people at world water week in Stockholm
Stockholm Water Week begins on 25 August and is expected to attract more than 3000 participants

Water scarcity, peace, and development

At a time of increased water crises, NIRAS shares learnings from South Sudan, Somaliland, and The Gambia at Stockholm Water Week

22. Aug 2019

With the seemingly endless news cycle of crises, conflict, and upheaval, you could be forgiven for missing a recent disturbing report from The Water Resource Institute ranking water stress, drought risk, and riverine flood risk across 189 countries. According to the data-driven global research organization focussed on the natural environment, 17 countries—home to a quarter of the world's population—face extremely high water stress, while 44—one third of the world—are highly water stressed.

This is a big problem because when demand is so close to supply, even small fluctuations or “dry shocks” can have catastrophic results. And with climate change producing more droughts, intense floods, and increased water withdrawals, the situation has reached alarming levels with no end in sight.

Thanks to rapid urbanization, reduced access to water, and a lack of investment in water infrastructure, 24 cities with populations over 3 million could experience high water stress by 2030.

Water Resources Institute

Planning ensures preparedness

“The trends are worrying because water stress leads to food insecurity and conflict, which in turn increases economic instability and migration,” says Claes Clifford, Technical Director for Water at NIRAS International Consulting. “But it doesn’t have to be this way. If the resources, no matter how limited, are well managed, scarcity does not have to result in stress and conflict can be minimised and even avoided. This is the one of the key objectives of integrated water resource management (IWRM) – ensuring the optimal management of resources to balance economic, ecological, and social requirements.”

8.5% of GDP

The estimated water supply and sanitation capital expenditure needs of low-income transition states (the average is 0.7% in middle income countries).

This year’s Stockholm Water Week (25-30 August) could not come at a more critical time. Under the theme “Water for Society: Including All”, the five-day event is packed with 277 sessions addressing water security – the foundation of human and environmental prosperity – and how to ensure fair access to and use of water in adequate quantity and quality in an inclusive way.

As part of the event, together with the African Development Bank (AfDB) and African Water Facility, NIRAS is convening a session on “Water, Peace, and Development: Drivers of Change in Transition States”. Discussions will centre around transition (conflict and post-conflict) states where the infrastructure gap is the greatest but the capacity to attract and sustain high levels of investment is the lowest. The continued lack of water security can lead to further conflict with profound social, economic, gender and inequality implications.

Claes explains: “In conflict and post-conflict situations there obviously is a strong need for basic services and increased access to investment opportunities for water resource development to further stabilise the countries. Often we see that the capacity to manage water resources adequately is challenged by limitation of staff and other institutional gaps. We can see that progress is being made towards stabilisation but only because careful attention is being paid to the needs of internal and external actors who can strongly influence potential implementation of the water resource management plans as well as future investments.”


Learning from experience

The session will draw from experiences in The Gambia, South Sudan, and Somaliland where NIRAS has implemented projects in challenging environments. Although in their final stages, the latter two are still ongoing thanks to recent extensions. In South Sudan, The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands set aside €24.8 million over six years to fund the Water for Eastern Equatoria project, a pilot IWRM programme in the Torit and Kapoeta States focusing on holistic management of the Kenneti catchment, conflict-sensitive oversight of water for productive use such as livestock and farming, and improved access to safe drinking water as well as sanitation and hygiene. The goal has always been to replicate best practice in other parts of South Sudan, and the critical success factors for this project – which to date has delivered access to safe drinking water to more than a quarter million people – will be shared at Stockholm Water Week. Speakers from the Dutch government, the South Sudanese regional government, and local staff will present key learnings from the project.

Likewise, representatives the Somali government and project staff will share the challenges of preparing a 30-year Water Resources Management and Investment Plan for Somaliland. Funded by a €2.6 million grant from the African Water Facility under the AfDB, the resulting Master Plan establishes three continuous decade-long phases of investment with priority projects to build resilience to climate change and reduce water stress in Somaliland, where the population is expected to grow from 4 to 7 million in 30 years, placing enormous pressure on water resources, especially in urban environments.

From 126 to 535 Mm3/year

The estimated increase from 2020 to 2050 in water demand in Somaliland

“We are looking forward to a lively discussion,” Claes remarks. “Having key actors in the room – like financiers, beneficiaries and implementers of water resource management in countries in transition – will facilitate a sharing of ideas on how to lay the foundation of water resource development in places of extreme water scarcity. We cannot completely avoid water crises and more “Day Zeros” definitely lie in our future, but we can certainly work to reduce their occurrence and minimise their impact through collaboration, data sharing, and better planning.”