New Electrochemical Method Eliminates Mercury From Water

In the laboratory of Wickman and Tunsu at the Chalmers University of Technology, when mercury ions (light purple) in a liquid come near an electrode of platinum, they are attracted to the electrode's surface where they get reduced to metallic mercury. On the electrode, mercury atoms (dark purple) and platinum atoms (grey) develop into a very strong alloy, and so the mercury is removed from the water. 2018 (Photo by Björn Wickman and Adam Arvidsson / Chalmers University of Technology) Posted for media use.

In the laboratory of Wickman and Tunsu at the Chalmers University of Technology, when mercury ions (light purple) in a liquid come near an electrode of platinum, they are attracted to the electrode’s surface where they get reduced to metallic mercury. On the electrode, mercury atoms (dark purple) and platinum atoms (grey) develop into a very strong alloy, and so the mercury is removed from the water. 2018 (Photo by Björn Wickman and Adam Arvidsson / Chalmers University of Technology) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

GOTEBORG, Sweden, December 6, 2018 ( News) – Water contaminated with mercury and other toxic heavy metals is a major cause of environmental damage and health problems worldwide. Now, researchers at Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology have devised a new way to clean contaminated water – through an electrochemical process.

“Our results have really exceeded the expectations we had when we started with the technique,” says the research leader Björn Wickman, from Chalmers’ Department of Physics. “Our new method makes it possible to reduce the mercury content in a liquid by more than 99 percent. This can bring the water well within the margins for safe human consumption.”

The World Health Organization says mercury is one the most harmful substances for human health. It accumulates in the body and can harm the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs and immune systems of people of all ages. Mercury is especially harmful to unborn children and infants whose nervous systems are under development, and it can be transmitted from a mother to a child during pregnancy.

The toxic metal spreads easily through nature and can enter the food chain. Freshwater fish, for example, often contain high levels of mercury.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that can be released to the environment from natural sources – the weathering of rocks containing mercury, forest fires, volcanic eruptions or geothermal activities – and also from human activities.

Humans use mercury in industrial processes that produce chlorine or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polyurethane elastomers. It is extensively used to extract gold from ore in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. It is in products such as electrical switches and thermostats, relays, measuring and control equipment, energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs, batteries and dental amalgam.

It is also used in laboratories, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, in vaccines as a preservative, in paints and jewelry. Discarded electronics often contain mercury and can end up being salvaged by unprotected workers in developing countries.

Mercury is also released from industrial processes, such as coal-fired power and heat generation, cement production, mining and other metallurgic activities such as non-ferrous metals production, as well as from incineration of many types of waste.

An estimated 5,500-8,900 tons of mercury is currently emitted and re-emitted each year to the atmosphere.

Today there are strict regulations concerning the management of toxic heavy metals to limit their spread in nature. But many places worldwide are already contaminated, and the metals can be transported in rain or in the air. This results in ecosystems where heavy metals can become abundant.

“Today, cleaning away the low, yet harmful, levels of mercury from large amounts of water is a major challenge. Industries need better methods to reduce the risk of mercury being released in nature,” says Wickman.

Björn Wickman and Cristian Tunsu are presenting a new and effective way of cleaning mercury from water. Their new technology cleans contaminated water so that it is well within the safe limits for drinkability. 2018 (Photo by Mia Halleröd Palmgren) Posted for media use.

Björn Wickman and Cristian Tunsu are presenting a new and effective way of cleaning mercury from water. Their new technology cleans contaminated water so that it is well within the safe limits for drinkability. 2018 (Photo by Mia Halleröd Palmgren) Posted for media use.

How the New Technique Works

Over the last two years, Wickman and Cristian Tunsu, a researcher at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers, have studied an electrochemical process for cleaning mercury from water.

Their method involves a metal plate – an electrode – that binds specific heavy metals to it. The electrode is made of platinum; through an electrochemical process it draws the toxic mercury out of the water to form an alloy of the two – a mercury-platinum alloy.

In this way, the water is cleaned of the mercury contamination. The alloy formed by the two metals is very stable, so there is no risk of the mercury re-entering the water.

“An alloy of this type has been made before, but with a totally different purpose in mind. This is the first time the technique with electrochemical alloying has been used for decontamination purposes,” says Tunsu.

One strength of the new energy efficient cleaning technique is that the electrode has a very high capacity. Each platinum atom can bond with four mercury atoms. The mercury atoms do not only bond on the surface, but also penetrate deeper into the material, creating thick layers, allowing the electrode to be used for a long time. After use, the electrode can be recycled, and the mercury disposed of safely.

“Another great thing with our technique is that it is very selective. Even though there may be many different types of substance in the water, it just removes the mercury. Therefore, the electrode doesn’t waste capacity by unnecessarily taking away other substances from the water,” says Wickman.

A patent for the new method is being sought, and in order to commercialize the discovery, a new company, Atium, has been established.

The  innovation has already received a number of prizes and awards, both in Sweden and internationally. The research has also attracted a strong response from industry.

Right now, the researchers are working on a prototype that can be tested outside the lab under real-world conditions.

The technique could be used to reduce the amount of waste and increase the purity of waste and process water in the chemical and mining industries, and in metal production.

It could contribute to better environmental cleaning of places with contaminated land and water sources.

The new method can even be used to clean drinking water in badly affected environments because, due to its low energy use, it can be powered entirely by solar cells. As a result, it can be developed into a mobile and reusable water cleaning technology.

Read the article, “Effective removal of mercury from aqueous streams via electrochemical alloy formation on platinum” in the scientific journal “Nature Communications.

The Minamata Convention

The Minamata Convention on Mercury  is an international treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from human emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.

Signed by 128 countries and ratified by 101 countries and the European Union, the Convention takes its name from the most severe mercury poisoning disaster in history, which came to light in Minamata, Japan, in May 1956, after sustained dumping of industrial waste waters into Minamata Bay, beginning in the 1930s.

Local villagers who ate fish and shellfish from the bay started suffering convulsions, psychosis, loss of consciousness and coma. Thousands of people were certified as having suffered from mercury poisoning, now known as Minamata disease.

Almost 150 countries, 94 of them Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, met in Geneva in late November to strengthen their efforts to reduce and eliminate the adverse effects of mercury as a new UN report revealed that global mercury emissions into the atmosphere rose by around 20 percent between 2010 and 2015.

East and Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and South America account for the greatest increases in mercury emissions between 2010 and 2015, according to the assessment.

For centuries, mercury has been used in measuring devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices. The Minamata Convention stipulates the phase-out of manufacturing, as well as the import and export of these and other mercury-added products by 2020.

Over the next few decades, the Minamata Convention on Mercury is expected to reduce mercury pollution from the activities responsible for major releases of the toxic metal into the environment.

Featured Source Image:  A worker handles mercury with his bare hands in a small-scale gold mine in the province of Camarines Norte in the Bicol Region, Philippines. December 5, 2016 (Photo by International Labor Organization) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Making Fresh Water Out of Thin Air

David Hertz harvesting water in Big Sur, California. Skywater 150 produces up to 150 gallons a day. The water can be stored in collection tanks for future use. 2018 (Photo courtesy Skysource/Skywater Alliance)

David Hertz harvesting water in Big Sur, California. Skywater 150 produces up to 150 gallons a day. The water can be stored in collection tanks for future use. 2018 (Photo courtesy Skysource/Skywater Alliance)

By Sunny Lewis

LOS ANGELES, California, October 25, 2018 ( News) – An atmospheric water generator that condenses moisture in the air, making fresh drinking water, has won the Water Abundance XPrize worth US$1.5 million. The prize went to David Hertz and Laura Doss-Hertz co-founders of the Skysource/Skywater Alliance , which produces the devices and runs one on solar power at its headquarters in Venice Beach, California.

The Water Abundance XPrize, sponsored by the Tata Group and Australian Aid, was launched in 2016 at the United Nations in New Delhi. The two-year competition was aimed at easing the global water crisis with energy-efficient technologies that harvest fresh water from the air.

To qualify for the Water Abundance XPRIZE, competitors had to extract over 2,000 liters of drinkable water from the atmosphere in a 24 hour period using only renewable resources, for less than two cents per liter.

Each Skywater model produces enough fresh water from air for a household use or emergency relief efforts, producing it “more efficiently than any other method of moisture extraction or filtration,” the company claims.

Skywater machines range from the Skywater 30, which makes up to 30 gallons of water a day, to the Skywater 300, which can produce up to 300 gallons of water a day.

The Skysource/Skywater Alliance came to be when South Florida company Island Sky Corp. creator of Skywater® technology joined forces with their West Coast distributor and business partner to form the Skysource/Skywater Alliance.

Richard Groden, president of Island Sky has been harvesting water from the air in Broward County, Florida since 2004.

“Water is a human right,” Groden has said. “There is an abundant, untapped source of clean drinking water in the air around us. Our technology provides a very comprehensive solution to the water crisis that will work as well in the developing world as it will in the technologically advanced areas.”

The Skywater Technology

Skywater uses a patented distillation process, where water vapor is reduced to liquid without a gain or loss of heat. Refrigeration techniques maintain a dew point within a condensation chamber, maximizing water production from whatever the atmospheric condition exists.

The higher the humidity and temperature, the more water can be produced.

After condensation, the water is filtered and treated with ozone to enhance its taste and prevent potentially hazardous micro-organisms from forming. The water can be used or stored for future use.

The winning system, called WEDEW [wood-to-energy deployed water] was created by combining two existing systems. Skywater, a large box that mimics the way clouds are formed, takes in warm air, which hits cold air and forms droplets of condensation – pure drinking water.

The water is stored in a tank inside a shipping container and connected to a bottle refill station or tap.

Because the process uses so much electricity, the designers powered it with a biomass gassifier that burns wood chips, coconut shells, or whatever cheap biomass is locally available. That makes the system hot and humid, the ideal environment to run the air-to-water machine.

As it generates power, the system produces biochar, a charcoal that can be used to enrich soil.

“There’s no restrictions whatsoever on how it’s used,” Hertz, an architect, said of the $1.5 million in prize money. “But Laura and I have committed to using it all for the development and deployment of these machines, to get them to people who need the water most,” he told the Associated Press.

According to The United Nations World Water Development Report 2016, the world could face a 40 percent global water deficit by 2030. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will be living in areas with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the global population living in water-stressed conditions.

Zenia Tata, vice president of Global Impact Strategy at XPrize, is enthusiastic about relieving the thirsting millions who face water scarcity. “Water is our lifeblood. With alarming water shortages impacting livelihood around the world, we are in dire need of decentralized and democratized water breakthroughs now more than ever,” said Tata.

Water, Water Everywhere in the Air

While water may be increasingly scarce in many places on Earth, at any given moment, the atmosphere contains an astounding 37.5 million billion gallons of water, in the invisible vapor phase. This is enough water to cover the entire surface of the Earth, both land and ocean, with one inch of rain, say Steven Ackerman and Jonathan Martin, professors in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Nature recycles this huge amount of water 40 times each year in an endless cycle of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation all over the planet, say Ackerman and Martin.

When it comes to drawing some of that water from the atmosphere, Skywater has many competitors in this fast-evolving field. The Water Abundance Xprize competition began with 98 teams from 27 countries. The five other finalist teams were:

JMCC WING from South Point, Big Island of Hawaii: Led by James McCanney, this team is powering the JMCC WING, LLC line of industrial atmospheric water generators with a high efficiency wind energy system, to extract water from the atmosphere. This team received a $150,000 XPrize to acknowledge the team’s ingenuity in developing a unique technological approach.

