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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 it is here, in particular, that the impacts of climate change are immediately evident, especially problems like water shortages in areas affected by drought, or flooding due to heavy rainfall or to rivers overflowing their banks.

There are already around four billion people who are likely to experience severe water shortages for at least one month a year. The special report Global Warming of 1.5°Celsius, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018, confirms that every degree counts. According to the special report, the number of people experiencing additional water shortages due to climate change is likely to double if global temperatures increase by 2 degrees Celsius rather than 1.5. Demand for water could grow by 55 per cent between now and 2050, thereby increasing the pressure on water resources even further. This will affect cities in particular, as they will be missing two thirds of the water that is still available to them today.

At the same time, parts of Central America and Asia are already experiencing extremely heavy rainfall. In many places, the problems – whether they stem from having too much water, or too little, or from the water being polluted – will be made worse by climate change.

However, water resources are themselves also a source of 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 waste water requires vast amounts of energy, too; all of these activities generate substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, supply networks that use energy more efficiently and measures for treating waste water and sewage sludge that are environmentally and climate-friendly can help curb emissions of carbon dioxide and methane to a considerable degree.

Wetlands, too, have a part to play in protecting the climate: it is estimated that the peatlands found around the globe store twice as much carbon as all the world's forests put together. However, they need a constant supply of clean water; and, if they are to remain intact, more must be done to restore and protect them.

Infographic on the topic of "Water and climate"

Melting polar ice and rising sea temperatures

Sea levels are rising constantly. This is because the ice caps at the North and South Poles are melting. At the same time, as a result of global warming, the oceans are becoming warmer, too, causing them to expand more and more. The rising sea levels not only threaten the continued existence of small island states, they also pose a threat to many cities and ecosystems. Areas close to the coast are particularly at risk from the various dangers that result from rising sea levels.

Besides the polar ice caps, glaciers in the mountains, for example in the Andes and the Himalayas, are also at risk of melting as a result of global warming. Melting glaciers have an impact on water resources and how they are used in mountainous areas and lower down. Glaciers often play a crucial role in supplying the local population with water. If these natural reservoirs disappear, then the drinking water supply will be in danger in the long run. Furthermore, infrastructure, cultural heritage, tourism and leisure facilities face a higher risk from natural hazards like mudflows and landslides.

The special reports "Global Warming of 1.5°C", issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018, and "The Ocean and Cryosphere* in a Changing Climate" [*the frozen water part of the earth system], issued in 2019, confirm the far-reaching impacts of melting ice and rising sea levels for people and nature. There are, today, more than 1.3 billion people living in the endangered low-lying coastal zones and mountainous and arctic regions. By 2050, their numbers will be far higher.

Terraced fields in Mali

Water as part of national climate planning

In dealing with the consequences of climate change, many developing countries are focusing specifically on the topic of water: in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for achieving the Paris climate targets, water is the sector most often mentioned in connection with adapting to the impacts of climate change.

If existing water-related risks like droughts or floods become far worse because of climate change, this can cause conflicts in a region. Since 2013, the World Economic Forum has therefore included water risks and the impacts of climate change in the top five most impactful risks listed in its Global Risks Report.

Sustainable, resource-saving water management can help to both limit emissions of greenhouse gases and minimise climate risks. This is something that countries need to incorporate into their NDCs. The German Development Ministry (BMZ) is helping its partner countries to achieve these goals.

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 potential of the water sector for achieving climate goals and to reduce climate-induced water risks. The BMZ's water strategy is supplemented by its Strategy for Interlinkages between Water, the Environment and Climate Change. The strategy for interlinkages establishes the various common factors and conflicting aspects with regard to these three sectors. It also sets out specific options for action for the water sector.

If water is protected and used in a sustainable way, for example by using it more efficiently or by building water reservoirs, then affected regions are in a better position to face the consequences of climate change. At the same time, a water supply that requires less energy and sustainable ways of treating waste water can reduce emissions of harmful greenhouse gases. Protecting wetlands is also a way to contribute to carbon being sequestered rather than being released into the atmosphere.

Water treatment plant in Gaza
German activities

Managing water resources sustainably

One key concern in German development cooperation is ensuring that secure and safe water supplies and sanitation are 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 also taking climate factors into account when planning infrastructure. Other tried and tested solutions for adapting to climate change are making targeted use of reservoirs to even out the increasing fluctuations in the availability of water due to climate change, and green flood protection systems that are planted with a rich diversity of resilient vegetation and capture greenhouse gases.

