USAID Impact Photo Credit: USAID and Partners

Archives for Water and Sanitation

Photo of the Week: Pumping Water to Urban Nigeria

Three young boys look to be having some fun while they use a public standpipe in Bauchi town, Nigeria. This is one of the sites where town residents retrieve water since few have water taps at their homes. In December 2011, USAID’s Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa project signed an agreement with town officials to help them expand and improve services to residents. Demand for water in urban areas like Bauchi exceeds 200,000 cubic meters per day—nearly four times the volume the town’s water utility is currently able to pump to its customers. Photo is from Emily Mutai, SUWASA.

Read the recently released FrontLines issue to learn how USAID is working to provide safe water to the millions who live without this vital resource, and how unique approaches to wipe out neglected tropical diseases are faring.

In Tajikistan, Little Drops Make the River

This originally appeared on FrontLines.

In Tajikistan, there is a familiar proverb: “In every drop of water, there is a grain of gold.” Water is the most precious resource in this mountainous, landlocked nation that is slightly smaller than Wisconsin.

More than 70 years of Soviet industrialization depleted water resources; moreover, many of the collective farms that maintained irrigation systems were dissolved 20 years ago and water systems have fallen into disrepair. For villages that have water, it is often contaminated. About half of all Tajik rural households do not have access to safe, potable water. In many instances, polluted irrigation water is the only source of water for household use.

School children in Khatlon enjoy their first taste of drinking water outside their school. Photo credit: USAID

According to the World Health Organization, waterborne diseases in Tajikistan account for 60 percent of gastroenteritic disorders such as diarrhea, dysentery, cholera and typhoid. Repeated illnesses linked to poor quality water not only keep children out of school and contribute to poor health outcomes, including stunted growth, but it is estimated that, in recent years, one in six deaths among children under age 5 in Tajikistan were linked to waterborne diseases.

Previous local efforts to build or maintain water systems were unsuccessful due to a cumbersome legal framework, lack of clarity over management responsibilities and lack of funding. Operators of small water systems often did not have training, and local residents had low awareness of the dangers of waterborne illnesses.

But, as communities begin to understand the value of steady access to clean water, they are coming together with USAID and other partners to install and maintain pipe networks. These new networks, often co-funded by local communities and built by local citizens, are proving sustainable in ways that earlier networks never were.

A Holistic Approach

USAID recognized that any solution would have to be multi-faceted and cross multiple technical sectors. To be successful, the safe drinking water program would need to build the skills of engineers, increase community awareness on water and health, and partner with local governments to democratically maintain the water systems. In addition, through Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s flagship food security initiative, USAID is partnering with local government officials in their efforts to increase the role and effectiveness of community-based water users’ associations and increase household consumption of nutritious food.

Jamoliddin Gulomov, chairman of Novobod Township, was eager to partner with USAID. His village in the southern province of Khatlon has never had access to clean water. Residents relied on the river, but the high price of fuel kept most people from boiling water before using it. USAID trained township specialists to maintain and repair the pipe network. The project also trained local peer educators to teach residents about health and hygiene practices. Finally, to ensure that the system was financially sound and sustainable, the Agency provided technical assistance and training to the local government to develop a transparent scheme for user fees.

Community members spoke up at local government meetings to set user fees, dug the pipeline, installed the pump station and, finally, celebrated the opening of the new system.

In addition to reporting a dramatic decline in the incidence of gastroenteritic diseases, Gulomov said, “We now have proven that the local government and citizens can cooperate to make life better for everyone.”

A Focus on Sustainability

Gulomov’s experience mirrors that of other communities involved in this project. Priority areas for this program were those that had received the least donor assistance and that had the worst health indicators. Local townships applied and were selected based partly on their capacity to sustain the improvements.

USAID partnered with a local university to train engineers in maintaining the new water systems. Students received internships to practice their engineering skills. Communities formed water, sanitation and hygiene committees to create a community health index report of baseline data and develop community health action plans based on the results.

Over the past three years, USAID has invested more than $1.7 million in improving 57 drinking water systems that provide access to clean drinking water to 150,000 people in Tajikistan…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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Outcomes are Nice, But What About Measuring Them?