Hydro Harvest Operation of Newcastle, Australia: – Led by the University of Newcastle’s Professor Behdad Moghtaderi, the team developed a simple, energy-efficient and cost-effective device, giving communities worldwide the ability to harvest their own fresh water.

Skydra of Chicago, Illinois: Led by Jacques Laramie, Nathan Taylor, and Chris Wlezien, the team has employed a hybrid solution that utilizes both natural and engineered systems to condense water out of the air.

Uravu of Hyderabad, India: – Led by Swapnil Shrivastav, the team is developing a completely off-grid water from air device, spinning together the material sciences and solar thermal energy.

The Veragon & ThinAir Partnership of London, United Kingdom: Led by Laura Dean, the team has developed a partnership with the key objective of revolutionizing the capability of atmospheric water generators to deliver high quality, mineralized drinking water at the point of need, in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

Visioneering: Incubator and Stage

The Water Abundance XPrize was awarded during Visioneering 2018, XPrize’s annual gathering of philanthropists and innovators to evaluate concepts for future competitions.

“This year’s Visioneering beautifully encapsulates the full life-cycle of an XPrize with the awarding of the Water Abundance XPrize, which began as a prize concept proposed at a Visioneering just five years earlier by our trustee, Eric Hirshberg,” said Dr. Peter Diamandis, XPrize founder and executive chairman.

“It is testament to the basic premise that Visioneering is the forum where participants’ breakthrough ideas are presented, evaluated, upvoted, funded and then go on to have real-world, transformative impact,” Diamandis explained.

In addition, attendees of Visioneering 2018 deemed a “Coral Survival” prize concept, whose development efforts were sponsored by Wendy Schmidt, as the top prize design. This prize design, once funded, will launch as a future XPrize competition.

This prize concept calls for innovations that can scale coral survival 1,000-fold, taking the survival rate of new coral larvae from one in a million, to one in a thousand, helping to replenish dying coral reefs.

Anousheh Ansari, XPrize chief executive officer, said, “What particularly resonated about the coral reef presentation is the urgency with which we need to address this important issue caused by climate change before it is too late. We are committed to finding the necessary funds to capitalize and launch this competition as soon as possible.”

Featured Image: Thirsty boy enjoys water from the air in the form of rain. July 18, 2017, Saint Sulpice, Montreal, Quebec (Photo by Stéphanie Vaudry) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Tennessee River Microplastic Soup Shocks Scientists

Looking north from the top of Lookout Mountain over the Tennessee Valley, the Tennessee River winds through the city of Chattanooga, March 31, 2018 (Photo by GT Photos) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Looking north from the top of Lookout Mountain over the Tennessee Valley, the Tennessee River winds through the city of Chattanooga, March 31, 2018 (Photo by GT Photos) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee, October 11, 2018 ( News) – Dr. Andreas Fath, professor of medical and life sciences at Germany’s Furtwangen University, broke a world record in 34 days this summer by swimming all 652 miles of the Tennessee River, from its headwaters in Knoxville, Tennessee, to its mouth in Paducah, Kentucky.

He was determined to perform the first comprehensive analysis of the Tennessee River’s water quality, and his swim turned out to be the most extensive interdisciplinary water quality survey ever conducted of North America’s most biologically diverse river.

Breaking world swimming records is familiar territory to Dr. Fath, who in 2014 broke the world record for speed swimming the Rhine River from the Swiss Alps through Germany to the North Sea.

In 2014, Fath and his team of scientists analyzed the Rhine for more than 600 substances and found that concentrations of persistent pollutants increased as they moved downstream.

“We found the great blockbusters in the Rhine,” Fath says, “from artificial sweeteners to residues of dishwasher tabs.” This means that many substances we use in our everyday lives survive wastewater treatment and end up in waterways.

Nicknamed TenneSwim, Fath’s second swim for science revealed the high concentration of microplastics in the Tennessee River, summer 2018 (Photo courtesy Tennessee Aquarium) Posted for media use.

Nicknamed TenneSwim, Fath’s second swim for science revealed the high concentration of microplastics in the Tennessee River, summer 2018 (Photo courtesy Tennessee Aquarium) Posted for media use.

This summer, Dr. Fath was able to compare the Tennessee River’s water quality to what he found in Germany’s Rhine River four years ago.

The levels of some chemical substances, such as pharmaceuticals, were lower in the Tennessee than in the Rhine.

The Tennessee River appears cleaner than the Rhine in some ways. When Fath emerged from the Tennessee after 34 days of swimming, he was free of infections, despite swimming with open wounds. By comparison, during his 2014 swim of the Rhine, Fath became sick with nausea and diarrhea from an infection.

Fath and his team found large quantities of microplastics in the Rhine. But the high levels of microplastic pollution in the Tennessee River set all his alarm bells ringing.

Fath collected samples from the Tennessee River with microplastic concentrations 8,000 percent higher than those found in the Rhine.

The levels of microplastic on the surface of the Tennessee were also 80 percent higher than in China’s Yangtze River, which a recent study found to be the source of 55 percent of all river-borne microplastic entering the ocean.

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles less than five millimeters in diameter. They easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in rivers and eventually in the oceans, posing a potential threat to aquatic life.

Aquatic birds and animals can mistake microplastics for food. Ingesting the tiny particles can prevent some species from consuming their natural prey, leading to starvation and death. Microplastics also have been found to cause reproductive complications in oysters.

Pollutants such as pesticides and manufacturing chemicals can adhere to microplastic particles and bioaccumulate in aquatic life, according to Adventure Scientists, a nonprofit based in Bozeman, Montana that has amassed one of the largest and most diverse global microplastic pollution datasets, called the Global Microplastics Initiative.

“I did not expect such high levels of microplastics. Therefore, we triple-checked the results,” Fath says of the Tennessee River. “By looking for a reason, we rather quickly made a plausible guess.”

Despite the similar length of the Rhine and the Tennessee, he says, the dramatic difference between the levels of microplastic is likely due to differing approaches to waste management and recycling.

Analysis of Fath’s water samples from the Tennessee River suggests the primary source of microplastic pollution there is not from microbeads, minute plastic spheres found in many cosmetic products and a primary source of microplastic pollution worldwide.

Instead, Fath says the high levels are a byproduct of decomposition from large plastic waste in landfills.

“In Germany, plastic waste is collected separately, and then it’s combusted, recycled or exported to other countries like China, Vietnam, Thailand or Malaysia,” he says. “In the states bordering the Tennessee River, plastic waste is going to landfills. More than 100 million straws each day are going to landfills.”

“Once the land is filled with plastic waste, it breaks up, step by step, with the help of microorganisms, ultraviolet light and mechanical forces,” says Fath. “At the end of the day, the plastic is flushed into rivers as secondary microplastic.”

River-borne microplastic is a major contributor to microplastic in the oceans.

Overlooking the Tennessee River at Signal Mountain, October 18, 2016 (Photo by csm242000 Photography) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Overlooking the Tennessee River at Signal Mountain, October 18, 2016 (Photo by csm242000 Photography) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

“By some measures the Tennessee River appears to have fairly good water quality. The high levels of microplastic particles are the real shocker,” says Dr. Martin Knoll, professor of geology and hydrology at Sewanee: The University of the South.

“A major contributing factor must be the abundant plastic waste we all see on roadsides,” said Dr. Knoll. “This plastic can easily make its way underground through the porous limestone and quickly move into the river.”

If the rate of microplastic entering the oceans is left unchecked, scientists predict there could be more plastic particulate than fish in the oceans by 2050.

One of Fath’s many sponsors is the Tennessee Aquarium, situated on the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga, and a member of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership. This consortium of 22 aquariums was formed last year to take the lead in combating microplastic pollution by eliminating single-use plastics in their operations and encouraging similar lifestyle changes in their visitors.

“We hope that, through our own efforts to stem the tide of microplastics, all of our guests will look for ways they can join us in reducing the amount of plastics in our aquatic environments,” says Dr. Anna George, the Tennessee Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education. “The solution to plastic pollution is in our hands.”

Given the levels of microplastics and the presence of industrial chemicals that have been outlawed in Europe for years, the Tennessee River is not healthy for the aquatic species that live in the waterway and its many tributaries.

“Based on the findings, it is not a healthy river at all,” Fath says. “The microplastic concentration, together with the chemical cocktail found in the river, is not a good combination for aquatic life in the Tennessee River.”

More than 1,400 aquatic species live in waterways within a 500-mile radius of Chattanooga. The Tennessee River and its many tributaries are inhabited by more than 230 fishes. There are more than 100 freshwater mussels, and more than 70 crayfishes – 90 percent of all American mussels and crayfish species.

The watershed holds more than 150 turtle and more than 50 salamander species – 80 percent of North America’s salamander species and half its turtle species. Many communities rely on the Tennessee River for drinking water, including Chattanooga, Knoxville and Huntsville.

Fath says the ecological damage to the Tennessee River could still be curbed. He suggests implementation of a treatment step in sewage plants to reduce the release of trace substances and legislation to reduce and control release limits for industries, agriculture and hospitals.

To curb the pandemic of microplastic pollution, he suggests encouraging wider scale adoption of recycling programs and a nationwide reduction in the use of single-use plastic items like shopping bags and straws.

“Plastic is a smart and important material in industries with a lot of economic benefits,” Fath says. “We appreciate its durability, but it is madness to use this non-degradable material for packaging of articles which are only used for minutes or hours. If we do not change that, we are going to wrap up the world with plastic.”

Featured Image: The Tennessee River as it flows through Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 3, 2010 (Photo by csm242000 Photography) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Water Shortages Linked to Violence, Poverty

A Boko Haram bombing, February 6, 2015, (Photo courtesy Diariocritico de Venezuela) Creative Commons license via Flickr

A Boko Haram bombing, February 6, 2015, (Photo courtesy Diariocritico de Venezuela) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, August 27, 2018 ( News) – More nature-based solutions are urgently needed to avoid a violent global water crisis, warn the hosts of World Water Week 2018, which opened Sunday in Stockholm, attracting government leaders, water experts, development professionals and business representatives from throughout the world.

A record number of 3,700 delegates are meeting in the Swedish capital August 26-31 to explore solutions to the world’s escalating water challenges, hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), which organizes World Water Week each year.

The urgency arises because wherever there is poor water management and stressed ecosystems, violent conflicts and poverty are sure to follow.

Today, more than 1.2 billion of the world’s 7.6 billion inhabitants lack access to clean drinking water.

Decades of unprecedented economic and population growth, rapid urbanization and climate change have led to stressed ecosystems and high pressure on limited water resources. In response, societies must find and implement solutions that work with, not against, nature.

World Water Week has become the central meeting-place for the global water community to work out such dilemmas. This year the gathering is focused on the link between water, ecosystems and human development.

Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and a former environment minister of Nigeria, speaks to an audience of water experts on August 27, 2018, the opening day of World Water Week 2018, Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by Thomas Henriksson / SIWI) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and a former environment minister of Nigeria, speaks to an audience of water experts on August 27, 2018, the opening day of World Water Week 2018, Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by Thomas Henriksson / SIWI) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and a former environment minister of Nigeria, told conference delegates about the link between environmental degradation, poverty and violent conflicts in her home country, which has endured terrorism carried out by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

“I believe that the tragedy of Boko Haram is inextricably linked to poor water management, and the solution to the conflict in the region must include equitable ways of using water resources,” Mohammed said.