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 one of the world's most important bilateral donors in the water sector; in Africa it is in fact the biggest donor in this sector. In 2017, almost a quarter of bilateral BMZ investments in adaptation to climate change were in the water sector.

However, 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 resource management

Germany has long been following the principles of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). The idea is that all the different interests are taken into account when considering water use: environmental sustainability, social justice and economic efficiency.

IWRM is also enshrined as a guiding principle in the BMZ water strategy. The rights and interests of the local population are taken into account along with the needs of the local economy. At the same time, care is taken to make sure that ecosystems do not suffer any permanent damage.

For the most part, the BMZ measures do not only address the long-term consequences of climate change. They often help local people to cope with challenges that already exist and that might become even more pressing as a result of climate change. One such example is improving water use in drought-afflicted regions.

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 able to react to the changes caused by climate change. The BMZ particularly supports countries that are highly likely to experience significantly altered patterns of rainfall and temperatures. They include, in particular, countries in North Africa and in the Middle East, but also Burundi, Uganda and Zambia.

Fieldwork in Northern Kenya

The water-energy-food nexus

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

There therefore needs to be a comprehensive approach to ensure that people have sufficient supplies. This means that users within the three sectors – water, energy and agriculture – need to look beyond their own immediate needs. They need to consider the interests and needs of others who likewise depend on these resources in their planning and decision-making. Because, without energy, combine harvesters cannot be operated, without water, no grain will grow.

In the light of this, German development policy is increasingly looking at the interactions or ‘nexus' between the three sectors consisting of water, energy and agriculture. The aim of the German approach is that resources be used as sustainably and sparingly as possible, and in such a way that all people have enough water, food and energy. Reusing treated waste water or using drip irrigation in agriculture, for example, conserves water supplies and helps people adapt to the consequences of climate change.

Drip irrigation on a field in Ethiopia
  • Restoration of the Oracheruvu tank in the Garida cascade system during the pilot phase in the village of Choadavaram, so as to irrigate the surrounding fields
    India: Cooperation in action

    Restoring a traditional reservoir system

    In the south-eastern federal state of Andhra Pradesh in India lies the district of Vizianagaram. Like more than 80 per cent of the local inhabitants, V Gadanna grows rice. Like other farmers he depends on three rivers for the water he needs to irrigate his rice paddies.

  • Using helicopters to detect groundwater in Africa
    Namibia: Cooperation in action

    Natural reservoirs secure water supplies

    Rock formations with cavities are able to distribute and store groundwater. Such aquifers are therefore an almost ideal solution for ensuring a climate-resilient water supply. In south-western Africa, this method is already being used successfully in the Ohangwena II aquifer.

  • View of Cape Town
    South Africa: Cooperation in action

    Cape Town's path to clean water

    Cape Town has been suffering from an acute water crisis for several years now. The BMZ and KfW are helping the city to get clean water. In order to renew and expand the municipal sewage treatment plants, KfW Development Bank is providing 80 million euros.

  • Sustainable farming with a drip irrigation system in Timor-Leste
    Timor-Leste: Cooperation in action

    Irrigation systems as an answer to climate change

    Timor-Leste is repeatedly hit by droughts, which are being made worse by climate change. In Lautem, the local people have now found an answer to the shortened rainy seasons and severe droughts: installing water reservoirs and a solar-powered irrigation system.

  • Because of evaporation and drought, the current drinking water supply is no longer secure.
    Tanzania: Cooperation in action

    Adapting to the consequences of climate change

    In the Simiyu region in northern Tanzania, between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti National Park, there is plenty of water – at least during the rainy season. However, the dry season afterwards is lasting longer and longer.

Restoration of the Oracheruvu tank in the Garida cascade system during the pilot phase in the village of Choadavaram, so as to irrigate the surrounding fields
India: Cooperation in action

Restoring a traditional reservoir system

In the south-eastern federal state of Andhra Pradesh in India lies the district of Vizianagaram. Like more than 80 per cent of the local inhabitants, V Gadanna is a farmer, mainly growing rice. Farmers like Gadanna depend on three major rivers for their water. However, the river basins are at the mercy extreme weather patterns, which could be made worse by climate change. In the past 30 years the area has experienced 18 major floods, eleven cyclones and eight droughts.