This originally appeared on Agrilinks.

This post, written by Alain Vidal, is cross-posted from the CGIAR Agriculture and Ecosystems Blog and the Challenge Program on Water and Food’s (CPWF) Director’s Blog.

This week we are publishing thirteen CPWF outcome stories. Just a few days after the groundbreaking ceremony of the CGIAR Headquarters in Montpellier, where French authorities were told how the new CGIAR was “big, bold and beautiful,” these outcome stories may look small, even tiny. “Islands of success” in the middle of an ambitious “ocean of change.”

What we in CPWF have learnt over the last ten years is that it is not so easy to “get people to do things differently.”  We cannot just provide ‘evidence.’ Science lays the foundation by providing deeper understanding of the problems, better ways to target interventions or new solutions (also called “innovations,” “interventions,” “strategies” or “alternatives”).  But in order to influence stakeholder behavior and achieve outcomes we need to go one step further and engage stakeholders in the process of research itself. It is through their own learning processes that people begin to change or alter how they make decisions.

But let’s consider them more carefully, because outcomes – the new paradigm for the whole CGIAR, which our program was entrusted to test at its creation ten years ago – come in all shapes and sizes. Indeed, outcomes can be defined as changes in stakeholders’ behaviors through shifts in their practice, investments or decision-making processes. They are more about change than about size.

Cambodian woman and man with irrigation drip-kits. Photo credit: WLE

For instance, in Cambodia, the story of drip irrigation farming linked to market opportunities demonstrates how improved water efficiency, primarily in the form of irrigation drip-kits, resulted in water savings, lower labor requirements and improved yields. Income of the target farmers more than doubled.

Another outcome, related to benefit sharing mechanisms in the Rio Ubate / Fuquene lake watershed in Colombia, shows how different stakeholders changed their attitudes towards one another. Combining conservation agriculture with Payment for Environmental Services, partners set up a revolving fund program managed by farmers’ associations. The fund provided smallholder farmers with credit to make an initial investment in conservation agriculture. So far, 100% of the first round of loans have been recovered. From 2006 to 2009, more than 180 hectares of land were brought under conservation agriculture, which in turn increased farmers income by 17%.

These outcomes are not the end of the road. In both instances, the initiatives further innovated and led to new outcomes. In Cambodia IDE is continuing to improve service delivery and diversify markets. The work in Colombia has continued under the guidance of CIAT in the Andes.

The main lesson that we have learned is that outcomes take time to generate, are iterative and not linear. There are not magic bullet solutions in getting to outcomes.

Over the coming months CPWF will be capitalizing on its ten-year research for development experience. Identifying ways to achieve ‘islands of success’, in all their shapes and sizes, is just one way CPWF can contribute to CGIAR’s envisioned ‘ocean of change.’  In its quest to reach millions, CGIAR must focus on the essentials: working through partnershipsengaging with development actors, building trust and listening to the problems at hand rather than just identifying big science-based solutions. What other lessons can we offer to help contribute to this change?

Read the outcome stories…

Learn more about what USAID is doing to meet CGIAR objectives.

Water from a Stone: Jordanians Stretch Meager Resources to Sustain Syrian Refugees

This originally appeared on FrontLines

Zaatari village lies just south of Jordan’s border with Syria, where small villages are interspersed with livestock, olive farms, dairies and food factories. In 2009, Ahmed Al Khaldi received a $1,700, USAID-funded revolving loan from his village cooperative to install a 30-cubic-meter cistern to store rainwater harvested off his roof. The 51-year-old retired police officer knew it would give his family peace of mind during recurring periods of water scarcity.

Jordan is among the driest countries in the world. Rapid population growth has reduced the amount of fresh water available to the average Jordanian to less than 158 cubic meters per year—10 times less than the average U.S. citizen consumes. The renewable water supply—the water that is replenished each year by rainfall—only meets about half of total water consumption.  The rest of the water used in Jordan comes primarily from aquifers that are slowly being depleted; alternative sources such as desalination are very expensive.