As an example of the dramatic consequences of a collapsing ecosystem, Mohammed pointed to Lake Chad, which has shrunk by 90 percent, saying, “It has impacted food insecurity and is increasing the risk of water-borne diseases, but it is also causing poverty by taking away farmers’ livelihoods, especially for women.”

“And it has a gender dimension, contributing, among other [thing]s, to low levels of school-enrollment among our girls. Taken together,” said Mohammed, “all these factors have contributed increasingly to insecurity in our region, already affected by religious extremism.”

Åsa Regnér, assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director at UN Women, described lack of water as a root cause of poverty and inequality since “…in Sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water, equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce in France.”

“With the rapidly growing demand for water, it is becoming increasingly clear that water is everybody’s issue. Scarcity  of water has become the new normal in  so  many  parts of the world,” said SIWI Executive Director Torgny Holmgren.

In his welcome address this morning, Holmgren called for a shift towards more green infrastructure solutions, observing that they are inherently multi-functional.

“City parks retain rain, improve the microclimate, contribute to biodiversity – and look good doing so. Green solutions are, in addition, also often much more resilient than grey. They tend to bend rather than break under pressure,” said Holmgren. “They can repair themselves and restore their functionality also after significant damage.”

There is a growing realization everywhere that humans are increasingly vulnerable to water shortages, extreme weather and social unrest, Holmgren said.

Carin Jämtin, director-general of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, also talked about the relationship between poverty, conflicts and lack of clean water.

“In countries affected by conflict and fragility, tensions over water increase,” Jämtin said. “There is evidence that water and sanitation infrastructure have been attacked, or that the access to clean water is denied as tactic or weapon of war.”

“Without access to clean water, children fall ill, hospitals do not function, and disease and malnutrition spread quickly. Among the threats against children in conflict, the lack of safe drinking water is one of the deadliest,” Jämtin said.

Stockholm Mayor Karin Wanngård, pointed to the risk from populism and short-sightedness but also felt that cities are increasingly coming together to find new solutions. “I hope that this week will help the global community to get closer to the goal of a sustainable world,” she said.

Some speakers expressed optimism about the increase in new solutions modeled on natural processes.

2018 Stockholm Water Prize winners Professors Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht at the 2018 World Water Week opening session, August 27, 2018 (Photo by Thomas Henriksson / SIWI) Creative Commons license via Flickr

2018 Stockholm Water Prize winners Professors Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht at the 2018 World Water Week opening session, August 27, 2018 (Photo by Thomas Henriksson / SIWI) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Many find the work of 2018 Stockholm Water Prize winners Professors Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht inspiring.

Van Loosdrecht is professor in Environmental Biotechnology at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. Rittmann is a professor of environmental engineering and director of the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, United States.

By revolutionizing microbiological-based technologies in water and wastewater treatment, the two professors have demonstrated how to remove contaminants from water, cut wastewater treatment costs, reduce energy consumption, and recover chemicals and nutrients for recycling.

Rittman told Maggie White, SIWI’s senior manager for international policies,  “We want to have a merging of environmental and economic interests. We don’t want to make pollution control and environmental protection just a cost to society, we want to turn that also into a generator of resources and economic value.”

Featured Images:  Enjoying fresh water, August 3, 2006, Beaucaire, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (Photo by topher76) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Innovators Find Water Scarcity Solutions

A team of Argonne National Lab researchers successfully tested the Oleo Sponge off the coast of Southern California in April 2018. (Photo by Argonne National Laboratory) Posted for media use

A team of Argonne National Lab researchers successfully tested the Oleo Sponge off the coast of Southern California in April 2018. (Photo by Argonne National Laboratory) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 17, 2018 ( News) – “We have a water crisis, which is based on increasing population, urbanization and climate disruption. And there’s unsustainable use of our water,” said Argonne National Laboratory researcher Seth Darling. “Part of addressing this is through policy solutions, but we also need new, more energy-efficient and cost-effective technologies.”

As shown this year by South Africa’s countdown to “Day Zero,” or the day the water taps are expected to run dry, water scarcity continues to be a growing problem across the globe. The current system is almost entirely dependent on rainfall.

Four billion people are facing “severe water scarcity” according to a 2016 study by Mesfin Mekonnen and Arjen  Hoekstra at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. “We find that two-thirds of the global population live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least one month of the year. Nearly half of those people live in India and China. Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round.”

Authorities are seeking ways improve water access, building desalination plants, extracting groundwater from aquifers and reducing water leaks due to aging infrastructure. Mekonnen and Hoekstra say, “Putting caps to water consumption by river basin, increasing water-use efficiencies, and better sharing of the limited freshwater resources will be key in reducing the threat posed by water scarcity on biodiversity and human welfare.”

Now researchers are discovering innovative ways to clean water, desalinate water, even collect water on fog harps.

Darling’s new and comprehensive research paper describes some of the most advanced innovations that could improve access to clean water globally. It was released this week in the “Journal of Applied Physics,” published by the American Institute of Physics.

Darling’s focus is on understanding and controlling the interfaces between materials and water. Interfaces are what determine the performance of technologies such as water quality sensors, filtration membranes and pipes.

Adsorbents of All Kinds

Adsorption is one of the best mechanisms for cleaning water. A sorbent is a material used to absorb or adsorb liquids or gases. In the adsorption process, contaminants adhere to the surface of porous materials to maximize surface-to-volume ratio. Darling’s own labs are working on adsorbents to advance water treatment.

Highly porous activated carbon is the most extensively used adsorbent because it is abundant and inexpensive.

Zeolites, a kind of rock that can trap water within, can trap whole molecules in their 3D crystalline cage structures, enabling them to selectively bind particular compounds from water-based solutions.

There are about 40 naturally occurring zeolites, formed in both volcanic and sedimentary rocks, says the U.S. Geological Survey. Around 150 more artificial, synthetic zeolites have been designed for specific purposes, such as laundry detergent.

Polymer-based sorbents have nearly limitless flexibility in their design. To meet the demand for green chemistry and sustainable development, much research has been devoted to the design and synthesis of advanced adsorbent nanomaterials such as polymer-based sorbents for efficient adsorption, separation and purification.

“We will continue to rely on these proven technologies,” Darling said. “But there is also a pressing need for sorbents that are more effective and energy-efficient.”

In recent years, functional hydrogels have emerged as effective adsorbents for the removal of water-soluble contaminants. A hydrogel is a gel composed of polymers suspended in water. For instance, a silicone hydrogel is used to make soft contact lenses.

But for amorphous soft materials such as hydrogels, a relatively long time is required to reach a saturated state of adsorption, writes Wantai Yang and colleagues from China’s Beijing University of Chemical Technology in a paper on hydrogels from 2016. “Meanwhile,” writes Yang, “difficulties associated with the regeneration and disposal of hydrogel adsorbents constitute major obstacles for their practical application.”

Porous Membranes

Engineered porous membranes can help recover freshwater from heavily polluted groundwater and seawater, which is a critical need in developing countries and arid environments like the Arabian Peninsula.

Conventional water desalination processes rely on polymer membranes. However, unless these membranes achieve very good salt rejection, they can fall short of the needed high freshwater flux.

Now, Zhiping Lai and colleagues from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia have developed carbon-composite membranes that consist of a network of carbon fibers deposited on a porous, hollow ceramic tube.

Lai calls these membranes, “the first that can be used in all three membrane-based desalination processes, namely membrane distillation, reverse osmosis and forward osmosis.”

These membranes can simultaneously reject all the salt plus let large quantities of freshwater through their nanoscopic pores while consuming little energy. The water fluxes are up to 20 times higher than for commercial membranes.

These results come from a unique interfacial salt-sieving effect, which differs from a solution-diffusion mechanism observed in polymer membranes, explains Lai.

One side of the membrane is immersed in salt water while the other is in contact with freshwater, creating a gap between two liquid surfaces.

“Water evaporates from the salt water and quickly passes through the carbon gap before condensing at the freshwater side. Thanks to the excellent thermal conductivity of carbon fibers, most of the energy can be recovered, which reduces energy consumption by more than 80 percent,” explains Lai.

Seth Darling is a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and a Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. 2018 (Photo courtesy University of Chicago) Posted for media use

Seth Darling is a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and a Fellow at the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago. 2018 (Photo courtesy University of Chicago) Posted for media use

Reuse or Be Left Behind

Reusability is a critical characteristic for sorbent materials; it can reduce costs and increase the sustainability of a treatment process. Polymeric foam sponges are promising candidates for this approach.

Darling, who serves as director of the Institute for Molecular Engineering at Argonne National Lab, is heading a group that created the Oleo Sponge, which can soak up 90 times its weight in oil throughout the entire water column.

To create the Oleo Sponge, a patent-pending technology, the researchers implemented a technique called sequential infiltration synthesis (SIS). Using SIS, they grew metal oxide within the foam fibers to transform common polyurethane foam, found in seat cushions, into an oil adsorbent.

The metal oxide serves as the glue to which the oil-loving molecules attach.

Oleo Sponge is reusable; you simply wring the reclaimed oil into a holding tank. This cuts waste resulting from the clean-up process and enables a small amount of adsorbent to mitigate enormous spills.

The technology is the first and only option to adsorb oil and other petroleum products below the water surface. Current industry-standard technologies only address the surface.

Oleo Sponge is environmentally friendly, doing no harm to sea life, animals or the larger environment, a key advantage when compared with chemical dispersants or burning techniques that are used today.

“This technology is so important because, despite the industry’s best intentions, oil spills continue to happen, and existing cleanup methods are surprisingly inadequate,” said Darling.

“This technology has so many applications,” Darling said. “We are excited about the opportunities for other environmental remediation applications and beyond, which makes us that much more motivated to keep working on it.”

Researchers are also designing next-generation sorbents that have higher specificity – more binding power to target individual pollutants. Ideally, researchers could tailor the properties of interfaces to adsorb challenging water contaminants like nutrients and heavy metals.

Josh Tulkoff constructs a large prototype of the fog harp - a vertical array of 700 wires. Tulkoff was part of an interdisciplinary research team at Virginia Tech that discovered parallel wire arrays could increase the water collection capacity of fog nets threefold. 2018 (Photo courtesy Virginia Tech) Posted for media use.

Josh Tulkoff constructs a large prototype of the fog harp – a vertical array of 700 wires. Tulkoff was part of an interdisciplinary research team at Virginia Tech that discovered parallel wire arrays could increase the water collection capacity of fog nets threefold. 2018 (Photo courtesy Virginia Tech) Posted for media use.

Harvesting Water From Fog

Installing giant nets along hillsides and mountaintops to catch water out of thin air sounds more like folly than science. However, the technique has become an important avenue to clean water for many who live in arid and semi-arid climates.

A passive, durable, and effective method of water collection, fog harvesting consists of catching the microscopic droplets of water suspended in the wind that make up fog.

Fog nets have been in use since the 1980s and can yield clean water in any area that experiences frequent, moving fog. Fog harvesting has gained acceptance in areas of Africa, South America, Asia, the Middle East, and California.

As wind moves the fog’s microscopic water droplets through the nets, some get caught on the net’s suspended wires. These droplets gather and merge until they have enough weight to travel down the nets and settle into collection troughs below. In some of the largest fog harvesting projects, these nets collect an average of 6,000 liters of water each day.

