Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture is an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2010 promoting local culture and sustainable initiatives through education and the integration of scientific ingenuity in Southwest Morocco. We operate North Africa's largest fog harvesting project, providing villages with access to potable water. Our Water School and Girls' E-Learning Programs build capacity in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. Through our Ethnographic Field School, researchers and students engage with local communities in Agadir, Sidi Ifni, and the rural Aït Baamrane region for meaningful cross-cultural exchange.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The UN 2020 Water & Climate Change report summary: Chapter 3 - Water Availability, Infrastructure, and Ecosystems

Chapter 3 of the UN 2020 Water and Climate change report dives deeply into water availability, infrastructure, and ecosystems. Climate change impacts many elements of water management, including water storage, supply, and sanitation.

Impacts on water resources and infrastructure
It is important to consider how climate change will affect water scarcity , ecosystem degradation, and water pollution. Water scarcity can be categorized into economic water scarcity and physical scarcity. Economic water scarcity is caused by a lack of water infrastructure, which is typically seen in Africa and South Asia. The only way to alleviate economic water scarcity  is to build water climate-resilient infrastructure that provides water to people. Physical scarcity, on the other hand, is caused by excessive water withdrawals for developed infrastructure causes. Physical scarcity can be seen in places including but not limited to North Africa, Southern Africa, the Middle East, Northern China, Australia. These places with depleted water sources are at risk of seeing major biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, which reduces the ecosystem's resilience and makes communities more vulnerable to climate change. Other factors can add to water infrastructure’s vulnerability to climate change, including the infrastructure’s age, quality, and location relative to flood-prone low-lying cities.

Two major water infrastructures that need to be assessed are dams and sanitation and hygiene infrastructure. Dams are costly, can have negative environmental and social impacts, and can be destroyed or weakened by the effects of climate change. Many existing dams in places like the United States are decommissioned, so it is vital that future dams like those being built in Morocco are climate-resilient. Sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure are at risk of facing increased damage from climate change. Flooding sewer pumping stations, for example, can spread faces and associated viruses, causing severe health-hazards for the population. Although this is not a pretty example, it is emblematic of the need for climate-resilient infrastructure.

Options to enhance water security under a changing climate
In order to secure our water in a changing climate, we need to innovate conventional water infrastructure so that it factors in drought resistance, flood control, regional development and other needs conjunctively and yet provide public goods (navigation, river basin management, maintaining ‘ecological’ river flows, etc.), and recognizes the cross-sectoral and multi-purpose nature of water. 

The report highly recommends blending nature-based solutions with conventional infrastructure, and strengthening existing water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure. Water, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure development should focus on six categories: technologies and infrastructure, financing, policy and governance, workforce, information systems, and service delivery. The report also stresses the development of groundwater collection infrastructure and the need to reassess the capacity of aquifers. 

The report also states that it is increasingly necessary to consider unconventional water sources to ensure accessibility to water. All strategies must be evaluated for their environmental impacts and associated human health risks.

Safe water reuse/reclaimed water: Treating used water for new use is a way to save water. This is mostly done in arid and semi-arid regions that use treated wastewater for irrigation. In Namibia, the city of Windhoek has used this strategy for over 50 years. There is growing potential for safe water reuse in Europe, particularly in Portugal and Spain. 

Sea water and brackish water desalination: Desalination turns saltwater into freshwater and is mostly present in the Middle East and North Africa. Although the source of seawater is unlimited and renewable energy sources are becoming cheaper, the desalination process does consume a lot of energy. 

Atmospheric moisture harvesting: Cloud seeding or fog water collection like Dar Si Hmad’s works in areas where fog is abundant. Because of the limited reach of fog, this works best at the local level and is a low-cost and low-maintenance approach.

Offshore aquifers: According to the report, 0.5 million km3 of fresh/brackish water exists in offshore aquifers located below shallow (<500 m) ocean water within 100 km of the shoreline. The report spends little time talking about offshore aquifers because it points out that offshore groundwater is not the solution to water scarcity, although it can be weighed with alternatives. 

Physical transportation of freshwater by the sea: This strategy involves shipping freshwater from places like the Amazon, or icebergs or ‘shaved ice’ from icebergs, around the world to places in need. This was considered for Cape Town South Africa in 2017-2018, when the city almost ran out of water in a severe drought. This strategy only exists as a concept, however, because it is costly, requires a large fleet, and has large potential losses. 

Mitigation options for water resources management
Mitigation measures should also be implemented because water management produces 3-7% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, especially from energy used to power systems and the biochemical processes involved in water and wastewater treatment. 80-90% of wastewater in developing countries, however, is not collected. Collecting wastewater may be a positive step in decreasing greenhouse gas emissions from water management.

Electricity use is another big greenhouse gas emitter for water management systems. One way to make energy use more efficient is to convert the organic matter from wastewater into energy for the water management system.

Finally, wetlands and peatlands can be conserved and sustained because they accommodate the largest carbon stocks and store twice as much carbon as forests. Unfortunately, many wetlands and peatlands are poorly managed and drained for agricultural purposes, which releases more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air.

Written by: Gari DeRamos, Dar Si Hmad former intern 

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