Girls in Jerash pose in front of their school’s storage tank that is painted to look like an aquarium. Photo credit: Alysia Mueller

As is typical across the country, municipal water was delivered infrequently in Zaatari. If the storage tank ran out, the Al Khaldi family had to buy expensive truckloads of water from local businessmen. “With the cistern, I feel secure. Every time I need water, I just pump it from the cistern,” he says. “We can even share with neighbors if they run out of water.”

The cistern does not meet all the water needs of the Al Khaldi family. But it does provide important support for three generations of Al Khaldi’s immediate family—15 members in all—living under one roof.

Al Khaldi also couldn’t imagine that this cistern would eventually help him throw a lifeline to relatives living hundreds of kilometers away in Homs, Syria. Like many Jordanians in the north, his tribe lives on both sides of the border. In 2011, his Syrian cousin, Ahmad Swaidan, fled to Jordan with his wife and five children and his brother’s five children. “The shelling threatened our lives daily,” Swaidan says.

Like 200 other families in Zaatari, the Al Khaldis took in their Syrian relatives, housing them in an adjacent family property. By local estimates, the village’s Jordanian population of 8,000 had absorbed 2,000 Syrian refugees by November 2012. Al Khaldi says “it’s not easy” to support an additional 12 people on his monthly pension of $500 and the modest army salaries of his three sons—two of them married. “But we share,” he says…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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A New Life for Goma’s Water System

This originally appeared on FrontLines.

Overhaul of dilapidated infrastructure means a lasting source of water comes to hundreds of thousands of DRC’s most vulnerable.

In the shadow of Africa’s most active volcano, Mount Nyiragongo, the shore of Lake Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) bustles with crowds each day. From dawn until dusk, hundreds of people—from as young as 5 to the elderly—come to the lake with dusty yellow plastic jerry cans to fill with as much water as they can carry.

Though the water is dangerous— risking cholera and other water-borne diseases—many families living in the nearby city of Goma have few alternatives for drinking, washing and cooking.

Goma’s dilapidated water system—already leaking, inadequate and badly damaged by lava flow when Nyiragongo erupted in 2002—simply can’t provide enough water for the city’s inhabitants. This is compounded by the more than 60,000 people who have been displaced when rebel forces took over the city for a short time in November 2012. Many travel for more than three hours to collect just one container of this untreated water, leaving little time for adults to earn income or for children to attend school.

Siya Marguerite’s children. Photo credit: Mercy Corps

“Here, there is no water, there are no rivers, so we all suffer,”  said Siya Marguerite, a mother of five children. “My children are growing up in conditions much worse than I had at their age. It really pains my heart to see and I am worried for our lives.” Marguerite settled in Goma after fleeing violence that plagues rural eastern Congo.

Here disease is closely linked to water quality. A 2008 survey of Goma inhabitants found that the incidence of diarrhea in children under age 5 was 22 percent. Although a 2010 government survey indicated that nearly two-thirds of urban areas have access to clean water, estimates for Goma are at best, 40 percent. Cholera outbreaks are a regular occurrence.

USAID, in partnership with Mercy Corps and other donors, is close to providing a lasting solution to the city’s water problem for disadvantaged families. In time for World Water Day on March 22, USAID and Mercy Corps completed the first and most significant phase of work rehabilitating, improving and massively extending the city’s water system, bringing safe water to the doorsteps of more than 250,000 people in Goma, nearly a quarter of the estimated population of the city…[continued]

Read the rest of the article on FrontLines.

