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Water and climate

The Ngomeni rock water catchment dam in Mwingi district, Kenya, which serves hundreds of households is drying up for the first time in years, according to residents.

Water is life – and, for people, animals, plants, and for every kind of societal and economic development, it is absolutely essential. Yet water in particular is a sector where the impacts of climate change are immediately evident, especially impacts like water shortages in areas affected by drought or flooding due to heavy rainfall.

There are already around four billion people who do not have enough water to sustain life for at least one month of the year. Demand for water could grow by 55 per cent between now and 2050, thereby increasing the pressure on water resources still further. Cities in particular will be affected by this, since it is estimated that they will then have two thirds less water at their disposal than they have today.

Countries like Viet Nam and Bangladesh, on the other hand, regularly have to contend with floods, and parts of Central America and Asia suffer from very heavy rainfall. Existing problems – whether the difficulty is too much water, or too little, or that the water is polluted – will be further exacerbated by climate change. Experts assume that, in many places, extreme weather conditions such as droughts or heavy rainfall will become more frequent and be more severe than they have been hitherto.

Infographic on the topic of "Water and climate"

Melting polar ice and rising sea temperatures

The polar ice caps are melting; and sea temperatures are rising, causing the volume of water in the oceans to expand. The result of these two developments is a rise in sea levels, threatening the existence of small islands in particular.

In some mountainous areas, for example in the Andes and in the Himalayas, glacier ice is melting. The disappearing glaciers in these regions may pose a long-term threat to water supplies.

Added to this, in some parts the frequency and the intensity of heavy rainfall and flooding have risen – these two weather-related events are the cause of half of all the natural disasters worldwide.

It is mostly poor people who are the worst hit by the impacts of these events. They frequently live in very high-risk locations, on steep slopes, along river banks or in areas that are vulnerable to drought. Furthermore, they are often unable to recover quickly and fully from the destruction wrought by natural disasters.

Terraced fields in Mali

Water and Nationally Determined Contributions

In the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of the Paris climate agreement, the sector most often given the highest priority in adaptation targets is the water sector. Since 2013, the World Economic Forum has included water risks and the impacts of climate change in the top five most impactful risks listed in its Global Risks Report. This shows the importance of taking climate change into account when considering issues around water supply in the future.

However, it is not only the consequences of climate change that are especially evident in relation to water; the water sector also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. A great deal of energy is needed to make water safe for drinking and pipe supplies to where they are needed; treating wastewater requires vast amounts of energy too; all of these activities generate greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, inadequate or non-existent wastewater management causes methane gas and nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to be released into the atmosphere; both of which are extremely harmful to the climate.

 

Construction of bank reinforcement on Mayur River in city of Khulna in southwest Bangladesh

The BMZ's water strategy

One of the aims of the BMZ's water strategy is to make even greater use of the high potential of the water sector for achieving climate goals and to reduce climate-induced water risks. Suitable adaptation measures in this regard are, for example, the protection and sustainable management of water resources, for instance by increasing the efficiency of their use, or by expanding natural and technical water storage capacities. Furthermore, greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by enhancing energy efficiency on the supply side and using sustainable methods to treat wastewater.

The BMZ Strategy for Interlinkages between Water, the Environment and Climate Change supplements the Ministry’s water strategy, establishing and highlighting both the common factors and the conflicting aspects with regard to these three topical areas.

Water treatment plant in Gaza
German activities

Managing water resources sustainably

One key concern in German development cooperation is ensuring that a good standard of water supply and sanitation is permanently available for all people, despite changed climatic conditions. This requires water resources to be managed in a sustainable way.

Societies must also adapt to the effects of climate change and find better ways of coping with floods, droughts and fluctuations in the availability of water – for example by improving infrastructure planning and taking possible climate-related factors into account. The targeted use of reservoirs to even out the increasing fluctuations in the availability of water due to climate change, and green flood protection systems planted with a rich diversity of resilient vegetation are tried and tested solutions for adapting to climate change.