As a result of these natural disasters, farmland has been destroyed by landslides and flooding, whilst during the periods when little rain falls the fields dry out. The local inhabitants have been creating reservoirs by erecting clay dykes along the rivers for hundreds of years as a way of storing rainwater for the dry months. Along the Champavathi River more than 3,500 such irrigation tanks have been built in total. They are all connected with one another and thus form a contiguous cascade structure.

However, many of the tanks have been damaged in the wake of natural disasters and have not been repaired. As a result the cascade network has lost a significant portion of its storage capacity.

V Gadanna by the Champavathi River

64,000 workers trained in the renovation of the reservoirs

Since 2016, via a GIZ project, the BMZ has been supporting the efforts of the Government of Andhra Pradesh to restore the traditional cascade structure.

Working with the local governments from 350 villages, the project has used local knowledge and geo-information systems (GIS) to redraw the boundaries of the historic reservoir system. Furthermore, the project has been working with the state-sponsored Mahatma Gandhi Employment Programme, which ensures that rural families are given up to one hundred days of work in a year. In this way, 64,000 women and men have been given the necessary training to renovate the tanks. A first pilot phase has been successfully completed. Now, all 124 cascade structures are to be renewed. In future, the maintenance work will be in the hands of user communities.

For V Gadanna, the restoration of the reservoirs is very beneficial: during the rainy season the reservoirs protect his three fields from flooding. And thanks to the newly increased storage capacity he can now water his fields through the dry season all the way until March, instead of just until December as used to be the case. This means that he can harvest a crop twice a year, because now, in addition to rice, he can also grow maize.

Villagers who have received training so they can restore the water reservoirs
Using helicopters to detect groundwater in Africa
Namibia: Cooperation in action

Natural reservoirs secure water supplies

Rock formations with cavities can distribute groundwater and store it with minimal losses. If used in a sustainable way, these aquifers, as they are called, are therefore a very good solution for providing a climate-resilient water supply. Deep aquifers in which the water moves slowly and which are recharged to a sufficient level by extreme rainfall are especially suitable for this purpose. They distribute the water over great distances and can store it without great loss.

In south-western Africa, this method of supplying water is already being used successfully in the Ohangwena II aquifer. The aquifer stretches across the semi-arid regions of southern Angola and northern Namibia. The Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), acting on behalf of the BMZ, is supporting the Namibian Ministry for Agriculture, Water and Forestry in the exploration and sustainable management of these deep aquifers.

Data from remote sensing, geophysical measuring and drilling confirmed the existence of a huge volume of groundwater. For Namibia a modern observation network has been set up and a national groundwater data bank developed, thus laying the foundation for the modern and sustainable management of the groundwater supply. In cooperation with public water utilities, the first systems to supply drinking water have been built.

The newly discovered groundwater will ease the burden on the existing water supply system, which is showing deficits and which also requires a lot of energy because the water needs to be transported over vast distances. The project is thus already protecting tens of thousands of people in the growth region of northern Namibia from massive water shortages.

The findings from Namibia show that it is still possible to find large volumes of groundwater in many places around the world using these methods. The exploration strategies are therefore an important element in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and enabling global adaptation to climate change.

View of Cape Town
South Africa: Cooperation in action

Cape Town's path to clean water

Cape Town has been suffering from an acute water crisis for several years now. As a result the growing metropolis is struggling to supply its citizens with clean water. Most of the city's 26 urban sewage plants were built more than 50 years ago; the technology they employ is antiquated and they use vast amounts of energy when operating. What is more, they have long since reached the limits of their capacity, not having been designed to serve a rapidly growing metropolis like Cape Town, which now numbers 4.5 million inhabitants.

This is where the KfW project comes in. Acting on behalf of the BMZ, the Development Bank is providing the City of Cape Town with 80 million euros, to be used to renew and enlarge the municipal sewage treatment plants. One focus of the project is on increasing the plants' energy efficiency – in a country that still generates almost 75 per cent of its electricity from coal. These improvements will not only save the municipalities money on operating costs, they will also mean lower greenhouse gas emissions.

In the sewage treatment plants, after the waste water has been purified, sewage sludge is left. This sludge has mostly been stored in open ditches until now. That has impacts for the climate because the uncontrolled decomposition releases methane, one of the most dangerous of all the greenhouse gases. Now proper septic tanks are meant to prevent that. This means that the release of methane in quantities that, in terms of the damage they cause to the environment, would be equal to 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year will now be avoided. That is the same as the amount of emissions made by 6,700 South Africans in one year.