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FrontLines Releases March/April 2013 Issue

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn how the Agency is working to provide safe water to the millions who live without this vital resource, and how unique approaches to wipe out neglected tropical diseases are faring. Some highlights:

Three young boys having some fun while they use a public standpipe in Bauchi town, Nigeria. This is one of the sites where town residents retrieve water since few have water taps at their homes. In December 2011, USAID’s Sustainable Water and Sanitation in Africa project signed an agreement with town officials to help them expand and improve services to residents. Photo credit: Emily Mutai, SUWASA

  • When a family of 12 fled violence in Syria, the Jordanian relative who took them in was not too concerned about providing everyone with adequate water – a scarce resource in this region of the world – thanks to a USAID project that helped build cisterns to harvest and store rainwater.
  • water ATM? Similar technology that meters public water sources is a welcome development for some urban Kenyans who would otherwise face the high cost and inconvenience of procuring water for cooking, washing, cleaning and everything else.
  • Cambodia is enlisting a variety of players – including school children – on its mission to wipe out snail fever, an infection that can lead to debilitating illness, and, in children, malnutrition and cognitive difficulties.
  • Delivering medications efficiently could stomp out two debilitating diseases endemic to Haiti; wearing new sneakers kicks up that protection even more by creating a barrier between parasites and kids’ feet.
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Water Projects as part of the Middle East Regional Cooperation Program (Part 4)

Note: This is the fourth post in a 4-part series. Read part onepart two and part three.

USAID’s Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Program promotes cooperation between the Arab and Israeli scientific communities through joint research projects addressing common development problems. The program was established in 1981 to facilitate research cooperation between Egyptian and Israeli scientists, and was subsequently expanded to include Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and the West Bank and Gaza.

Today, active projects involve more than 400 Arab and Israeli scientists, engineers, students and technicians at 50 institutions in seven Middle Eastern countries.  New project proposals which seek out sustainable solutions to regional development challenges are accepted every year. Working together, these scientists have led innovation in agriculture, environment, water resources and health.

A Moroccan farmer makes use of a USAID SMS advisory service to plan irrigation for his crops. Photo credit: USAID

Given the region’s water shortages and the regional nature of water challenges, the water sector is an important component of MERC’s research portfolio.  Because agriculture consumes a large amount of the region’s freshwater resources, MERC projects seek to increase the use of treated wastewater as appropriate in agriculture, minimize water demand in existing crops, and identify new crop varieties that are resistant to drought and salinity.

For example, MERC programs explore the use of wetlands and membrane-based filters for the effective and efficient re-use of reclaimed water in agriculture. Its programs model crops’ abilities to make use of low-quality water, seek the optimal amount of water plants need, and develop protocols for the safe and effective use of reclaimed water. They identify and optimize high-value traditional and specialty crops suitable to arid climates and saline soils, such as potato varieties adapted to saline soils and water, and virus-resistant tomato lines.

As do USAID’s other water projects around the region, MERC’s water portfolio makes use of cutting-edge science, technology and innovation in improving the impact and sustainability of its initiatives.  One new project, for example, brings together Israeli and Palestinian scientists to look at the interaction between coastal aquifers and the Mediterranean under changing conditions. The scientists are developing empirical, quantitative estimates of seawater intrusion and freshwater outflow along the coast in and near Gaza. They will subsequently provide policy makers with recommendations about how best to manage these aquifers.

The re-use of wastewater is a growing practice in the region. Another MERC project studies the hormonal health hazards related to this re-use, the effectiveness of new wastewater treatment plants in removing hormonal pollutants, and the cost-effectiveness of new treatment alternatives. Project leader Alon Tal from Ben-Gurion University, who works with Israeli and Palestinian scientists from Bethlehem University and other groups to implement the project, commented, “I think this is going to take to the next level what we know about streams.”

Today, at a time of rapid change in the Arab world, MERC continues to bring together Arab and Israeli scientists and students to create and share solutions to regional development challenges like water while promoting a peaceful exchange between neighbors.

Read other blog posts in this series:

Greener Pastures in Crimea’s Future

For those of us who have always had it, access to clean water is something that is all too easy to take for granted. We turn on the tap, cook and bathe, and water our lawns and gardens, without ever thinking of the complexities that bring us our clean water.  Others must constantly think about clean water because they have never had access to piped-in clean water in their homes, and have always made do by carrying water from the local well.