Now an interdisciplinary research team at Virginia Tech has improved the traditional design of fog nets to triple their collection capacity.

Published in “ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces,” the team’s research demonstrates how a vertical array of parallel wires can change the forecast for fog harvesters. In a design the researchers have called the “fog harp,” these vertical wires shed tiny water droplets faster and more efficiently than the traditional mesh netting used in fog nets.

“From a design point of view, I’ve always found it somewhat magical that you can essentially use something that looks like screen door mesh to translate fog into drinking water,” said Brook Kennedy, associate professor of industrial design in the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies and one of the study’s co-authors. “But these parallel wire arrays are really the fog harp’s special ingredient.”

Kennedy, who specializes in biomimetic design, found his inspiration for the fog harp in nature.

“On average, coastal redwoods rely on fog drip for about one-third of their water intake,” he said. “These sequoia trees that live along the California coast have evolved over long periods of time to take advantage of that foggy climate. Their needles, like those of a traditional pine tree, are organized in a type of linear array. You don’t see cross meshes.”

And There’s More

With a desire to develop breakthrough technologies for water filtration and purification, French researchers have developed membranes with artificial channels inspired by the proteins that form the pores in biological membranes – aquaporins.

The scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research, the largest governmental research organization in France, use an innovative spectroscopic technique.

With their new technique, they have been able to observe that, in the very restricted space in these channels, water molecules organize in a regular manner, in an oriented molecular wire structure – the water has become “chiral.” A chiral phenomenon is one that is not identical to its mirror image.

Water, via hydrogen bonds, interacts with the walls of these artificial channels. In the resulting superstructures, the molecules forming the channels transmit their chiral character to the water threads, and give the water molecules a preferred direction.

Laboratory experiments confirmed that these chiral arrangements present greater transfer properties than their non-chiral equivalents, where water forms random molecular arrangement. This discovery opens a vast area of application for water filtration and purification.

Featured Images: A young resident of Afghanistan’s Maslakh Camp for displaced persons takes a drink of water, Herat, Afghanistan. February 2, 2002 (Photo by Eskinder Debebe / UN Photo) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Twin Satellites Track Global Freshwater Trends

Cataract Falls, Mount Tamalpais, California March 1, 2009 (Photo by Alan Grinberg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Cataract Falls, Mount Tamalpais, California March 1, 2009 (Photo by Alan Grinberg) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

GREENBELT, Maryland, May 17, 2018 ( News) – Earth’s wet land areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting drier due to a range of factors, including human water management, climate change and natural cycles.

In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists have combined an array of NASA satellite observations of Earth with data on human activities to map locations where freshwater is changing around the globe and to determine why.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal “Nature.

Matt Rodell analyzes GRACE data at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. (Photo by Bill Hrybyk / NASA) Public domain

Matt Rodell analyzes GRACE data at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. (Photo by Bill Hrybyk / NASA) Public domain

A team led by Matt Rodell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, used 14 years of observations from the U.S./German-led Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft mission to track global trends in freshwater in 34 regions around the world.

To understand why these trends emerged, they needed to pull in satellite precipitation data from the Global Precipitation Climatology Project, NASA/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat imagery, irrigation maps, and published reports of human activities related to agriculture, mining and reservoir operations.

Only through analysis of the combined data sets were the scientists able to get a full understanding of the reasons for Earth’s freshwater changes as well as the sizes of those trends.

Launched in 2002 as a joint mission with NASA and the German Aerospace Center <>, the identical twin GRACE satellites weighed Earth’s fresh water from space. The satellites respond to changes in Earth’s gravitation field that signal shifts in the movement of water across and under Earth’s surface.

“This is the first time that we’ve used observations from multiple satellites in a thorough assessment of how freshwater availability is changing, everywhere on Earth,” said Rodell.

“A key goal was to distinguish shifts in terrestrial water storage caused by natural variability – wet periods and dry periods associated with El Niño and La Niña, for example – from trends related to climate change or human impacts, like pumping groundwater out of an aquifer faster than it is replenished,” he said.

“Accurate accounting of changes in freshwater availability is essential for predicting regional food supplies, human and ecosystem health, energy generation and social unrest,” the authors write. “Groundwater is particularly difficult to monitor and manage because aquifers are vast and unseen, yet groundwater meets the domestic needs of roughly half of the world’s population and boosts food supply by providing for 38 percent of global consumptive irrigation water demand.”

“Nearly two-thirds of terrestrial aquatic habitats are being increasingly threatened, while the precipitation and river discharge that support them are becoming more variable. A recent study estimates that almost five billion people live in areas where threats to water security are likely – a situation that will only be exacerbated by climate change, population growth and human activities,” the authors state, concluding, “The key environmental challenge of the 21st century may be the globally sustainable management of water resources.”

Twin satellites launched in March 2002, made detailed measurements of Earth's gravity field which are leading to discoveries about gravity and Earth's freshwater systems that could have far-reaching benefits to society and the world's population. Artist's concept of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) Public domain

Twin satellites launched in March 2002, made detailed measurements of Earth’s gravity field which are leading to discoveries about gravity and Earth’s freshwater systems that could have far-reaching benefits to society and the world’s population. Artist’s concept of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) Public domain

“What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change,” said co-author Jay Famiglietti from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We see a distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter – those are the high latitudes and the tropics – and the dry areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.”

“GRACE is not looking at the ground,” says Famiglietti, now at the University of California-Irvine. “It’s feeling the ground.”

Famiglietti commented that while water loss in some regions, like the melting ice sheets and alpine glaciers, is clearly driven by warming climate, it will require more time and data to determine the driving forces behind other patterns of freshwater change.

“The pattern of wet-getting-wetter, dry-getting-drier during the rest of the 21st century is predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models, but we’ll need a much longer dataset to be able to definitively say whether climate change is responsible for the emergence of any similar pattern in the GRACE data,” he said.

But the GRACE satellite observations alone cannot tell Rodell, Famiglietti and their colleagues what was causing the apparent trends.

“We examined information on precipitation, agriculture and groundwater pumping to find a possible explanation for the trends estimated from GRACE,” said co-author Hiroko Beaudoing of Goddard and the University of Maryland in College Park.

For instance, although pumping groundwater for agricultural uses is a significant contributor to freshwater depletion throughout the world, groundwater levels are also sensitive to cycles of persistent drought or rainy conditions.

Famiglietti noted that such a combination was likely the cause of the groundwater depletion observed in California’s Central Valley from 2007 to 2015, when decreased groundwater replenishment from rain and snowfall combined with increased pumping for agriculture.

Southwestern California lost four gigatons of freshwater per year during the same period. A gigaton of water would fill 400,000 Olympic swimming pools.

A majority of California’s freshwater comes in the form of rainfall and snow that collect in the Sierra Nevada snowpack and then is managed as it melts into surface waters through a series of reservoirs. When natural cycles lead to less precipitation and cause diminished snowpack and surface waters, people rely on groundwater more heavily.

Downward trends in freshwater seen in Saudi Arabia also reflect agricultural pressures. From 2002 to 2016, the region lost 6.1 gigatons per year of stored groundwater. Imagery from Landsat satellites shows an explosive growth of irrigated farmland in the arid landscape from 1987 to the present, which may explain the increased drawdown.

The team’s analyses also identified large, decade-long trends in terrestrial freshwater storage that do not appear to be directly related to human activities. Natural cycles of high or low rainfall can cause a trend that is unlikely to persist, Rodell said.

An example is Africa’s western Zambezi basin and Okavango Delta, a vital watering hole for wildlife in northern Botswana. In this region, water storage increased at an average rate of 29 gigatons per year from 2002 to 2016. This wet period during the GRACE mission followed at least two decades of dryness. Rodell believes it is a case of natural variability that occurs over decades in this region of Africa.

The successor to GRACE, called GRACE Follow-On, a joint mission with the German Research Centre for Geosciences , currently is at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California undergoing final preparations for launch no earlier than May 22.

Featured Image: Dust storm heading for Mungeranie, South Australia January 31, 2010 (Photo by Sydney Oats) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Water Advocates Initiate Decade of Action

Dr. Bruce Rittmann and Dr. Mark van Loosdrecht have been awarded the 2018 Stockholm Water Prize for revolutionizing water and wastewater treatment. March 22, 2018 (Photo courtesy Swette Center of Environmental Biotechnology at Arizona State University) Posted for media use

Dr. Bruce Rittmann and Dr. Mark van Loosdrecht have been awarded the 2018 Stockholm Water Prize for revolutionizing water and wastewater treatment. March 22, 2018 (Photo courtesy Swette Center of Environmental Biotechnology at Arizona State University) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, March 23, 2018 ( News) – “Quite simply, water is a matter of life and death. Our bodies, our cities, our industries and our agriculture all depend on it, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres Thursday on World Water Day.

Diseases born of unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war, UN leaders have said for years. Now they’re doing something about it.

To mark this special day, the United Nations opened a 10-year water action plan, endorsed by the UN General Assembly on December 21, 2016.

“By 2050 at least one in four people will live in a country where the lack of fresh water will be chronic or recurrent,” he warned, speaking at the launch of the International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development, 2018-2028.

The UN aims to use this coming decade of action for clean water to forge new partnerships, improve cooperation and strengthen capacity to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Most directly linked to Sustainable Development Goal 6, safe water and adequate sanitation are indispensable for healthy ecosystems, reducing poverty, and achieving inclusive growth, social well-being and sustainable livelihoods – the targets for many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

But growing demands, poor management and climate change have increased water stresses, and now scarcity of water is a major problem in many parts of the world.

More than two billion people worldwide lack access to safe water and over 4.5 billion to adequate sanitation services, warned Guterres.

“As with most development challenges, women and girls suffer disproportionately,” he said. “Women and girls in low-income countries spend some 40 billion hours a year collecting water.”

The launch of the International Decade coincides with World Water Day, marked annually on March 22, to focus attention to importance of and challenges facing freshwater availability.

Commemorated this year with the theme, Nature for Water, the UN urges people to explore nature-based solutions to contemporary water problems.

Some of these could include planting trees and increasing forest cover, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, and restoring wetlands to rebalance the water cycle.

The government of Tajikistan and the United Nations are jointly organizing an International High-Level Conference on International Decade for Action, “Water for Sustainable Development,” 2018-2028, to be held from June 20 to 22, 2018 in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, on the Varzob River.

The conference is organized to facilitate the implementation of the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development,” 2018-2028.

Thirsty in the Gaza Strip

Some important actors are already moving to help populations who lack clean water and adequate sanitation.

The success of a Gaza water pledging conference on March 20 marks the start of the biggest-ever infrastructure project in the Gaza Strip.

The pledging conference was held in Brussels to raise funds for the Gaza Central Desalination Plant & Associated Works Project.

Co-chaired by the EU and the Palestinian Authority, the conference mobilized financial support of €456 million  (US$563.7 million), covering more than 80 percent of the total amount needed.

The infrastructure project will provide a minimum of 55 million cubic meters (m3) of safe and clean drinking water a year to Palestinian people in dire need.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said, “This conference carries a message of hope to our people in Gaza, stressing that the international community is not neglecting their suffering, but diligently working to design interventions to address the dire water situation in Gaza.”

“The project will contribute to the political stability of the region as water scarcity can have grim repercussions and spark further tensions,” said Hamdallah.

