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Water Management, Water Security and Climate Change Adaptation: Early Impacts and Essential Responses

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Sadoff, Claudia; Muller, Mike
Date: 2009
Agency: Global Water Partnership/Swedish International Development Agency, Stockholm, Sweden
Series: TEC Background Papers, no. 14
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/4999
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Subject(s): water resources
water management
climate change
Abstract: "Water is the primary medium through which climate change will impact people, ecosystems and economies. Water resources management should therefore be an early focus for adaptation to climate change. It does not hold all of the answers to adaptation; a broad range of responses will be needed. But water is both part of the problem and an important part of the solution. It is a good place to start. Globally, the overall impacts of climate change on freshwater resources are expected to be negative. But there is much that is not yet well understood. While the link between increased temperatures and changes in rainfall has been modelled in detail, the same is not true for the effect on river flows and the recharge of underground waters. Specific challenges posed by the melting of snow and glaciers need to be better understood, as do impacts on water quality. Actions to implement robust water management are adaption actions. Understanding the dynamics of current variability and future climate change as they affect water supply and demand across all water-using sectors, and enhanced capacity to respond to these dynamics enables better water resources management. This strengthens resilience to current climate challenges, while building capacity to adapt to future climate change. Achieving and sustaining water security, broadly defined as harnessing water’s productive potential and limiting its destructive potential, provides a focus for adaptation strategies and a framework for action. For countries that have not achieved water security, climate change will make it harder. For those who have enjoyed water security, it may prove hard to sustain. All are likely to need to channel additional resources to water resource management. A focus on water security is a sound early adaptation strategy; delivering immediate benefits to vulnerable and underserved populations, thus advancing the Millennium Development Goals, while strengthening systems and capacity for longer-term climate risk management. Many societies will want to continue to invest in water management to move beyond water security and take fuller advantage of the economic, social and environmental benefits that can be derived from wiser water use. A water secure world will need investment in the three I’s: better and more accessible Information, stronger and more adaptable Institutions, and natural and man-made Infrastructure to store, transport and treat water. These needs will manifest at all levels – in projects, communities, nations, river basins and globally. Balancing and sequencing a mix of 'soft' (institutional and capacity) and 'hard' (infrastructure) investment responses will be complex. Information, consultation and adaptive management will be essential. Furthermore, tough trade-offs are likely to be unavoidable in balancing equity, environmental and economic priorities. Finding the right mix of the three I’s (information, institutions and infrastructure) to achieve the desired balance between the three E's (equity, environment and economics), will be the 'art of adaptation' in water management. Integrated water resource management (IWRM) offers an approach to manage these dynamics and a thread that runs through these levels of engagement. IWRM is the global good practice approach to water management: it recognizes the holistic nature of the water cycle and the importance of managing trade-offs within it; it emphasizes the importance of effective institutions; and it is inherently adaptive. Financial resources will be needed to build this water secure world. Sound water management, which is a key to adaptation, is weakest in the poorest countries, which also suffer the greatest climate variability today and are predicted to face the greatest negative impacts of climate change. Significant investment will be needed in many of the poorest countries. Investment in national water resources management capacity, institutions and infrastructure should therefore be a priority for mainstreaming adaptation finance. It is sustainable development financing that delivers adaptation benefits. Mainstreamed funding will help ensure that long term capacity is built and retained in the institutions that are going to have to cope with these unfolding changes, and it will lessen the proliferation of complex climate change financing vehicles and fragmented, project-focused initiatives. In some transboundary basins the best adaption investments for any individual country may lie outside its borders, for example in basin-wide monitoring systems or investments in joint infrastructure and/or operating systems in a neighbouring country. To the extent that specialized adaptation funds are made available, they should go beyond single-country solutions to generate public goods and to promote cooperative transboundary river basin solutions where it is cost effective and in the best interest of all riparians."

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