Submitted by guest blogger on Sun,02/01/2015

World Wetlands Day, celebrated 2 February, is an opportunity to highlight some of the many examples of how conserving natural resources can reap tangible benefits for people. Here we revisit a story from journalist Wayne Arnold, writing for IUCN’s Water Programme, describing how changing the way wetlands are managed in southern Laos improved the nutrition of local villagers.

They live in a forested swamp that is submerged by floodwaters for part of the year, eking out an existence on the fish they catch and whatever they can grow or gather. Malaria and malnutrition are rife. To say that the wetland communities of Attapeu province in southernmost Laos are poor would seem an understatement.

 C. Hicks, IUCN Lao PDR

Fishing on Lao wetland. Photo: C. Hicks, IUCN Lao PDR

For government officials back in the capital, the solution to Attapeu’s problems was much the same as their approach for the rest of their impoverished nation: clear the land, fill the swamps and enable the poor to grow and sell rice. But overturning the natural environment in favour of a cash crop like rice can disrupt traditional livelihoods and leave rural communities worse off than they were before.

“People think if they have rice, they’re well off,” said Mark Dubois, a British marine biologist who spent almost three years working on a study of Attapeu’s wetland communities for the Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Programme (MWBP). “But rice doesn’t provide for all the needs that people have nutritionally. It’s not a panacea.”

On the contrary, the flooded forest offers a rich provender if it isn’t overexploited. Yet governments in Laos and elsewhere often tend to overlook the importance of aquatic resources to the rural poor. To

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Submitted by guest blogger on Mon,08/18/2014

By Amita Rajguru of IUCN’s Water Programme.

We are living in a new reality; we are faced with a world where the destabilising effects of climate change are unprecedented in living memory, and the demands on the environment are greater than they have ever been.

In the western world, where household taps flow freely, it’s too convenient to forget that clean drinking water is already a scarce resource in many parts of the world. In the face of both ridiculous wealth and incredible poverty, how can we look past our materialism and solve critical water issues before it’s too late?

The way I see it, we can’t. Materialism has permeated our lives too deeply – we need to embrace it and use it to create positive social change. NGOs used to have a reputation for sitting in research labs and collecting data that would eventually decorate shelves. And the public saw environmental issues as a game of hot potato – always the responsibility of someone with more authority… but not anymore. It’s our responsibility, as the face of conservation, to get people interested and engaged with our work! We need to step up our game and show the world how to achieve all the solutions that our research says will work. And to do that, I propose that we use the crème de la crème of materialism for all it is worth: social media.

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In a world with an attention span of 140 characters or less, I see a road forward which is paved with photos, videos and hashtags. With over 1.8 billion social network users around the world, the best way to be heard is to simply say something, and to say it simply.

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Submitted by James Dalton on Fri,06/27/2014

Flooding is the most common hydrological hazard – with global economic losses from floods averaging US$3 billion a year, predicted to become US$1 trillion a year by 2050. Over the last 100 years they have also been the most fatal disasters, ruining families, communities, and at times, setting back national development and progress.

A recent study suggests that the annual cost of flooding across Europe could become €23.5 billion by 2050. At current prices this represents more than the annual GDP of 93 countries. And in reality, it’s an insurance bill. It is an astounding number given the human, financial, and technical capacity that exists across Europe. Two-thirds of these total costs are due to socio-economic growth – we have as a continent more people living in flood-prone areas, and everyone has more to lose because of higher incomes.

It’s a point echoed by Lord Smith, Chairman of the UK Environment Agency following the devastating floods in the UK this winter and spring. ‘Think about the risk that your property faces’ he said. Not an easy task if you have little choice where you live, but equally it’s a logical question. Ten years ago we bought a house in the UK, but only after my wife, who worked for the Environment Agency at the time, had checked out the online flood risk maps.

The Environment Agency (EA) has come under a lot of pressure in the UK for how it deals with protection from flooding. Critics – understandably those immediately affected, sometimes disastrously – have voiced their anger at the lack of river dredging and protection, a lack of finance available for the EA to ‘do their job’. It has also provided a political platform, with the Environment Secretary and Communities Secretary both venting steam – calling the lack of...Read more

Submitted by guest blogger on Mon,11/25/2013

By James Dalton of IUCN’s Global Water Programme. Version française

A year ago I wrote a blog post on a workshop that we jointly held with the Ramsar Secretariat in partnership with Danone Waters – the bottled water arm of the French multinational. It caught people’s attention, partly because of what we were doing, and partly because of who we were doing it with. We made a commitment at that workshop, with Danone Waters, to follow up on the workshop, and to report back to the participants about corporate changes in water management practices.