European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said, “This project will meet the most urgent water needs in Gaza, providing drinking water and at the same time contributing to economic growth, environmental sustainability and stability. I’m proud that the EU pledged €70 million for the desalination plant plus €7.1 million for management costs.”

Forty-two countries’ delegations – including Israel and 20 EU Member States – and eight institutions expressed support for the project and underlined the urgency of making quick progress.

The Union for Mediterranean, the European Investment Bank, the World Bank, Office of the Quartet and the Islamic Development Bank voiced their continued commitment to this infrastructure project.

The project includes the desalination plant, power supply installations to cover energy needs, with 15 percent renewable energy, and the construction of a North-South carrier to distribute fresh drinking water across Gaza.

Currently two million Palestinians in Gaza rely on the coastal aquifer as a source of drinking water. The capacity of this aquifer is 55-60 million m3 per year, about one-third of total water demand on the aquifer.

Only three percent of the water pumped from the aquifer complies with World Health Organization drinking water quality standards, posing significant health risks for the Gazan population.

And the winners are…

By revolutionizing microbiological-based technologies in water and wastewater treatment, Professors Mark van Loosdrecht and Bruce Rittmann have won the 2018 Stockholm Water Prize.

They demonstrated ways to remove harmful contaminants from water, cut wastewater treatment costs, reduce energy consumption, and recover chemicals and nutrients for recycling.

Their pioneering research and innovations have led to a new generation of energy-efficient water treatment processes that can effectively extract nutrients and other chemicals – both valuable and harmful – from wastewater.

Mark van Loosdrecht is Professor in Environmental Biotechnology at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands.

Bruce Rittmann is Regents’ Professor of Environmental Engineering and Director of the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, USA.

On receiving news of the prize, Professor van Loosdrecht said, “I’m very excited and pleased! This is a recognition not just of our work but of the contributions microbiological engineering can make to the water sector.”

“Traditionally,” said Professor Rittmann, “we have just thought of pollutants as something to get rid of, but now we’re beginning to see them as potential resources that are just in the wrong place.”

“The concept of wastes or waste products is obsolete,” he said. “The focus and the future are used resource recovery.”

Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, declared, “Together, Professors Rittmann and van Loosdrecht are leading, illuminating and demonstrating the path forward in one of the most challenging human enterprises on this planet – that of providing clean and safe water for humans, industry, and ecosystems.”

Featured Images: Women bear the burden of carrying clean drinking water to their families in may African countries such as Benin, where this photo was taken. September 2010 (Photo by Arne Hoel / World Bank) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Drier Than Dry, Dry to the Bone

Aerial View of Auwahi Dryland Forest Restoration Project, Maui. Restoration of drylands is possible, as shown in this replanted forest on Maui, Hawaii, USA. Thanks to the volunteerism of the Maui community and contributions of landowner Ulupalakua Ranch, restored forest patches at Auwahi. These small forests on the leeward flanks of the Haleakala volcano, despite their size, now provide sanctuaries for native Hawaiian species found nowhere else in the world. June 17, 2010 (Photo by Arthur Medeiros, USGS) -Public domain

Aerial View of Auwahi Dryland Forest Restoration Project, Maui. Restoration of drylands is possible, as shown in this replanted forest on Maui, Hawaii, USA. Thanks to the volunteerism of the Maui community and contributions of landowner Ulupalakua Ranch, restored forest patches at Auwahi. These small forests on the leeward flanks of the Haleakala volcano, despite their size, now provide sanctuaries for native Hawaiian species found nowhere else in the world. June 17, 2010 (Photo by Arthur Medeiros, USGS) -Public domain.

By Sunny Lewis

ORDOS, Inner Mongolia, China, September 5, 2017 ( News)  – Conflict, drought, displacement and disease are driving vast humanitarian crises in dryland areas of Africa and the Middle East, just as governments that are Parties to the UN Conference to Combat Desertification meet this week and next in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China.

Land degradation in drylands, known as desertification, could result in a 12 percent fall in global food production in the next 25 years. And it contributes to global carbon dioxide emissions, with about 60 percent of carbon in soils lost through land degradation, warns conference participant IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as the 10-day conference gets underway in Ordos, a city of more than two million.

“Failure to increase investment in protecting and restoring drylands, soils in particular, could put future food supplies at risk and hamper efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.

“Drylands secure food and water supplies for local people, mitigate climate change and reduce the impacts of disasters. Their soils, however, form slowly and are easily damaged,” says Andersen.

Scientists estimate that between 25 and 35 percent of drylands are being degraded right now, suffering diminished productivity. Over 250 million people are directly affected, and a further one billion in over 100 countries are at risk, statistics show.

Ordos itself must cope with desert conditions. The city is surrounded by a hilly area in the east, high plateaus in the west and center, sandy deserts in the north and south, and plains at the southern bank of the Yellow River.

During the 20th century, dryland habitats expanded by four to eight percent and now cover 40 percent of the globe’s terrestrial surface. As the global climate warms, this expansion of drylands will likely continue, say climate scientists.

Often, it is the children who suffer – and die.

Under current conditions, “nearly 20 million people are at risk of famine across Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, including some 1.4 million severely malnourished children at imminent risk of death,” calculates the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.

In Somalia, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating because of a severe drought that started in the north in 2016 and is now affecting most of the country, reports the UK Mission to the United Nations.

Other countries in the Horn of Africa have also been affected, especially Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. In South Sudan, seasonal dry weather has reinforced competition for water among people and animals, causing already scarce water sources to be overused.

West Africa’s Lake Chad has lost some 90 percent of its water mass since 1963 due to climatic variability and population pressure, with devastating consequences on food security in the region.

And these crises now are spreading to surrounding countries.

With severe drought parching the Horn of Africa; more than one million South Sudanese refugees fleeing conflict are stretching capacity and resources in Uganda.

Displacement throughout the Lake Chad Basin resulting from conflict, climate change, environmental degradation and poverty is affecting millions of people and animals.

And this is happening in one of the most fragile and important of the world’s priceless areas.

In July 2000, Lake Chad was declared a Transboundary Ramsar Site of International Importance. Conservationists hope to create a network of national and regional conservation areas in the Chad Basin and set up institutions to manage them sustainably. To that end, the Chad Wetlands Initiative (CHADWET) was launched in June 2003, organized by The Ramsar Wetland Convention Bureau and its Mediterranean Coordination Unit.

But meanwhile, the human beings in the Lake Chad Basin are in crisis – not only a crisis of food insecurity but also of clean water, sanitation, disease prevention and treatment.

Water and sanitation are just as important as food for children and families facing famine and food insecurity, says UNICEF, which is fighting famine in these areas by providing safe water to more than 2.5 million people.

UNICEF is keeping children alive by trucking thousands liters of water to displacement camps daily, supporting hospitals and cholera treatment centres, repairing large water and sanitation systems in cities and much more.

In Yemen, UNICEF has reached over five million people since the start of the year through support in operating water supply networks and waste water treatment plans; supplying fuel and electricity supply to keep water treatment and pumping stations working; chlorinating water sources, water trucking and distributing hygiene kits.

As the waterborne disease cholera spreads through South Sudan, UNICEF has dug 22 boreholes to reach over 210,000 people with safe water. Across the country, around 207,000 people have gained access to sanitation and 610,000 gained access to safe water.

At the Risk of Their Lives

In conflict-affected areas of north-east Nigeria, UNICEF has worked with partners to reach around 845,000 people with safe water. Some of the most dedicated workers are in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) offices.

“Staffers in many WASH offices are risking their lives to provide these essential services to people in need,” UNICEF says.

In Somalia, UNICEF says at least 1.66 million people have been given temporary access to safe water, and more than 890,000 have been given hygiene kits, critical to disease prevention.

It’s easy for diseases to spread in the drylands.

Drylands, including savannahs, mist forests and oases, cover 41 percent of all land on Earth. They are home to one-third of the world’s population and store 36 percent of all global terrestrial carbon.

They sustain 44 percent of the world’s cultivated systems and 50 percent of the world’s livestock.

Most of dryland biodiversity is found in the soil, which determines the overall fertility and productivity of the land.

“Species and ecosystems below and above ground are the engines of life in drylands, whose importance in sustaining billions of lives around the world is often underestimated,” says IUCN’s Andersen.

IUCN is urging countries to invest in conserving these ecosystems for the vital services they provide, and for the crucial role they play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, unanimously agreed by world governments.

Contributing to the Carbon Cycle Dryland ecosystems, from deserts to dry shrublands, play a more important role in the global carbon cycle than previously thought, says Montana State University faculty member Ben Poulter.

Carbon dioxide moves constantly between land, oceans, vegetation and the atmosphere. When one of those absorbs more carbon dioxide than it releases, it’s considered a carbon sink, Poulter explains.

“La Nina-driven rainfall during 2010 and 2011, as well as the 30-year greening up of its deserts and other drylands contributed to significant changes across the globe,” he said.

Poulter and his collaborators have discovered surprising interactions between climate extremes and desert greening that increased in importance over the past 30 years. In this phase, dryland systems in the Southern Hemisphere, specifically Australia, had particularly high productivity in response to increased La Nina-phase rainfall.

But the large 2011 land carbon uptake is not expected to lead to long-term increases in ecosystem carbon dioxide (CO2) accumulation, the researchers warn. As the heat-trappiing blanket of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases thickens, drylands will become more degraded than ever.

IUCN calls for urgent investment in restoring and sustainably managing drylands as a high priority for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including the goals of combating climate change, reducing poverty, increasing food and water security, and boosting health and economic growth.

“Sustainable land management practices can prevent the degradation, and improve the productivity and resilience of drylands,” says Jonathan Davies, coordinator of IUCN’s Global Drylands Initiative.

Some traditional crop farming and livestock production practices developed by dryland communities are helpful, such as minimizing tillage and planting trees alongside crops to maintain soil organic matter and moisture.

“These practices involve protecting biodiversity, including the bacteria, fungi and insects that live in the soil and which maintain nutrient and hydrological cycles,” said Davies. “Biodiversity is also vital for pollination which is a major factor in overall agricultural production.”

“Sustainable land management is a viable policy option for countries to address development and environmental challenges,” said Davies, hopefully.

The IUCN estimates that by sustainably managing soils, food production could increase by up to 58 percent. Improved livestock production and rangeland management could sequester up to 2,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, which is more than the 2015 CO2 emissions of Russia.

IUCN urges countries to sustainably manage land by strengthening the rights of local communities and by facilitating finance opportunities for small and medium agribusinesses that engage in sustainable land management.

Countries are also encouraged to restore large-scale degraded dryland landscapes.

But now, climate change is coming on strong, with devastating effects, making landscape restoration even more challenging.

Projected global warming will likely decrease the extent of temperate drylands by a third over the rest of the 21st century, a situation made worse by an increase in dry deep soil conditions during the agricultural growing season, an international scientific collaboration led by the U.S. Geological Survey with members from seven countries has found.

Their study is presented in the journal “Nature Communications.”

These researchers predict a loss of 15 to 30 percent of temperate grasslands by the end of the century with a “substantial increase in deep soil drought conditions.”

Their results suggest that changes in precipitation and soil moisture associated with climate change will convert much of the area currently occupied by temperate grasslands and deserts to subtropical vegetation.

“The impacts can have large consequences for humanity,” they warn.

Until recently, uncertainty existed about the fate of temperate drylands. But this uncertainty is now disappearing because of improved supercomputer modelling of the movement of water through ecosystems, based on 20,000 locations around the world.

