the timber industry when compared to the long-term benefits of healthy forests to society. The numbers speak for themselves, $0,4 trillion versus $3,7 trillion.

 This valuation approach is not new. Inspired by the Stern review, TEEB or ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ is a global initiative set up in 2007 that focuses on making nature’s values visible. As Prof. Ed Barbier (a member of TEEBs Advisory Board) puts it, “we use nature because it is valuable, we lose nature because it is free”.

 Adam Smith’s ‘Diamond-Water paradox’, differentiating value and price, states that water is considerably more valuable than diamonds, yet diamonds command a much higher price. This resonates with more people than ever before.  Daily news on floods and droughts, and the loss of services we receive from ecosystems is concerning.  Securing Water, Sustaining Growth from the Global Water Partnership/OECD Task Force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth, reports the ‘monetization of environmental risks, and the ecosystem services the aquatic environment renders’ – is classed as a pressing challenge we have still not been able to address. 

 Pollution, over-abstraction, dams altering river flows, deforestation causing soil erosion and desertification, and climate change can all have devastating impacts on our water resources. The...Read more

Submitted by James Dalton on Tue,05/05/2015

This year the focus of the 7th World Water Forum was on implementation – something everyone strives for but which can become forgotten at events often more intent on policy debate. Implementation of better water management has to scale-up to reach ambitious Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets, and solve problems quicker than they accumulate. Reflecting the cross-cutting nature of water in society and in the economy, the Forum brought together a diverse range of stakeholders – from engineers to conservationists, from financers to farmers, from local government to Parliamentarians and Ministers.

A clear subject in the thematic events was natural or green infrastructure. Natural infrastructure is by design, nature for development and development for nature. It recognises the intrinsic links between environment, people, and economy. It speaks to many communities-of-practice and their multiple policy objectives and indicators. It goes beyond carbon mitigation to include mitigating the current practical problems that exist – to highlight that natural systems are a sensible and attractive place to invest when you are trying to reduce flooding, build water security, grow food, conserve habitats and species, grow industry, provide livelihoods and employment, and store carbon. Sessions on natural infrastructure ranged from business investing in natural infrastructure to disaster risk reduction interventions, from community scale to city scale, and watershed protection by utilities who recognise the need to protect ‘upstream’, to give everyone enough water ‘downstream’. Sounds simple right?  Yet getting to collective implementation is a challenge.

We were able to sit with our co-authors, UNEP-DHIThe Nature Conservancy (TNC) and World Resources Institute (WRI) to discuss the further development of our Green infrastructure Guide, and were joined byForest Trends and Wetlands International to look at learning and scaling-up our knowledge with others. OurWISE-UP programme is currently looking at how natural infrastructure can support low carbon pathways for...Read more

Submitted by Isabelle Fauconnier on Fri,05/01/2015

By Isabelle Fauconnier, Water Policy and Sustainability Adviser, IUCN Global Water Programme.

As I reflect on the rich sessions of the recent 7th World Water Forum, I feel buoyed by the stimulating challenges that water management offers us but also curious as to how we – the global water community of practice and beyond – will actually tackle these in the coming years. For example, there is now a consensus that water-food-energy ‘Nexus’ thinking and transboundary water cooperation are each good ideas. These are two complex propositions that share a common obstacle: they are not easy to implement. Yet in many shared basins, as we move from policy talk to action on the ground, we must often overlay and take on these two very challenges.

We at IUCN, along with others, have made the case that nature is a solution for water, and not just a competing use for water. Ecosystems, as natural infrastructure, perform vital functions like water storage by forest soils and wetlands, soil nutrient cycling for food production, water purification, and more. In turn, it is healthy ecosystems that provide a key input, water, for the production of food and energy, and for human consumption. So if ecosystem functions are depleted, energy and food production and basic human water needs will suffer considerable losses.

Shutterstock SJ Travel

Healthy river basins – healthy water supplies © Shutterstock SJ Travel

The tricky thing is that because ecosystems don’t follow political boundaries, they are often a shared resource between neighbouring countries. And in both transboundary and national river basins, they are a shared resource among user groups across food, energy and other economic sectors. So what will propel stakeholders – be they countries, basin institutions, user groups,

...Read more


Submitted by guest blogger on Mon,04/27/2015

Lara Nassar of IUCN’s Regional Office for West Asia reflects on the power of networking from her experience at the recent 7th World Water Forum.

To many people in my region, networking is theoretical. It will not lead to action on the ground and more importantly, resources should be put into projects that directly benefit the local community in developing countries. For many years, being from Jordan myself, I thought so too.

During the World Water Forum, I helped staff the IUCN booth (which, if I may add, was amazing). I took great pride in sharing our activities with participants, showcasing our achievements, and explaining our work in West Asia and North Africa. I was able to share A toolkit for increasing climate change resilience in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) with many people, mostly from that region. These professionals were genuinely interested and willing to share it with others. This will help increase awareness about the participatory approach to environmental management that we use in the region to increase local community climate change resilience. But, I still ask myself, is this what networking really means?

At IUCN’s Regional Office for West Asia (ROWA), after two years of working with member organisations and partners under the Regional Knowledge Network on Water (RKNOW), this is no longer a project but an initiative, a strategic vision, a NETWORK.

During one of the forum meetings, ROWA partners and members took turns in voicing their long-term vision for this network. It was very interesting to notice that they saw this as a long-term partnership, a collaborative environmental network which will in turn create change on the ground, that will not end when the project itself expires.

From the past few years with IUCN, I have learned how beneficial networking can be....Read more