In the former Soviet Union, some communities once had access to clean water, but are now suffering the effects of crumbling infrastructure and increasing water demands. Nowhere is this more true than in the small communities scattered across Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

USAID will utilize the existing Soviet-era pump facility (background) in Pervimaysky to irrigate farm fields for a rural community of 300 persons. Photo credit: Jason Gilpin, USAID

Crimea is an attractive region, with a wide variety of ecosystems, rainfall, sunshine, land use and people. For two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, I lived in Sevastopol, a city located on the peninsula’s south-western tip, and often traveled throught small villages and towns in Crimea where Ukrainian NGO colleagues and other volunteers were based. I saw firsthand how many people in rural Crimea go days or even weeks without water, particularly in summer. In many villages, the public water system operates for one or two hours a day only on a few days a week. Even quick showers are a luxury and residents use the brief time the water system is functioning to quickly fill up as many empty plastic containers as possible in order to live through the dry period. Bottled water is expensive for the average Crimean villager, whose monthly income rarely exceeds $200. Crimea is also growing as a tourism destination, further burdening  the overwhelmed public water system during the summer season.

The problem with poor water availability isn’t caused by a lack of water in the region. While Crimea is a fairly dry place, averaging just over 15 inches of precipitation annually, there are ample sources of underground  water and Dnipro river tributary water provided by aqueducts from the north. The challenge is transporting enough water from aquifers and aqueducts to households in order to satisfy seasonal demand during the periods of increased use. This is particularly true in spring and summer when people use this water to irrigate backyard cash crops, which are critical to supplementing rural residents’ annual income.

The USAID Project “Partnership for Sustainable Water Supply for Agriculture Development in Crimea (SWaSAD)” launched in July 2012 by our Ukrainian partner, Agrarian Markets Development Institute, is successfully demonstrating that with transparent planning, modest investment and strong community support, infrastructure improvements can be made that will bring reliable water service to residents in small communities in Crimea. The Project includes demonstration projects in three districts in Crimea: Saki, Pervimaysky and Razdolnensky.

I joined my colleagues from USAID in late February in visiting the communities selected for partnership on this project. In Saki, we heard from the project’s major stakeholders. A local farmer remarked that this project was “very important” in improving crop yields and local income, and that locals were “enthusiastic” about the prospect of reliable water in their communities.

In many ways, the objectives are simple: most of the project sites involve simply connecting the existing water sources, such as the water in a canal with homes along the streets in the villages, using simple irrigation pipes and pumps, so that people can irrigate their backyard cash crops with non-potable canal water without burdening the community’s drinking water system.

One of the project sites plans a broader-based agricultural application on large, communally-owned plots of land. The site we visited in Pervimaysky would restore the function of Soviet-era water infrastructure to irrigate fields farmed by 30 families. This, in turn, would support 300 beneficiaries in the nearby village, providing much-needed employment opportunities and increased economic activity for local businesses. The difference between an irrigated field and a non-irrigated field was fairly obvious and pretty stark — one field a bright green, the other a dull brown.

As tourism continues to develop in Crimea, water demands will continue to grow.  It is economically critical that the region develops a plan to supply reliable potable water to the tourist centers, while also allowing farmers to irrigate their crops, helping to fulfill Ukraine’s promise as the breadbasket of Europe.

What makes this project particularly unique is that USAID/Ukraine is implementing it with the support of the Development Grants Program, which is designed specifically to increase the capacity of locally-managed and operated organizations, thereby increasing local knowledge to sustain the results of USAID-funded initiatives after grant completion. As part of this initiative, our local implementing partner is improving its internal controls and management processes, and developing its human resources so that it can independently achieve results from similar activities.

In the end, we are not only helping Crimea increase its water security and improve the quality of life of local residents, we are also improving the ability of local NGOs to use their own skills and resources to continue to develop this critical region of Ukraine.

Water and International Cooperation

Christian Holmes serves as USAID’s Global Water Coordinator. Photo credit: USAID

As we celebrate World Water Day, it is important to consider this: only if we cooperate effectively, can we sustain the supplies of quality water necessary for human life.