Each year Germany spends an average of 400 to 450 million euros on development cooperation projects in the water sector. This makes the Federal Republic of Germany one of the most important bilateral donors in this sector, and the biggest donor in Africa. In 2016, more than one third of bilateral BMZ funding for adaptation to climate change was invested in the water sector.

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 also seeks to engage in cooperation with the private sector in order to mobilise larger sums of money for investment.

Integrated water resource management

Germany has taken integrated water resource management (IWRM) as a central guiding principle for some time now. This entails 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 therefore supports "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 is a way to push on with adaptation even when there is a degree of uncertainty as to what the exact impacts of climate change will be.

The BMZ also specifically supports partner countries in their efforts to set up information and analysis systems and develop water-use plans in order to be better equipped for taking the changes caused by climate change into account. This is happening, for example, in countries in northern Africa and in the Middle East, and also in Burundi, Uganda and Zambia, all of which are very likely to experience significant changes in rainfall patterns and temperatures.

Fieldwork in Northern Kenya

The water-energy-food nexus

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

In order to create sustainable total solutions, an integrated approach to supply security is needed. This means that user groups in the three sectors, namely water, energy and agriculture, must look beyond their respective areas and include the interests of other resource-users in their planning.

In the light of this, German development policy is increasing its focus on the interactions or 'nexus' between the three closely related sectors of water, energy and agriculture. For without water there can be no agriculture and no energy; without energy there can be no groundwater pumps and agricultural yields will fall markedly.

The aim of the German approach is to use resources as sparingly as possible and for the benefit of multiple sectors, so that everyone has access to sufficient quantities of 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. These kinds of measures increase the ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Drip irrigation on a field in Ethiopia
  • Joint planning workshop with a local women’s association to discuss sustainable water management in the oasis
    Morocco: Cooperation in action

    Managing water supply in a sustainable way, avoiding rural exodus

    It is already very dry in the region around the Tidrhest Oasis near Ouarzazate, with little rain falling at very irregular intervals. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reckons that rainfall in the region will carry on decreasing up until the end of the century.

  • Teaching technicians how to sample wastewater in Guatemala
    Guatemala: Cooperation in action

    Sustainable water management

    Access to enough water of a decent quality is a human right. The availability of drinking water has a direct influence on poverty, malnutrition and child mortality. There is in fact enough water in Guatemala. The country gets on average four times as much rain as Germany.

  • Wastewater treatment plant in Madaba, Jordan
    Jordan: Cooperation in action

    Finding alternatives, boosting efficiency

    The rapid economic growth and swiftly expanding populations of past decades have had an adverse impact on water resources in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. These problems are particularly acute in Jordan, one of the world's most arid countries.

Joint planning workshop with a local women’s association to discuss sustainable water management in the oasis
Morocco: Cooperation in action

Managing water supply in a sustainable way, avoiding climate-induced rural exodus

It is already very dry in the region around the Tidrhest Oasis near Ouarzazate, with little rain falling at very irregular intervals. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reckons that rainfall in the region will carry on decreasing up until the end of the century.

The lack of available water is gradually depriving local small farmers of the means to make a living. Since the 1990s, about 70 per cent of the local villagers have moved away. Nevertheless, just recently the number of young people wanting to return to their village and start farming in the oasis again has been growing. That is why the BMZ, together with two engineering bureaus, is supporting a village initiative for sustainable water management under the umbrella of the Ministry's develoPPP.de programme.

Using a combination of traditional techniques and innovative rainwater management and soil protection measures, project workers and villagers have come together to repair irrigation canals, set up micro watersheds and build water tanks. Furthermore, micro-dams have been established in the dried-up river valleys so as to reduce soil erosion and improve water storage. The local population has been given targeted training and has been actively included in the planning, construction, operation and maintenance of the protective infrastructure. This is helping the village to compensate for the increasing fluctuations in the availability of water and be able to get through up to two years of drought.

The commitment of the local people, and their own efforts coupled with a small amount of external expertise and support have given back economic prospects to the oasis and its roughly 1,000 inhabitants. The availability of water is higher altogether, which means that harvests are also increasing. Harvests and the processing of agricultural products are secured, thereby creating income and jobs.

