The U.N. General Assembly declared 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation. And the theme of this year’s World Water Week, September 1st-September 7th, is “Water Cooperation: Building Partnerships.” 768 million people do not have access to clean water, and two and a half billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Meanwhile, U.N. Water estimates that the food sector contributes 40 percent of organic water pollutants in industrialized countries, and 54 percent in developing countries. During World Water Week, Food Tank will highlight research and innovations that are working around the world to conserve water resources and make clean water available to everyone. Research institutions, private businesses, governments, and the donor community can work together to scale these innovations up and alleviate global water scarcity.
A new collaborative study released by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) outlines the effects of reduced rainfall and rising temperatures on the irrigation and hydroelectric generating potential of the Volta River Basin, effectively demonstrating the connection between climate change and food and energy insecurity. According to the study, The Water Resource Implications of Changing Climate in the Volta River Basin, water available for irrigation will supply only 75 percent of demand, whereas generated hydroelectricity will meet only 52 percent of potential output within the next 40 years. By the end of the century, these numbers will reach 32 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
According to the study, the Volta River Basin spans six riparian states, primarily in Ghana and Burkina Faso. Home to 24 million people today and a predicted 34 million by 2025, 40 percent of the region’s economic activity relies on agriculture, and the majority of its residents are farmers. As average annual temperature rises a predicted 3.6 degrees Celsius and average annual rainfall is expected to decrease by 20 percent by the year 2100, the region’s capacity for irrigation and hydroelectric energy production will fall dramatically, with the local farmers suffering the effects most severely. As the demand for food and energy increases with a growing population, climate change threatens to steadily undermine the region’s ability to supply water for agriculture and industry, resulting in food and energy insecurity as well as hindered development. The study also notes the potential for future conflict, especially between states that share the Volta River Basin as a source.
In light of these findings, IWMI recommends a number of solutions. First and foremost, the study calls for inter-state collaboration, particularly a “basin-wide water resources management strategy that explicitly incorporates a water storage development plan, clearly identifying objectives and priorities for investment in all water storage options, not just large dams.” The study especially favors the construction of integrated systems that combine surface water storage and the use of groundwater, as well as the development of innovative strategies for efficient and productive water use. Likewise, IWMI recommends examining the potential of other renewable energy sources besides hydroelectric dams to address the the imminent energy shortage, such as solar and wind options. Finally, the study ends with a call to address the predicted effects of climate change by examining the food and water system as a whole, looking for new areas of innovation and efficiency.