“I was impressed by the scope of the computer model, with many components of the water cycle calculated daily for 30 years, at 20,000 sites. All of this to simulate the current climate as well as 16 possible future climates. The variety of possible future climates gave pretty consistent outcomes, lending credibility to the results,” said Professor Scott Wilson, CIRC researcher and visiting researcher at Umeå University in Sweden.

Wilson explains that with the expansion of subtropical drylands as temperate drylands warm, cool season crops such as wheat and potato would no longer be economically viable.”

Wilson also warns of diseases driven to spread by the changing climate. “These subtropical drylands are home to aggressive diseases such as dengue and schistosomiasis. Given the predicted changes to dryland habitats globally, the outcome of this research is essential for developing strategies for adaptation by policy makers,” Wilson said.

All these issues and more will be on the table at the UN Conference to Combat Desertification, which runs from September 4 through September 15 in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China.

The high-level segment of the conference is scheduled on September 11 and 12.

Just last month, UNCCD joined the group of international observer organizations to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

As a major source of climate finance, GCF offers many opportunities for UNCCD member countries to finance preparation and implementation of large scale transformative land-based climate action projects.

The observer status enables UNCCD representatives to attend GCF board meetings and to contribute better to the orientation of climate finance to achieve land degradation neutrality.

At COP 13, UNCCD and the Green Climate Fund are partnering to organize a training session on “How to access Green Climate Fund financing for land-based projects?” Staffers at UNCCD national focal points and land use practitioners will learn the key messages and methodologies that can increase the volume of financing for dryland restoration.

Featured Image: Displaced Lake Chad Basin Women in a meeting with representatives of the UN Security Council in the Teachers’ Village IDP Camp in Nigeria. Dec. 13, 2014. (Photo by Lorey Campese courtesy UK Mission to the UN) Creative Commons license via Flickr.


Week for a Water Wise World

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri has developed the country’s first National Water Plan to protect Argentine clean water sources like this stream in Mendoza Province in the western central part of the country. (Photo courtesy Mendoza Government Press)

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri has developed the country’s first National Water Plan to protect Argentine clean water sources like this stream in Mendoza Province in the western central part of the country. (Photo courtesy Mendoza Government Press)

By Sunny Lewis

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, August 29, 2017 ( News) – Cool, clear, delicious water – there’s no substitute for the one substance on which all life depends. Yet, often there is too little clean water, or too much. These problems, and their solutions, are in the spotlight right now at World Water Week in Stockholm.

Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the theme of this year’s week-long conference, August 27-September 1, is “water and waste: reduce and reuse.”

“World Water Week is a key meeting place for the water and development community; it is here that we come together and make sure that the very best ideas are brought forward,” said SIWI’s Executive Director, Torgny Holmgren.

More than 3,000 participants from 130 countries have come to Stockholm to learn about new research results, share experiences, discuss progress in the implementation of the Global Sustainable Development Goals, and together try to find new ways to meet the world’s growing water challenges.

In his welcoming speech Holmgren said it will be challenging but necessary to change large-scale water consumption patterns.

“The week’s theme, Water and waste: Reduce and reuse, really touches the very core of our daily lives,” said Holmgren. “To reduce, some drastic changes will be necessary – especially by the main water users, including industries, energy producers and the agriculture sector.”

Changes are also needed in how we think about reuse of water, he said. “Rather than presenting us with a problem, we can view waste as an asset also becoming a business opportunity.”

Sweden’s Minister for Environment, Karolina Skog told the audience that sustainable and efficient management of water and wastewater profoundly touches “all aspects of human life; economic growth, sustainable development, sustainable city planning, circular thinking in industry and in production, energy saving, good quality of our water and, last but not least, it is crucial for health and for a sustainable environment.”

This year, an astronaut is among the speakers at World Water Week. Physicist Christer Fuglesang, a Member of the Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science and a European Space Agency astronaut, was first launched aboard the STS-116 Space Shuttle mission on December 10, 2006, making him the first Swedish citizen in space. He has participated in two Space Shuttle missions and five spacewalks, giving him a unique perspective on planet Earth.

Fuglesang described the intricate water reuse systems that are essential to space missions. Water enables food to be grown on board space ships, ensures a drinking water supply for the crew, and helps to inform research into optimized water efficiency on Earth.

Stephen McCaffrey, 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate and a professor in water law, spoke of the need for water cooperation and water diplomacy.

He told World Water Week attendees that although the ingredients for potential water conflicts do exist, such as higher population pressure, climate change, and much of the world’s fresh water being shared by two or more countries, studies show that water sharing is much more likely to lead to cooperation than conflict.

H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, patron of the Stockholm Water Prize, will present the 2017 Prize, which includes a US150,000 award, to Distinguished Professor of Law Stephen McCaffrey, McGeorge School of Law, at the Royal Banquet in Stockholm City Hall on August 30.

Professor McCaffrey was named 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate “for his unparalleled contribution to the evolution and progressive realization of international water law,” the selection committee said. He is the only lawyer ever to receive the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize.

Since 1977, McCaffrey has served on the faculty of the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California. He was Special Rapporteur for the International Law Commission’s work on The Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, 1985-1991.

Professor McCaffrey has been acting as legal counsel to governments in several negotiations concerning international watercourses.

The cases include watercourses in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Although he has experienced first-hand the potential conflicts over freshwater resources, he remains an optimist, pointing to studies that have shown that shared fresh water is generally a catalyst for cooperation rather than conflict.

“I believe nobody who studies, researches or practices in the field of transboundary water management, water law or diplomacy could be unaware of Professor McCaffrey’s contribution to the conceptual and practical elaboration of the many legal concepts and principles that we now take for granted,” said Holmgren.

There’s no doubt that we need all the expertise we can get to keep clean water flowing in the right proportions to everyone in need.

More than two billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people are living in countries with excess water stress, according to a May 2017 report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals –Economic and Social Council.

Water stress means more than 25 percent of total renewable freshwater resources is withdrawn to meet ongoing needs. Northern Africa and Western Asia experience water stress levels above 60 percent, which indicates the strong probability of future water scarcity, Guterres warns in the report.

Flooding is the opposite, but even more serious problem, as the dramatic water rescues in Texas from the catastrophic floods from Hurricane Harvey this week painfully demonstrate.

The connections between water stress, flooding and climate change are among the many issues subject to in-depth review at World Water Week. Some are:

Water and climate: Climate change is to a large extent water change. Water disasters account for more than 90 percent of the natural disasters in the world and climate-driven water hazards, water scarcity and variability pose risks to all economic activity, such as food and energy production, manufacturing and infrastructure development, as well as political stability. This is true for both high and low income countries. Resilience to climate change requires adaptive water management and robust water infrastructure to keep ecosystems healthy.

Water as connector between the SDGs and the Paris Agreement: In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the water and sanitation SDG (Goal 6) links across all the other 16 Goals with a great number of water related targets in the overall Agenda; making water a key underlying factor and entry point for the successful implementation of the entire 2030 Agenda.

Drinking water and sanitation: The global water and sanitation crisis is mainly rooted in poverty, power and inequality, not in physical water scarcity, say World Water Week organizers. “It is, first and foremost, a crisis of governance. Poor resources management, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia, and insufficient capacity lie in many places behind the lack of sustainability of services, which also undermine the arrival of new investments.”

Water security: To manage the global rise in demand for water and to increase water productivity, incentives for using water more effectively are necessary. Water needs to be given its true value for production purposes in the energy, industry and agriculture sectors.

On pricing of water and valuing water: Water needs to be better valued. Some parts of this value can easily be reflected in a price, others cannot. So, water pricing needs to be complemented with laws, standards and an increase in public awareness. World Water Week organizers point to the need to make sure that basic water services are affordable to the poorest people, respecting the human right to water and sanitation

Innovative financing and green bonds: Billions in sustainable and climate smart financing will be needed for both supplying water and treating waste water, but an investment in climate-proof infrastructure today will be offset by a future reduced need for emergency response measures to counter floods and droughts.

Water cooperation: Development needs cooperation. Cooperation over transboundary waters would spur regional development, improve resilience to climate change, and decrease the risk of geopolitical hostility. The political aspects of transboundary cooperation cannot be neglected if real progress is to be made.

Water and migration: Researchers and policymakers are increasingly seeking to explain migration and refugee flows in terms of water scarcity, often perpetuated by climate change. The links between water challenges and climate change increase  uncertainty. While they are not the main causes of large-scale population migration, they are “push factor multipliers” together with social, economic, and political factors.

Water and faith: Water has profound symbolic meaning in many religious and local traditions, yet water stress is acute in many parts of the world where faith is a central aspect of individual and community identity. The role of Faith Based Organizations becomes crucial given their presence and influence in local communities.

Resolving these problems takes skill, cooperation and patience, and also lots of money. In a new report launched today at World Water Week, the World Bank estimates how much it will cost.

“Reaching the Sustainable Development Goal of access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030 will require countries to spend $150 billion per year,” the report states, “a fourfold increase in water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) investments compared to what is spent today. This is out of reach for many countries, threatening progress on poverty eradication.”

The report, “Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals,” suggests that a turnaround in the way countries manage resources and provide key services is required, starting with better targeting to ensure they reach those most in need, and tackling inefficiencies to make sure public services are sustainable and effective.

Guangzhe Chen, senior director of the Water Global Practice of the World Bank, said, “Millions are currently trapped in poverty by poor water supply and sanitation, which contributes to childhood stunting and debilitating diseases such as diarrhea. To give everyone an equal chance at reaching their full potential, more resources, targeted to areas of high vulnerability and low access, are needed to close the gaps and improve poor water and sanitation services. This report provides a roadmap for closing that gap.”

This report provides policymakers with a baseline and guidance on how to better target investments to ensure that basic water and sanitation services reach the poorest communities and households.

A lot depends on whether a person lives in a city or in a rural area. Across the 18 countries studied, 75 percent of people who lack improved sanitation live in rural areas, and only 20 percent of rural inhabitants have access to improved water.

Over two years in the field, the research teams found that:

  • In Nigeria, over 60 percent of the rural population live more than 30 minutes away from a working water source.
  • In Indonesia, only 5 percent of urban wastewater is safely treated and disposed of, and children living in communities with open defecation during the first 1,000 days of life are 11 percentage points more likely to be stunted.
  • In Bangladesh, E. coli was present in about 80 percent of water taps sampled, a similar rate to water scooped up from ponds.
  • In Ecuador, 24 percent of the rural population drinks contaminated water; 21 percent of children are stunted and 18 percent are underweight.
  • In Haiti, access to improved drinking water sources has declined in the last 25 years; access to improved sanitation is stagnant at 33 percent; and the number of households with access on premises to improved water has decreased from 15 to 7 percent.

Rachid Benmessaoud, World Bank country director in Nigeria, warned, “Water and sanitation services need to improve dramatically, or the consequences on health and well-being will be dire. Today, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under 5. Poor children also suffer from intestinal diseases, which together with under-nutrition and infections contribute to stunting. We are risking the futures of our children: their potential is being stymied by unequal or uneven access to the services they require to thrive.”

To download the 18 WASH Poverty Diagnostics reports click here

Another multi-lateral bank has a bold and encouraging word for those concerned about water and sanitation issues.

The Inter-American Development Bank, which is co-organizing Latin America’s contributions to World Water Week says, “Latin America and the Caribbean has the potential to lead a revolution in the management of wastewater as a resource by reusing it in agricultural and industrial activities, and by promoting circular economy models. The region can do all this while striving to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – by the year 2030.”