The United Nations has set 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. USAID addresses the global challenges of water in close cooperation with non-governmental and civil society organizations that undertake the critical frontline responsibility of developing and implementing water programs. Our partners are advocacy groups that bring both knowledge and passion to the challenge, governments that are dedicated to providing a better life for their citizens, and communities that best understand the challenges and solutions. We have reached out to universities that are creating innovative solutions, to the private sector that can build a new global economy while supporting sustainable development, and to international development and financial institutions that provide essential program development, implementation and financial support.

USAID supports water cooperation at the local, national and regional level. Over last 10 years, we have provided some 50 million people with water and sanitation services.

In Somalia, the School Environment and Education Development for Somalia (SEEDS) provides access to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities on school grounds, promotes hygiene education and trains teachers and government officials. The results thus far: 359 latrines constructed and another 189 rehabilitated in 114 schools; 213 hand-washing facilities installed in 90 schools and five water points completed. All told more than 150,000 people in these communities benefited, and student enrollment increased by more than 32,000. It’s important to note that of those students, 12,666 were girls whose parents would only allow them to attend school with the kind of private, girls-only latrines built as part of this project.

In Nepal, where 66 percent of households experience food shortages each year, USAID’s Nepal Economic Agriculture and Trade (NEAT) program is helping cut input costs and boost crop productivity by installing and rehabilitating irrigation systems and training local technicians to maintain them. That, along with parallel efforts that are part of this project, is expected to directly benefit over 300,000 Nepalese and indirectly impact millions in the country by improving the business environment, facilitating trade flows and strengthening fiscal policy.

We support a wide range of development activities to promote Trans boundary water cooperation. USAID and the University of Colorado Boulder are partnering to assess snow and glacier contributions to water resources originating in the high mountains of Asia that straddle ten countries.  This assessment will be crucial in helping to forecast the future availability and vulnerability of water resources in the region, beginning with accurate assessments of the distinct, separate contributions to river discharge from melting glacier ice and seasonal snow.

In the Asia-Pacific region, USAID has supported the efforts of WaterLinks to build the capacity of Asia’s urban water sector. WaterLinks paired water operators from Asia countries to share best practices to meet the demand for water and sanitation and address related issues like wastewater management and climate change resilience. WaterLinks facilitated more than 60 water operator partnerships, resulting in more than one million people gained improved access to safe water supply and sanitation services.

Also in this region, USAID supports the Mekong River Commission and the riparian countries to plan the sustainable development of water resources in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB), where 60 million people live and 80 percent of them rely directly on the Mekong river system for their food and livelihoods:  USAID supports projects that seek to improve sediment flows and management; enhance scenario planning approaches and promote sustainable fisheries management

In Africa, to help meet these varied water demands across the Mara River Basin; in 2005  USAID provided funding to launch the Trans boundary Water for Biodiversity and Human Health in the Mara River Basin TWB-MRB project. The project has helped local communities develop new water services, refurbish nonfunctioning water systems, and improve sanitation services.

We also support organizations that will build global partnerships. Last year, USAID joined the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership which brings together governments, donors, civil society organizations, and development partners to achieve sustainable sanitation and drinking water.

As a member of The US Water Partnership (USWP), USAID is part of a national effort to unite American expertise, knowledge, and resources, and mobilize those assets to address water challenges around the globe, especially in the developing world. This week, the USWP recognized thirteen new members, including think tanks, universities, government agencies and for-profit groups willing and ready to join a growing number in this country concerned about global water issues.

While there are multiple ways to cooperate, a constant supply of quality water is the fundamental life force that drives us to work together to safeguard this precious resource.

USAID in the Middle East: Using Data to Improve Regional Water Management (Part 1)

Note: This is the first post in a 4-part series. Read part two,  part three and part four.

Few places are drier than the Middle East and North Africa. Host to 5 percent of the world’s population, the region has only 1 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water. Population growth and increasing demands for food, housing and jobs place extreme pressures on water resources, raising the potential for conflict within and between countries. Climate change could make a challenging situation worse.

The first step for effective water decision-making is data – understanding the location, availability and quality of water resources. To be effective, water management decisions need to be grounded in the best information available. However, political and economic constraints often mean that decisions affecting water use in the region rely upon outdated or inaccurate information.