Last year’s workshop was designed to jointly review an internal water management tool Danone had developed. We brought together a diverse range of people to help us do this – a remarkable group in their openness and willingness to collaborate beyond ‘expert silos’. This year we re-convened the same group with the company to discuss progress in adopting the recommendations made a year ago.

We saw great change in the work that was presented to us by Danone Waters. The water management tool had been revised based on many of the recommendations made last year. It was one of those moments where you realise that working with the private sector can bring rapid change.

We had also identified the need for policy change within the company on water management. The company had clearly listened to this. We were presented with a draft outline of a new corporate water policy for the Danone Group (soon to be announced). Reviewing the technical nature of the work had clearly helped identify the need to expand groundwater policy into wider overall corporate water policy for the Danone Group.

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Submitted by guest blogger on Mon,11/25/2013

By Jane Lawton, Head of Communications, IUCN Asia.

The word ‘dialogue’ may be somewhat overused in our development lexicon, but the recent meeting of the Mekong Water Dialogues I attended in Siem Reap, Cambodia provided a powerful example of what we really mean by effective dialogue in action.

The meeting brought together national teams from Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam to plan activities for the Mekong Water Dialogues (MWD) project for the year ahead. A project coordinated by IUCN, MWD works on improving water governance in the Mekong Region countries by promoting transparent and inclusive decision-making that will protect water resources while also improving people’s livelihoods and ensuring the health of ecosystems.

I came to the meeting having read all the documents and reports about MWD but with only a vague sense of what the project actually did. That was until the dialogue began.

First to strike me was the wide range of activities, each tailored to the local context, but all working towards common goals. In addition to project-related action around wetland protection and supporting community livelihoods, in all the countries there has been significant progress made toward enacting new legislation that will protect water resources. In Thailand this has been achieved through community meetings – ‘waterlogues’ – that are contributing to recommendations to government. In Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, through more direct interaction with the policy process.

I was also struck by the nature of the project structure, and how MWD is as much about the process of dialogue and sharing information as it is about the outcomes. Each country has a National Working Group (NWG) that includes representatives of government and civil

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Submitted by guest blogger on Wed,11/06/2013

By Juan Carlos Sanchez of IUCN’s Environmental Law Centre.

One of the key messages coming from this year’s World Water Week in Stockholm is that climate change presents an opportunity for transboundary cooperation. After a series of seminars on this topic, there seem to be several arguments that support this.

It is clear that a growing number of eco-regions and countries are experiencing increasing water stress exacerbated by climate change seen by higher variability, intensity and frequency of droughts and floods. In a transboundary situation, the additional pressure on water resources leaves two options.

States can either opt for unilateral action motivated by self-interest and competition over water which can heighten existing regional tensions and may eventually lead to conflict. Or they can see the essential commodity of freshwater as a key ingredient for cooperation.

It’s clear from the discussions at Water Week that transboundary water cooperation in relation to climate change adaptation takes place at various levels. These range from top level, formal discussions between government agencies, with diplomatic relations and treaties framing the terms of engagement, to community engagement in smaller parts of shared river basins.

What we’re finding is that negotiations often get ‘stuck’ at the high level over issues of sovereignty and treaties, when in fact, sharing of water resources is already taking place at the local level. Communities often engage with their neighbours across borders to find solutions to common problems.

Considering that the impacts of climate change are most felt at the local level, it is at this level that we see the importance of community and stakeholder participation. This ensures more effective implementation

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Submitted by Claire Warmenbol on Tue,10/15/2013

As part of the ‘Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions’, I recently attended a workshop in Bogotà, Colombia – the second in a series of three regional workshops, jointly organised by IUCN and theInternational Water Association.

Before I share some thoughts on this event, I should quickly remind you what the ‘Nexus’ is all about. The ‘Nexus’ refers to the intricate link between producing enough food, meeting growing energy needs, and ensuring sufficient water for people…and nature. My colleague Rebecca explains it well in her blog post (understanding the relationship between water energy and food security). Even though a recentGuardian blog rightly criticises the unappetising ‘Nexus’ word, it is nevertheless a useful denominator to summarise the relationships and start tackling the issue.

So, the Bogotà meeting, another workshop you may think? Not so. What sets these Nexus workshops apart is that firstly, participants come from a wide variety of sectors. Hence, no preaching to the choir, but rather a colourful ensemble of participants with different company interests and agendas…but all with the same aspiration: keeping water flowing and healthy.

For example, a river basin manager found himself working out future water scenarios with a hydropower engineer from an electrical company and a farmers’ representative from a grassroots network. Had these people met before? Not necessarily. Yet they face the same issues and seek answers to similar questions: “What ways of operating dams sustain wetland fisheries?”, “What technologies make irrigation more efficient?”, “How are water trade-offs negotiated”, etc.