Today 77 percent of all people in Latin America and the Caribbean lack access to safe sanitation. Only an estimated 28 percent of the wastewater collected by public sewers receives some kind of treatment before being discharged to the environment.

In Argentina, for instance, a country of 44 million people, 8.2 million lack access to drinking water and 20 million to sanitation. Investment needs to cover this access gap are estimated at US$21 billion.

Waste water treatment in Argentina is estimated at 20 percent. Most water utilities do not cover operational costs and struggle to provide quality services.

The country has been recently struck by extreme weather events that showcase the need for better water resources management.

To tackle these challenges, the new administration headed by President Mauricio Macri developed the country’s first National Water Plan. The plan is based on four pillars: access to water and sanitation; water and food; water and energy; and adaptation to extreme weather events.

Argentina’s plan advances a new regulatory framework that will help water utilities improve their financial situation. The new authorities are also promoting innovation and private sector participation that will help overcome these challenges.

The lack of water is one of the main constraints to agriculture in more than 60 percent of Argentina, and it is worse in places without access to electricity, according to Macri’s office.

To correct the water deficit in some regions, specialists from the National Institute of Industrial Technology developed technologies for access to groundwater through pumps that run on solar energy. The pumps, located more than 10 meters deep, have been installed in 22 communities across the country.

This small step forward illustrates that creative solutions to water scarcity do exist. This week in Stockholm, more than 3,000 experts are looking for ways to keep the creativity flowing.

Featured Image: Physicist Christer Fuglesang, a Member of the Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science and a European Space Agency astronaut, addresses conference attendees at the opening plenary, August 28, 2017 (Photo courtesy Stockholm International Water Institute) Creative Commons license via Flickr

An Atlas of Sci-Art Water Diplomacy


Fountain of the Naiads at Piazza della Repubblica, Rome, Italy. This was originally the fountain of the Acqua Pia, connected to the aqua Marcia aqueduct, commissioned at this site by Pope Pius IX in 1870. (Photo by David McKelvey) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 9, 2017 ( News) – No longer is it true that water is a free and infinite resource as people once believed. Today conservation is essential as one in every 10 people across the European Union experiences water scarcity, according to the European Commission.

In an effort to manage water wisely so that everyone in the EU, and especially city dwellers, will have enough, the Commission has just published the first “Urban Water Atlas for Europe.

The atlas shows how different water management choices, and other factors such as food preferences, waste management and climate change affect the long-term sustainability of water use in cities.

Detailed factsheets in the Urban Water Atlas for Europe present the state of water management in more than 40 European cities and regions together with several overseas examples.

Tibor Navracsics, commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport, is responsible for the European Commission’s in-house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), which produced the new atlas.

“To foster innovative water management and its public acceptance, scientific and technological knowledge must be accessible for all. The ‘Urban Water Atlas for Europe’ presents scientific and technical information in an intuitive and creative way, making it easy for everyone to understand what is at stake and act accordingly,” he said.

The atlas was presented on April 27 during the meeting of ministers in charge of water management from the 43 members of the Union for the Mediterranean, hosted by the Maltese Government in Valetta.

The publication a result of the BlueSCities project, funded by Horizon 2020, the EU research and innovation program.

In its introduction, the Urban Water Atlas for Europe reveals the pioneering concept on which it is founded – Sci-Art Water Diplomacy.

This concept first appeared in a pilot scheme in Jordan which led to the exhibition “Science and Art in Water – Water through the eyes of Jordanian children,” organized under the auspices of the Jordanian Minister for Education by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the partners of the Horizon 2020 Project, BlueSCities.

Schoolchildren from different countries were encouraged to consider the water problems facing their region and to describe their personal feelings through drawings. The children’s thought-provoking, yet innocent images called on society to progress

towards a more ecological, more sustainable and more peaceful future, perhaps far more effectively than any scientific treatise.

The colorful results of this exercise laid the philosophical basis for the Urban Water Atlas for Europe.

“This is another great example of how the JRC helps to deliver solutions to the challenges facing Europe’s citizens and the spaces they live in,” Navracsics said.

On the scientific side, there are two online tools linked with the atlas that can help cities manage water more sustainably.

The City Blueprint is an interactive tool to support strategic decision-making by making it easy to access and understand the results of studies and expert knowledge.

The City Blueprint given for each city is a composite index that displays 25 indicators related to water, waste and climate change in one infographic, summarizing at a glance how well a city currently manages its water resources.

This tool gives an overview of a city’s strong and weak points, and provides tailor-made options for making urban water services more sustainable.

This information is important to help identify priorities for further action and investment, but also to visualize strengths and weaknesses. The Blue City Index is the overall score based on these 25 indicators.

The City Amberprint is a tool for assessing a city’s progress towards becoming smart and sustainable.

Karmenu Vella, commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said, “Water is an irreplaceable resource for society, but it is only renewable if well managed.”

He emphasized the critial role of cities, saying, “Home to three out of four EU citizens, cities have no other choice but to become water-wise, and better manage this precious resource. A strong water policy is also essential for delivering on Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development both in the EU and internationally.”

The atlas also presents the Urban Water Footprint of European cities, a measure of domestic water use as well as water use embodied in agricultural products consumed.

This measure aims to raise awareness of the large amount of water used to produce food and the variation in water needs among different diets. The atlas shows that healthier diets and lower meat diets could save as much as 40 percent of the water currently used to produce food.

The atlas also aims to encourage citizens to take an interest and get involved in water issues by combining the work of scientists, artists, politicians and municipal stakeholders with that of schoolchildren and teachers.

Some of the key messages in the atlas are, “Engage in true citizen engagement, employing a participatory and open approach,” and “create a legacy and a true connection between generations, from the youngest to the oldest citizens.”

The Urban Water Atlas stems from a collaboration of the Joint Research Centre with Fundació CTM Centre Tecnològic, the KWR Watercycle Research Institute, the (EIP) European Innovation Partnership on Water, and the Network for Water in European Regions and Cities, NETWERC H2O.

It follows a long tradition of other atlases produced by the Joint Research Centre, including those on soils and soil management across the globe and the European Atlas of Forest Tree Species.

Featured Image:  Woman at a fountain at Catedral de Santa Eulalia de Barcelona, Spain (Photo by Clark and Kim Kays) Creative Commons license via Flickr


 Maximpact’s consultant network has a wide range of water experts that can help your organization with water related projects. Contact us at info(@) and tell us what you need.

Our Drying Planet


An aerial view of the Tigris River as it flows through Baghdad, Iraq, population 8.76 million, the second largest city in the Arab world, July 31, 2016. (U.S. Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis

ROME, Italy, March 16, 2017 ( News) – The world faces an acute water crisis within a decade that will affect food supplies, megacities and industry globally, warns Australian science writer Julian Cribb, author of the new book “Surviving the 21st Century.

The water crisis is sneaking up on humanity unawares. People turn on the tap and assume clean, safe water will always flow. But the reality is that supplies are already critical for 4.2 billion people – over half the world’s population,” says Cribb. “During times of drought, megacities like Sao Paulo, La Paz, Los Angeles, Santiago, 32 Indian cities and 400 Chinese cities are now at risk.

World water use is already more than 10 trillion tonnes a year. While the human population has tripled since 1950, our water use has grown six-fold,” says Cribb.

In his book, Cribb cites some disturbing facts:
  • Groundwater is running out in practically every country in the world where it is used to grow food, posing risks to food security in northern India, northern China, Central Asia, the central and western United States, and the Middle East. Most of this groundwater will take thousands of years to replenish.
  • The icepack on high mountain chains is shrinking, emptying the rivers it once fed in practically every continent.
  • Around the world, large lakes are drying up, especially in Central Asia, China, sub-Saharan Africa and the South American Andes.
  • Most of the world’s large rivers are polluted with chemicals, nutrients and sediment.
  • 50,000 dams break up the world’s major rivers, sparking increased disputes over water between neighboring countries.

Pope Francis has warned that humanity could be moving toward a “world war over water.”

Addressing an international seminar on the human right to water hosted in February by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope said, “It is painful to see when in the legislation of a country or a group of countries, water is not considered a human right. It is even more painful when it is removed from legislation and this human right is denied. I ask myself if in the midst of this third World War happening in pieces, are we on the way to a larger world war over water?

Each of the last three UN secretaries-general – Ban Ki-Moon, Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali – has warned of the dangers of world water scarcity and of future water wars.

To counter this danger, José Graziano da Silva, who heads the Rome-based UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, is focusing on the cradle of civilization, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and the entire Gulf region, as one of the areas most exposed to the risks posed by climate change, particularly water scarcity.

In an opinion article written in January, Graziano da Silva cited research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the authority for his warning, “The Gulf region is poised to experience a significant uptick in the frequency of consecutive dry days…

If we fail to keep average global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius, the region often known as the cradle of human civilization will increasingly face extreme heat waves of the kind that disable the human body’s ability to cool itself,” the FAO leader wrote.

He says avoiding that fate is within our means, but requires that governments muster the will to “increase food output by around 50 percent by 2050,” and we have to do that, he says, “without depleting strained natural resources beyond the tipping point.

Of course, food production requires plenty of water.

In the Gulf region particularly, says Graziano da Silva, no government can accomplish this alone. The region imports about half of all its wheat, barley and maize, and 60 percent of the region’s fresh water flows across national boundaries.

Graziano da Silva draws his hope for the future from the Near East and North Africa’s Water Scarcity Initiative , a partnership for water reform in the Gulf region.

This network of partners, which includes over 30 regional and international organizations, is working to provide member countries with opportunities to learn and share practices in the sustainable use and management of water.

Water scarcity in the Near East and North Africa region is already severe.

Fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world. They have fallen by two-thirds during last 40 years and are expected to drop at least more 50 percent by 2050.

Ninety percent of the region’s land lies within arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, while 45 percent of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion, according to the FAO.

At the same time, agriculture in the region uses roughly 85 percent of the available freshwater.

The Initiative is attempting to bring scientific tools to bear on these grim facts. Water accounting, food-supply cost curve, gap-analysis and regular monitoring of agricultural water productivity are some of the advanced tools that the Initiative will use to quantify the benefits and costs of alternative policy options to address food insecurity while sustaining water resources.

Data collection, management and analysis are the backbone of the Initiative that will support the strategic planning for water resources and provide evidence for policy formulation.

Making use of the expertise developed by FAO and its partners, the Initiative will advise governments and the private sector on the adoption of modern technologies and institutional solutions to increase the efficiency and productivity of water use in agriculture for the benefit of millions of farmers and rural communities in the region.

Options to save water all along the food value chain will be shared with the private sector, while governments will be encouraged to promote incentive frameworks that reposition farmers at the center of the sustainable management of land and water resources.

The Initiative will support the ongoing major policy processes in the region, including the Arab Water Security Strategy 2010-2030 and the Regional Initiative for the Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources and Socio-Economic Vulnerability in the Arab Region.

FAO’s work in the region ranges from emergency efforts in response to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen to running Farmer Field Schools in Egypt and helping the United Arab Emirates develop their first national agricultural policy.

The UAE is planning to roll out water meters on farms, while at the same time introducing smart subsidies targeting those who consume less water than average.

Benefits range from better diagnostic data on actual water use and incentives to actual conservation practices to allocating the savings to farmers who can invest in their businesses for even more efficiency.

