Nature-Based Solutions for Water Security and the Role of Education for Enhancing the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda

Nature-Based Solutions for Water Security and the Role of Education for Enhancing the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda

Janos Csala (SeaTrust Institute, USA & TU Delft University, The Netherlands) and Jennifer Wanjiku Mwangi (SeaTrust Institute, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7727-0.ch003


Water security is a central sustainable development challenge. Billions of people lack access to clean and reliable water, while global hydrological changes and increasingly common extreme weather events pose serious risks. However, current issues are mainly driven by unsustainable management and ensuing ecological degradation. Nature-based solutions restore, enhance and safeguard ecosystems that provide water for people and the rest of nature. They also buffer the impacts of natural hazards and provide other critical benefits. Global policy frameworks on sustainable development, disaster prevention, climate change, biodiversity, wetlands and desertification offer holistic objectives toward water security. Education and capacity development is one of their central connective tissues, and as a mean to enhance their implementation. In spite of this, major gaps remain that require novel approaches. This chapter explores these and discusses strategic considerations and innovative approaches that can leverage existing knowledge and foster context specific innovation for transformative solutions.
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Despite progress in the 21st century, 844 million people still do not have access to basic water services, while for another 2.1 billion, access is constrained by distance and quality issues. In 2015 2.3 and 4.5 billion people lacked access to basic sanitation, and facilities with safe treatment respectively. Water quality and water stress, i.e., inadequate water supply or quality (EEA, n.d.) remain serious issues across and within countries. Currently up to 3.6 billion people confront temporary water scarcities, i.e. “physical shortage due to” insufficient infrastructure and/or governance failures (UN-Water, n.d.). Pollution and land degradation significantly exacerbate these issues. Sustainable access to potable water is essential for human health and well-being. Fresh water is also the mainstay of economic development and ecological sustainability (UN, 2015).

Virtually all human activities rely on water including food and energy production and manufacturing. As a result, water availability and quality issues present adverse socio-economic implications. For instance, agriculture and energy generation depend on reliable water supply (UN, 2015). Both water quantity and quality are supplied and regulated by ecosystem services (ESS). Ecosystems are self-organizing communities of living organisms and “the nonliving environment” they interact with. Humans are part of ecosystems, and the benefits they and other species derive from nature are conceptualized as ESSs. Biodiversity i.e., the richness and diversity of life plays a central function in sustaining nature’s life enabling benefits as illustrated in Figure 1 (MEA, 2005 pp. V). While biodiversity conservation is progressing globally, it is still insufficient to halt the alarming rates and magnitudes of extinctions (CBD, 2014; Ceballos, Elrich & Dirzo, 2017).

Water also connects and sustains all life (UN, 2015) which is reflected by UN Water’s (2013) definition of water security. That is “the capacity to safeguard sustainable access” to water that fulfills all human and ecological needs in a manner that promotes participation and cooperation. Simultaneously it conserves underlying ecosystems and reduces the impact of water-related hazards like droughts and floods (pp. vi). Current water availability and quality problems are predominantly driven by unsustainable development and management practices that lead to biodiversity loss and other forms of ecological degradation. The estimated loss of 70% of global wetland ecosystems over the 20th century is one of the root causes of the current water crisis (UN-Water, 2018; UNWWAP, 2018). Natural wetlands are “a wide variety of inland habitats such as marshes, peatlands, floodplains, rivers and lakes, and coastal areas such as saltmarshes, mangroves, intertidal mudflats and seagrass beds, and also coral reefs and other marine areas no deeper than six metres at low tide” (Ramsar Convention Secretariat, 2016, p. 2).

These systems play critical functional roles in both water quantity and quality regulation, and water-related hazard mitigation (Ramsar, 2015). Climate change is observed not only to increase the incidence and intensity of such hazards like floods and drought, but also to undermine the supply and quality aspects of water security. In particular, climate change is altering the distribution and quality of fresh water over geographic locations and time which coupled with exponentially growing demand threatens access (UN, 2015). These phenomena are increasing disaster risk (DR) i.e., the scale of “potential loss of life, injury, or destroyed or damaged assets”. Ecosystem degradation across local and global levels is one of the root causes of disaster risk. It exacerbates exposure to hazards e.g., loss of vegetation results in rainwater runoff damaging infrastructure because the vegetation that slows or controls the speed and volume of rainwater runoff in watersheds or populated areas is no longer present (UNWWAP, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Disaster Risk Reduction: An intervention that aims to reduce existing and prevent new disaster risks, i.e. potential loss of life and assets. Various measures can be deployed including dykes, early warning systems, risk insurance, and emergency response. Such interventions promote development co-benefits.

Convention to Combat Desertification: A binding international framework which aims to halt and reverse the degradation of dry lands. Its central objective is to prevent further loss of land productivity and underlying ecological functions by 2030.

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: A 15-year-long (2015-2030) voluntary agreement which aims to reduce existing and prevent new disaster risks.

Biodiversity: The richness and variety of life in a given area. It plays a critical role in sustaining life and development enabling benefits from nature to people.

Convention on Biological Diversity: A binding international treaty in effect since 1993. It has the following three objectives: sustain biodiversity, manage and use it sustainably, and distribute the positive gains stemming from the exploitation of genetic resources in equitable ways.

Ecosystem Services: Benefits that humans derive from nature. Four categories are distinguished, provisioning services, e.g. water, food , regulating services that shape climate, purify water, control flooding etc. Cultural services furnish humans with educational, spiritual, etc. values. All of these are dependent on the fourth category of supporting services such as, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, etc.

Climate Change Adaptation: An intervention that aim to minimize climate-related risks e.g., extreme weather event impacts on water systems, and simultaneously promote development benefits. It can either seek to maintain existing systems by smaller changes, e.g. land use planning, or fundamentally change their central features, e.g. decision-making procedures.

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands: A non-binding voluntary framework which aims to preserve and judiciously manage “all wetlands” as a mean for enhancing sustainable development. The convention defines wetlands broadly including virtually all natural and artificial ecosystems.

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