Making use of NASA satellite data, USAID helps the region’s water managers understand and plan for current and future water needs. This land cover map of northern Tunisia was derived using USAID supported remote sensing and modeling tools. Photo Credit: International Center for Biosaline Agriculture

USAID is working to put accurate data – and the know-how to interpret them – into the hands of the region’s water decision-makers. Since many in the region access shared water resources we are also promoting international cooperation and data sharing toward effective regional water management. Our Middle East Regional Cooperation program (MERC), for example, brings together teams of Arab and Israeli scientists to address common development problems.

This series profiles several initiatives focused on data, technology, cooperation and decision-making. Last year’s World Water Day edition of Global Waters portrayed others.

USAID’s work around the region has helped to improve water and wastewater services available to the region’s citizens, lessen the potential for water-related conflicts, encourage cooperation and increase the region’s ability to adapt to climate change and maintain food security. Water plays a central role in every country’s development. Its availability and quality can hinder or accelerate socio-economic progress. As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted in her 2012 World Water Day speech, “the water crisis is a health crisis, it’s a farming crisis, it’s an economic crisis, it’s a climate crisis, and increasingly, it is a political crisis.  And therefore, we must have an equally comprehensive response.”

Effective water decisions require accurate data. Using science and technology to improve water decision-making, USAID is helping the region to overcome scarcity, and ensure that water serves as a catalyst for sustainable development.

Regional: In Jordan and Elsewhere

Effective water management requires a regional approach. Water does not necessarily abide by the man-made lines drawn across the sand marking today’s international borders. Rather, it flows – above and below ground – along lines understood by geographers, not those drawn by cartographers. Therefore a transboundary approach, informed by accurate water resources data and decision-making tools, is essential. USAID has taken the lead in making available U.S. satellite data and remote sensing capabilities to key regional water decision-makers.

Joining forces with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the World Bank, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), and national agencies in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, USAID has developed a suite of advanced land surface models to provide regional scale hydrological data relevant to water resource planning and management. Satellite data is verified by local government measurements and fed into analytical models to turn raw data into decision-support tools.

“The overarching goal of these projects is to improve the data available to researchers and decision makers and help foster a culture of data-informed water resources policy and management,” said Mark Peters, USAID’s Regional Water Advisor.  “USAID is playing an important role in making the most of increasingly scarce regional water resources around the Middle East. Our programs demonstrate the importance of science and technology in water resources decision-making, using data and decision-support tools to make optimal use of water resources and mitigate against water-related conflict.”

For example, in Jordan, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, USAID is working closely with the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) to ground-truth NASA satellite data. The detailed satellite information on groundwater levels and vegetative cover are used in conjunction with population statistics and measures of water levels in wells throughout Jordan to enable NASA and USAID scientists to accurately track water levels in aquifers throughout the country. Making use of this resource, USAID and the MWI are able to improve water resource planning efforts, and avoid the over-depletion of key aquifers.

Models indicate that certain aquifers are at risk of over-depletion, and as a result USAID and MWI have redoubled efforts to reduce agricultural water use in these areas. Such findings are reinforced by cooperation between Jordanian scientists and the U.S. Geological Survey evaluating groundwater level and salinity trends around the country. Data produced as a result of this cooperation help prioritize locations for groundwater management, provide a baseline for evaluating impacts of the reduction of over-pumping, and increase public awareness of groundwater trends. “There is severe over extraction of the highlands aquifers,” argues MWI Secretary-General Basem Telfah. “With new information coming from both our well and satellite monitoring systems, it is very clear that Jordanians have to act quickly to change agricultural practices.”

Sound water management begins with good data provision. Groundwater resources are under increasing pressure in the MENA region, and declining levels in many aquifers highlight the need for careful future management. Given the growing and diverse needs for water, decision-makers need to understand current resource limits and the impacts of future policies as they balance competing demands. The United States is a leader in using satellite data and remote sensing technologies to inform water decision-making. We are making available these powerful tools around the arid Middle East as the countries of the region chart their own hydraulic future.

Read other blog posts in this series:

 

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