Water resilience: why it’s important and how to fund it

by Lauren Stabler, Resilient Cities 2016 social media volunteer

This afternoon’s panel session focused particularly on the adverse effects of climate change on local water systems. Hosted by Heidi Braun of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), four climate change adaptation experts and local practitioners were invited to present on IDRC-funded research and intervention projects currently underway. The IDRC, based in Ottawa, Canada, is a government-commissioned research center funding projects in developing countries “to promote growth, reduce poverty, and drive large-scale positive change”. Projects were presented for the cities of Accra, Ghana; Panama City, Panama; Beirut, Lebanon; and Tainan City Government, Chinese Taipei.

The wide range of issues covered across the four presentations was illustrative of the multiplicity of water-related issues associated with climate change. For example, while citizens of Beirut suffer from increasing water salinization as a result of rising sea levels and decreased precipitation needed to replenish the Eastern Mediterranean coastline aquifer, citizens of Accra Ghana are facing more frequent cases of flooding and water contamination, leading also to threats to local food security. Though the role of climate change is indisputable, so too is the role of unsustainable socio-ecologic development associated with rapid urbanization such as increased population density, land-use change, and poorly managed waste. Each presenter elaborated on the interaction of human development and climate change factors, which in combination determined the unique local challenges for social, economic, and environmental resiliency.

In line with IDRC’s goal of generating knowledge and informing policy in hotspots vulnerable to climate change, the output of each project included improved understanding of local-specific adaptation issues, a list of potential projects to address these issues, cost-benefit analyses, and eventual execution of one or more projects.

One major gap persists, however, namely the ability of water-related adaptation projects to attract financing. Benjamin Dovie, researcher at the Regional Institute for Population Studies at the University of Ghana, acknowledged this gap and commented on the potential to trap and sell methane gas for electricity generation as an economic incentive to collect and manage household waste, which currently fills the streets of Accra and contaminates the local waterbed. Director of Tainan City Government’s Environmental Protection Bureau, Hsien-Wei Lee, also commented on the success of attracting critical finance from the central government as a result of ambitious, detailed planning and the inclusion of an exhaustive cost-benefit analysis. Mr. Lee did admit, however, that a great deal of funding came directly from the city’s municipal budget in large part due to the political commitment of Mayor William Lai to pursue a low-carbon and resilient development plan.


Project highlights


City: two municipalities in Guatemala and two municipalities in the Dominican Republic

Speaker: Miroslava Morán, Researcher at the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC)

Project Description: CATHALAC is conducting a comparative analysis of water security in Guatemalan and Dominican cities, where water-related public services are centralized in the former and decentralized in the latter with centralized management. This analysis should ultimately reveal drivers of change as well as gaps in the respective national frameworks for water governance.


City: Beirut, Lebanon

Speaker: Grace Rachid, Research Associate, Environmental and Water Resources Engineering, at the American University of Beirut

Project Description: Ms. Rachid’s team conducted intensive spatial and temporal field sampling campaigns to asses saltwater intrusion in the city of Beirut, conducted interviews with local farmers, water tanker owners, and citizens to asses local reactions to the decreasing water quality, conducted a socio-economic analysis, produced vulnerability maps (DRASTIC, EPIC, and GQI), and produced policy recommendations to improve the resiliency of Beirut’s groundwater.


City: Accra, Ghana

Speaker: Benjamin Dovie, Researcher at the Regional Institute for Population Studies (RIPS), University of Ghana

Project Description: action-oriented three-year project to determine the greatest water-related climate change threats to the city of Accra and to highlight the potential of a multi-level response to climate-related floods. Specific adaptation projects included the establishment of a waste recycling center, a local fish smoking facility, and the construction of drains throughout the city to divert flood water. For the purpose of educating the next generation on water-related climate change issues, schools were recruited to participate in certain local projects.


City: Tainan, Chinese Taipei

Speaker: Hsien-Wei Lee, Director of Tainan City Government’s Environmental Protection Bureau

Project Description: The Tainan City Government has made significant investments in the construction of improved, flood-resilient infrastructure such as retention ponds embedded in roadsides and in parks, pumping stations, flood gates, and regulated water catchment in newly built buildings to name a few. The government has also invested in early warning communications by developing mobile aps and training farmers to recognize warning signs of imminent floods.

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