Bring Water Into Climate Change Negotiations

Published on PEJ news, by PEJ correspondent, August 5, 2010.

Longer periods of drought, decreased river flow, higher rainfall variability and lower soil moisture content: water is at the heart of the impacts of climate change. Yet the precious commodity scarcely features in climate negotiations. Three hundred million Africans lack access to clean water; 500 million lack access to proper sanitation, according to Bai-Mass Taal, Executive Secretary from the African Ministers’ Council on Water.

“Lack of water security will be exacerbated by climate change, which directly threatens food security,” says Dr Ania Grobicki, head of the Global Water Partnership (GWP) Yet there is no focus on water in climate change negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “There is no United Nations agency for water, and there’s no international convention regulating water resource management and there is no water focus under the UNFCCC,” says Grobicki. “Water also evaporated from the text of the Copenhagen Accord” … //  

… Burkina Faso, where 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture for a living, has invested in the construction of more than 1,500 small dams since 1998. These reservoirs – built at relatively low-cost, often with local communities contributing labour to their construction – are a vital protection against drought.

Most African agriculture is rain-fed, says Grobicki. “As climate variability increases and temperatures rise, water security drops radically. Dams ensure water is available throughout the year.”

The scale and operation of water infrastructure needs to be carefully planned. “Using water from the river for irrigation might benefit a farming community, but it could have damaging effects downstream. That’s why it is important to have shared decision-making. In this process there will be trade-offs, but also shared benefits,” she says.

Other adaptation measures include shifting to more drought-resistant crops and the use of satellite imaging to reveal moisture content of soil and guide farmers’ irrigation efforts: pilot projects in several countries already send out such information via text messages to farmers’ phones.

Water-saving technologies can further maximise the benefits of these strategies. “Drip irrigation offers huge potential for saving water in rural areas, while remote sensing can be used to inform farmers about the moisture content of the soil so they know how much water they need to use to grow their crops,” says Grobicki.

Drip irrigation is a highly efficient means of watering crops and applying fertiliser via tubing spread throughout the field.

In Zimbabwe and Malawi, smallholder farmers are coping with drought with simple drip systems consisting of a couple of large plastic containers on a raised platform, and 100-odd metres of plastic tubes delivering the water to vegetable gardens … (full long text).

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