Secondly, the nexus workshops are more like visionary brainstorm sessions. No long speeches or extensive Powerpoint presentations. The engineer, farmer, corporate manager, basin expert, all work together solving water challenges, and through that, discover the concerns and solutions existing in other sectors, be it agriculture, energy, biodiversity… for...Read more

Submitted by guest blogger on Fri,10/04/2013

By Milika Sobey of IUCN’s Oceania Office.

Last week, I visited Manaoba Island, located in Malaita Province. This was my first visit to rural Solomon Islands since 1988 when I went on a two-week trip to the Western Province to do research in Marovo Lagoon. Little has changed in terms of living standards and access to water and sanitation.

My visit is part of a programme designing process for the Solomon Islands Government. IUCN is working with the United Nationa Development Programme (UNDP) and the Solomon Islands Government to design the water sector adaptation programme to be funded by the Global Environment Facility.

I was accompanied by three local consultants, a representative from UNDP and another from the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification. The trip involved a 30 minute flight to Auki (provincial capital of Malaita), followed by a sea journey of more than three hours in a 23ft fibreglass boat that had a 40hp engine (with no back-up) and carrying nine persons with luggage. Not an ideal situation.

We stayed in Terefalu village, one of four or five villages on the island. There are 26 households and they have one natural well which serves as their source of potable water – it’s a 25-minute walk from the village to the well. The villagers dug three other wells to serve as communal bathing and laundry sites. The beaches serve as toilets for the villagers.

We surveyed the water sources, the existing infrastructure for rainwater harvesting and improvements that could be made for water accessibility and storage. A meeting was convened with the villagers so that we could explain the project and discuss challenges that the potential impacts of climate change would bring about. The provincial Minister for Economic Planning also accompanied us to Terefalu, and after

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Submitted by guest blogger on Wed,09/18/2013

It is much more complicated to manage water than carbon and deserves more effort than simply transferring the same metrics, says James Dalton of IUCN’s Water Programme writing for Guardian Professional.

New business terms and trends come and go. Net positive impact (NPI) is one of these engaging concepts. It’s a relatively simple idea – business impacts on the environment and society need to be positive, to the point that they outweigh the negative impacts. Business should do more to reduce its impact, and not do less by just being reductionist. The question is, does it stand up to scrutiny when we consider water?

Water is our most complicated natural resource and the way business manages it must reflect this. Photo by IUCN Regional Office for West Asia

Imagine a mining company that has to remove forest to access minerals. This would negatively impact biodiversity, carbon storage, some social benefits, possibly cultural impacts, and maybe even hydrology. It would all be at the scale and context of the forest. In its simplest form, to become net positive the company would need to replace more forest than was removed. Equally, it would need to assess what cultural and social impacts had occurred, and how they would be replaced. The logic is there but from the perspective of water the mechanism of NPI has to think differently.

Pepsi in India claims to be net positive across its manufacturing sites – meaning the volume of water that goes into bottles of Pepsi. But it does not include the water footprint of its feedstock to make Pepsi – where 98% of the water is required. This means that it is net positive for around 2% of the water it takes to produce each

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Submitted by guest blogger on Mon,09/09/2013

By James Dalton of IUCN’s Water Programme, attending World Water Week.

This year’s annual World Water Week was a challenge of schedules. With more to say and with us involved in many sessions we tag-teamed presentations, speaking slots, panels and facilitation.

The week focussed on Water Cooperation – Building Partnerships, and our BRIDGE project was in full flow with our regional colleagues from Mesoamerica, Asia, and the Environmental Law Centre heavily involved. The ‘nexus’ was the word on many people’s lips as the water community struggles to work in this complex space of trade-offs between different sectoral needs and economic drivers.

For me, one of the most interesting sessions was on environmental flows. An environmental flow is the water provided within a river, wetland or coastal zone to maintain ecosystems and their benefits. The water needs of the ecosystems need to be specifically allocated to them, especially when there are competing users of the water, such as when a dam controls river flows upstream. We have just launched a new briefing on Environmental Flows: Managing Water Allocation and Trade-Offs.
Photo by Claire Warmenbol

There is always a session on eflows at the Water Week. This year we and a wide range of partners worked hard to make the session different. The feeling after the session was that we hit the nail on the head. A series of presentations pulled and pushed the concept of environmental flows around – and the full capacity audience then joined a number of discussions focussed on making eflows operational.

An inspiring presentation from Dipak Gyawali, former Minister of Water Resources for Nepal, and a member of our Nexus Reference Group, stirred the

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