Water and climate

German activities

Managing water resources sustainably

Wastewater treatment plant in Gaza

Even with changed climatic conditions, people everywhere should have constant access to a good water supply and sanitation facilities. This is one of the priorities of German development cooperation. To achieve this, it is essential that available water resources are managed sustainably. Societies must also adapt to the effects of climate change and improve how they cope with floods, droughts and fluctuations in the availability of water – for example by improving infrastructure planning and taking possible climate-related factors into account.

Germany has been one of the biggest bilateral donors in the water sector for more than ten years. In 2016 alone, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) provided roughly 456 million euros to support water-related projects and programmes.

It is estimated that the annual costs of adaptation to climate change will be up to 170 billion US dollars. However, this is only if the Paris climate goals are met – otherwise the costs will continue to escalate. Much of the required investment is water-related: it will be needed for infrastructure such as dykes and retention basins, for wells, water channels and water supply systems, and for wastewater pipes and treatment plants. The challenges in the water sector are too big to be met by public funding alone. The German government therefore attaches great importance to cooperation with the private sector as a way of mobilising larger sums of money for investment.

Integrated water resources management

Some time ago Germany adopted the principle of integrated water resources management (IWRM), which is based on a coordinated approach to the different dimensions of water use and the various interests involved: environmental sustainability, social justice and economic efficiency.

IWRM is also enshrined as a guiding principle in the new BMZ water strategy. Both local residents and the local economy are given due consideration, while ecological aspects are not forgotten either.

However, that alone is not sufficient to provide protection against the adverse consequences of climate change. The BMZ is therefore calling for "no-regret" measures: these are measures that assist with adaptation to climate change but also yield benefits even in the absence of climate change, for example because they serve to increase the efficiency of water use. This means that measures for adapting to climate change can be carried out even when there is a degree of uncertainty as to what the exact impacts of climate change will be.

The BMZ also specifically supports countries in their efforts to set up information and analysis systems and develop water-use plans in order to be better equipped for taking climate change into account. For example, it is assisting countries from the Arab League (Middle East and North Africa), Burundi, Uganda and Zambia, all of which are likely to face significant changes in rainfall and temperature in the future.

The water-energy-food nexus

Drip irrigation on a field in Ethiopia

Demand for water, energy and food is set to rise sharply in the coming decades; the pressure on ecosystems will increase. This is largely on account of world population growth, rising living standards and climate change.

Against this backdrop, German development policy is increasingly focusing on the interactions or "nexus" between the closely related sectors of water, energy and agriculture. For without water there can be no agriculture and no energy; and no energy means no groundwater pumps and significantly lower agricultural yields.

The aim of this approach is to use resources as economically as possible and in ways that benefit multiple sectors, so that everyone has access to water, food and energy. For example, the pressure on freshwater resources can be reduced by reusing treated wastewater in agriculture. Using adapted irrigation methods such as drip irrigation has a similar effect. The result is better adaptation to climate change.

BMZ glossary

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