Adapting to the impacts of climate change and thereby improving one's own life prospects will be important in the future, especially in remote, rural regions in Morocco. That is why Morocco has made alternative strategies for water management a key pillar in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).

Teaching technicians how to sample wastewater in Guatemala
Guatemala: Cooperation in action

Adaptation to climate change through sustainable water management

Access to enough water of a decent quality is a human right. The availability of drinking water has a direct influence on poverty, malnutrition and child mortality. There is in fact enough water in Guatemala. The country gets on average four times as much rain as Germany.

However, whilst in Germany it rains at relatively equal intervals throughout the year, the people in the arid zone of Guatemala must try to get by with little or no rainfall from November to the beginning of May. That is when the first rain starts to fall on the parched earth. Due to climate change, it is likely that periods of drought and heavy rainfall will increase over the next few decades.

Because the rain is so heavy, the soil is unable to absorb the volume that falls. The forests that normally catch and hold the rain so that it can gradually seep into the ground have been heavily decimated by decades of deforestation. The result is that the rainwater flows away across the surface and the groundwater reservoirs are not replenished. At the same time, demand for water is rising because the population is continuously growing, and in the agricultural sector more and more water is needed for the production and export of food crops such as coffee and vegetables.

More people and less rain means less water for drinking and for agricultural development – this all means that more economical and more efficient use of this vital resource is required. That is why there needs to be a holistic approach to managing water catchment areas. German development cooperation experts, working with eight Guatemalan communities, have drawn up integrated land use plans with the aim of setting up water conservation areas and replanting areas of land that have been deforested.

Experts from the Technical University of Dresden have helped the local people set up simple percolation systems, so that the ground is better able to absorb the rainwater. This means that the natural groundwater reservoirs can be replenished and are available to be used when there is a drought. In addition, systems are being set up to collect rainwater. Filter systems ensure that this water is also suitable for drinking.

The German development cooperation experts have worked with three pilot communities to draw up water supply and disposal plans. These plans will help the communities meet the various requirements in the water sector – from disinfecting drinking water to treating wastewater. In addition, technicians are receiving training.

Wastewater treatment plant in Madaba, Jordan
Jordan: Cooperation in action

Finding alternatives, boosting efficiency

The rapid economic growth and swiftly expanding populations of past decades have had an adverse impact on water resources in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. These problems are particularly acute in Jordan, one of the world's most arid countries. The refugees from Syria and the impacts of climate change are placing added pressure on water resources in Jordan.

Agriculture uses up well over half of the country's available water. German development cooperation therefore involves advising Jordan on reducing water losses and encouraging farmers to use alternative sources of water. One such alternative is to use treated wastewater. Today Jordan's farmers use treated wastewater to meet more than one fifth of their needs – and the amount is growing. Jordan wants to double this figure over the next few years. This is easing the pressure on the country's overburdened freshwater reserves and improving water supplies for almost 700,000 people.

Suppliers of drinking water are also being helped to make their operations more effective and more efficient. This is reducing water losses and promoting more efficient resource management. Campaigns and initiatives in schools and mosques encourage more careful use of water. Germany is also supporting training for water sector staff and the establishment of pilot facilities for improved wastewater management.

Germany is helping Jordan improve energy efficiency in the water sector: the Jordanian water sector is the country's largest user of power, accounting for roughly 15 per cent of electricity consumption. Modernised pumping stations in selected districts have already reduced energy consumption there by one third. There are plans for these methods to be adopted by the entire country.

Videos on "Water and climate"

Bolivia

Climate change – melting glaciers in Bolivia

The glaciers of Bolivia are melting. Once they have disappeared, the people living below the glaciers will no longer have drinking water, and their yields will decrease. (Video in German)

Bolivia

Climate change and the Bolivian apple harvest

As a result of climate change, apples in Bolivia's highlands ripen too quickly and farmers cannot ship them at the right time. Then again, a cold spell may hit all of a sudden and destroy the entire crop. (Video in German)

Bangladesh

Living with climate change

Germany is supporting Bangladesh in mitigating the consequences of climate change, for example by building bridges, dams and embankments. (Video in German)

Water and climate

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