In addition, the modernised plants are now scooping up huge quantities of plastics each day before the waste reaches the sea. They are thus also making an important contribution towards protecting the oceans.

In the medium term, the city on the Cape wants to increase the use of treated waste water, in order to adapt better to the changed climate and the more frequent droughts. After three years of low rainfall, in 2018 the city was on the brink of ending up totally dry. This acute threat shows what a massive impact climate change may have on the population of South Africa.

Compared to pumping up groundwater or desalination, treating waste water is a low-cost, sustainable alternative, especially for agriculture and industry. That increases the importance of improved sewage treatment plants for Cape Town – and for the climate.

Agriculture also benefits from the modernisation of the sewage plants: treated water is to be used for irrigation.
Sustainable farming with a drip irrigation system in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste: Cooperation in action

Irrigation systems as an answer to climate change

Climate change is showing itself in Timor-Leste in the form of shorter rainy seasons and severe droughts. The impact on farming is considerable - with negative consequences for water and food security among local communities. However, three years after droughts made their fields infertile, 15 households in Timor-Leste are once again harvesting crops of maize, water melons and vegetables.

Acting on behalf of the BMZ and the European Union, GIZ is supporting, together with the Government of Timor-Leste, the people of the district of Lautem in their efforts to adapt to climate change. The community is now pinning its hopes on a solar-powered drip irrigation system and on training courses in sustainable farming methods. The innovative irrigation system is the first in the district and enables the farmers to collect up to 60,000 litres of water in newly installed tanks. The water can now be taken without problem from the nearby river and stored long-term. The plan is to increase crop yields and support families affected by drought.

The head of the village, Aderito Morais, says that the new pump will help farmers increase the production of their traditional maize crop. In the past three harvest years the maize crop failed to grow because of droughts. In order to improve food security further, other plants are being tested for their suitability. Morais reports that his village has begun to plant various food plants – including water melons, beans, pumpkins, tomatoes and taro, a root vegetable much loved in the region.

Olinda da Costa, mother of six children, is benefiting from the European-German support: by selling crops grown on her own land, she has managed to earn the equivalent of about 245 euros from a year's harvests. In addition, she is now in a position to harvest food for daily consumption at home and thus support her family.

With this project, the European Union and Germany are not only contributing to water and food security in the face of climate change, they are also improving the energy efficiency of local agriculture. Innovative technologies in the water sector, for example solar pumps and sustainable storage, can help reduce climate-damaging gases and thus achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Because of evaporation and drought, the current drinking water supply is no longer secure.
Tanzania: Cooperation in action

Adapting to the consequences of climate change

In the Simiyu region in northern Tanzania, between Lake Victoria and the Serengeti National Park, there is plenty of water – at least during the rainy season. However, the dry season afterwards is lasting longer and longer.

Due to climate change, the original patterns of rainfall, with two dry seasons and two rainy seasons each year, is changing. Droughts and heavy rainfall are happening more and more frequently. The result is flooding and soil erosion. The Simiyu River, which used to have water flowing in it all year round, now dries up regularly for a longish period. At the same time, more water is evaporating from the soil. As a result, in addition to the missing rain, there is far less surface water available. Less than half the population has secure access to drinking water.

This constitutes a great challenge for farmers, too, as about 80 per cent of them depend on regular rainfall to irrigate their crops. Agriculture is by far the most important source of income for the region. However, the farms do not generate enough income to see the farmers through when the crops fail. With the result that, in recent years, the Simiyu region has regularly depended on food aid. More and more people are deciding to move away.

A project organised by KfW Development Bank is seeking to strengthen the resilience of the areas worst affected by climate change. With funds from Germany and from Tanzania itself plus fundíng from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), KfW has been able to make available a grant of over 170 million euros. This money is to be invested in a sustainable water supply and climate-resilient agriculture – for example, field schools, systems to ensure supplies of animal feed in dry periods and a knowledge platform, via which the local farmers can find out more about possibilities for climate adaptation.

In addition, afforestation measures are being financed. The trees will reduce soil erosion and sequester 767,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Furthermore, sanitation systems are being improved, as the already disadvantaged region currently lacks sanitation for more than 1.4 million people.

The project is the first project that the Green Climate Fund is running in Tanzania and is one of its biggest single investments so far. The project is intended to set an example for others to follow - thus helping to drive forward adaptation to climate change throughout Tanzania.

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, the apples grown in Bolivia's highlands are ripening too quickly, farmers are unable to deliver 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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