That climate change poses such threats to an area known as the cradle of civilization underscores the need for urgent action to put agriculture at the center of the sustainability agenda,” says Graziano da Silva.

World Water Day, on March 22 every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. Today, there are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to home, spending countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources, and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water.

This year’s theme: Why waste water? is in support of Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

And now it’s not just a day, or just a week, like the prestigious annual World Water Week in Stockholm in September, but the United Nations has designated another decade to mobilize for water conservation and sustainable use.

The UN Water for Life Decade 2005-2015  a knowledge hub, a best practices program, encouraged communications regarding water and integrated into its work the accomplishments of the UN-Water technical advisory unit.

In December 2016, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution “International Decade (2018–2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development” to help put a greater focus on water during 10 years.

Emphasizing that water is critical for sustainable development and the eradication of poverty and hunger, UN Member States expressed deep concern over the lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene as well as concern over water-related disasters, scarcity and pollution worsened by urbanization, population growth, desertification, drought and climate change.

The new Decade will focus on the sustainable development and integrated management of water resources for the achievement of social, economic and environmental objectives.

To set the agenda in motion, UN-Water, in its 26th meeting in Geneva in February, decided on the establishment of a Task Force to facilitate its support to the planning and organization of the International Decade for Action – Water for Sustainable Development.

The Decade will commence on World Water Day March 22, 2018, and end on World Water Day, March 22, 2028. It could be the last decade that humanity can use to avert the predicted water crisis.

Featured Image: Mullah Neoka and his sons are wheat farmers in Afghanistan’s Herat province, once the bread basket of central Asia before land mines made farming impossible. HALO Trust, a UK-supported project to clear land mines has restored the land for agriculture. 2011. (Photo by Catherine Belfield-Haines / UK Department for International Development) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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Banks Feel Pipeline Pressure Points


Some 300 environmental justice activists gathered in front of the White House to protest the Army Corps Of Engineers approval of an easement allowing construction of the last leg of the Dakota Access pipeline, February 8, 2017 (Photo by Stephen Melkisethian) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

SEATTLE, Washington, February 14, 2017 ( News) – In a unanimous vote Tuesday, Seattle City Council punished Wells Fargo Bank for investing in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline by taking away about $3 billion in city business annually.

Passage of the measure starts a bidding process aimed at finding a new bank to hold the city’s operating budget, ending an 18 year relationship with Wells Fargo, where total deposits added up to more than $1 trillion last year.

 Acknowledging the move is “a drop in a very big bucket,” Seattle Council member Debra Juarez said, “The City must trust the practices and integrity of the institutions that handle our public funds. Council wants to strengthen the City of Seattle’s policies for conducting City business with partners that are committed to fair business practices.

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which is nearly complete except for an easement to cross the Missouri River, would carry up to 570,000 barrels a day of oil fracked from shale 1,170 miles from western North Dakota to pipelines in Illinois.

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction, July 1, 2016 (Photo by Lars Plougmann) Creative Commons license via Flickr

On Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the easement needed to complete the US$3.8 billion pipeline, terminating the Environmental Impact Statement process ordered by former President Barack Obama.

More court challenges and demonstrations against the project are expected.

 Now that the easement has been issued, construction can start at once, but pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners has not made its schedule public.

 During his first week in office, President Donald Trump ordered the Army Corps to move the pipeline forward over months of objections from thousands of protesters from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, many other tribes and their supporters across the country, including thousands of military veterans.

Camps were established, demonstrations were held and many hundreds of protesters have been arrested, some violently.

Calling themselves water protectors, the protesters fear that the pipeline, to be routed under Lake Oahe half a mile north of sovereign tribal territory, could spring a leak, polluting their drinking water and that of millions of people downstream.

The pipeline was originally routed under the Missouri River north of Bismark, the capital of North Dakota, but the route was changed after the city objected to the risk of an oil spill into the river, source of drinking water for the 67,000 Bismark residents.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Tuesday, “Today’s reversal on the environmental impact statement by the Army Corps is clearly a political decision made with complete disregard for the impacts of the Dakota Access Pipeline on tribal lands and the environment. Setting such a dismissive and careless precedent continues a historic pattern of violating tribal treaty rights.”

Complete disregard for tribal rights and interests sets a dangerous course not only for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, but also has the potential to reverberate throughout Indian Country. This action also shows no respect for the right to clean drinking water for all. We, as allies, must add our voices and put a stop to this injustice.

The tribe continues to fight this battle in court and the City of Seattle continues to stand behind them,” said Mayor Murray. “We will not stand by as tribal citizens are treated as second class communities.

Within the United States, tribes are sovereign nations. The essence of tribal sovereignty is the ability to govern and to protect and enhance the health, safety, and welfare of tribal citizens within tribal territory, explains the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

Tribal governments are responsible for a broad range of governmental activities on tribal lands, including education, law enforcement, judicial systems, health care, environmental protection, natural resource management, and the development and maintenance of basic infrastructure such as housing, roads, bridges, sewers, public buildings, telecommunications, broadband and electrical services, and solid waste treatment and disposal.

Seattle is not the only U.S. city ready to move its accounts from Wells Fargo because the bank has loaned close to $500 million for the pipeline’s construction.

After the January 11 Santa Fe, New Mexico City Council meeting, Mayor Javier Gonzales signaled with a tweet that his city might abandon its four-year long banking relationship with Wells Fargo because of its part in financing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Mayor Gonzales tweeted, “Great to hear tonight from so many citizens passionate about #NoDAPL and asking city to find a new bank. I share concerns, will push for broader bidding process this yr, incl. local options. We can/should find better ways to manage funds.

On January 24, Mayor Gonzales tweeted his opposition to President Trump’s executive order to push pipelines forward. “The actions on DAPL, Keystone lock us into unsustainable energy strategies, threaten Native sovereignty, delay economic boom in green tech.

Now, a San Francisco tech startup devoted to socially responsible investing is making it easier for individuals to divest from companies backing DAPL.

OpenInvest’s chief strategy officer Joshua Levin told CBS San Francisco that his five-month-old company has designed a feature that automatically pulls from an investor’s portfolio companies funding the pipeline, as well as the energy companies that will benefit from it. The portfolio is then automatically rebalanced with new investments.

Levin said OpenInvest built the algorithms and launched the feature just days after President Trump issued his executive order directing approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Wells Fargo is by no means the only bank providing funding to the controversial pipeline.

There are 17 banks directly funding pipeline construction: Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, BayernLB, BBVA Compass, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Crédit Agricole, Norway’s largest bank DNB ASA, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Dutch ING Group, Intesa Sanpaolo, Mizuho Bank, the French corporate and investment bank Natixis, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Société Générale, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey and TD Bank, in addition to Wells Fargo.

The 17 banks involved in directly financing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the many others providing credits to the companies behind the project, continue to be targeted by campaigners demanding an end to their support for the project.

Activists this week showed up at bank headquarters in New York, Montreal, Munich, Madrid, Amsterdam, San Francisco and elsewhere, demanding the withdrawal of the 17 banks involved in the construction loan to Energy Transfer Partners.

More actions are planned for next week in Washington, DC, and Palo Alto, California. A full list of ongoing #NoDAPL 2017 actions click here 

Over 700,000 people have signed one of six petitions demanding that the banks financing the Dakota Access Pipeline withdraw their support of the project. This number includes individuals who collectively report having over US$2.3 billion invested in these banks through checking, mortgage, and credit card accounts, which they are ready to divest if the banks continue financing DAPL. Thousands have already closed their accounts at those banks, removing over US$55 million.

In December, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous leaders requested that each of these banks meet with tribal representatives to hear their concerns.

The deadline for banks to respond to the Tribe’s meeting request was January 10. To date, four banks have declined: BayernLB, BNP Paribas, Mizuho Bank, and Suntrust.

Six banks have not responded at all: Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, BBVA Compass, ICBC, Intesa Sanpaolo, Natixis, and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.

Seven banks have met or agreed to meet with the Tribe and its allies: Citi, Crédit Agricole, DNB, ING, Société Générale, TD, and Wells Fargo.

In fact, in November, the largest bank in Norway, DNB, announced that it has sold its assets in the Dakota Access pipeline.

The news follows the delivery of 120,000 signatures gathered by Greenpeace Norway and regarding DNB’s investment in the pipeline urging the bank and other financial institutions to pull financing for the project.

DNB recently indicated that it is reconsidering the loan it provided, which amounts to 10 percent of the pipeline’s total funding.

Energy Transfer Partners said Wednesday, “With the receipt of the easement, ETP expects to complete approximately $2.6 billion of committed debt financing and equity transactions within the next several days, including access to the remaining $1.4 billion of the previously announced $2.5 billion project financing for Dakota Access and $1.2 billion from the closing of the previously announced sale by ETP of a minority interest in the Bakken Pipeline to MarEn Bakken Company LLC.

But the indigenous water protectors and their allies are not prepared to accept this outcome and have pledged to continue their resistance to the pipeline.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said, “By attempting to fast track DAPL, President Trump has made it clear that his priorities lie with his wealthy contributors rather than the public interest. Banks now have an opportunity to take a stand against this reckless assault on our treaty rights and water, or be complicit and continue to lose millions.”

Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It In the Ground Campaigner, Indigenous Environmental Network, had this to say. “President Trump wishes to fast-track the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, against federal law and tribal treaty rights. Indigenous nations and communities will not be the sacrifice zones for President Trump’s fossil fuel regime.

We must remind the investors of this pipeline,” said Goldtooth, “that they, via their financing, are threatening the lives of water protectors and it’s time to be held accountable for that.

From the water protectors’ Sacred Stone Camp Ladonna Bravebull Allard said, “I want the banks to know that the power of their investment comes from the people, and the people are saying we have the right to water, and we will stand for the water. Stop investing in destruction of the Earth.”

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Disaster Risk Reduction: Wetlands Keep Us Safe


One of Ukraine’s two new Ramsar sites, Byle Lake and Koza Berezyna Mire. (Photo by Oksana Golovko, 2011 courtesy Ramsar Convention) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

GLAND, Switzerland, February 2, 2017 ( News) – The frequency of natural disasters worldwide has more than doubled in just 35 years and their frequency is expected to increase due to climate change. Experts estimate that 90 percent of natural hazards are water related, so wetland conservation is essential for reducing risks.

By 2050, loss of wetlands, increasing populations, the changing climate and rising sea levels are forecast to increase the number of people vulnerable to floods to two billion.

Today, more than 1,000 events have been organized around the world to mark World Wetlands Day, the annual recognition of the eco-services wetlands provide. This year’s theme is apt in this time of increasing natural hazards, “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction.”

These events are being held to raise global awareness of the importance of wetlands and the need for their conservation and sustainable use.

Healthy, well-managed wetlands function as a natural infrastructure defending human civilization from the catastrophic effects of natural hazards.

Coastal wetlands such as mangroves, coral reefs, sea grass and tidal marshes protect against flooding and storm surges.

Inland wetlands, such as floodplains, lakes and peatlands, act as natural sponges, storing excess rainfall and reducing flooding, then releasing stored water during dry seasons to delay the onset of droughts.

But wetlands are being destroyed or degraded faster than any other type of ecosystem, according to officials of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. This treaty uniting 169 countries is named for the Iranian city on the coast of the Caspian Sea where the treaty was signed in 1971.

The latest figures show that 64 percent of the world’s wetlands have disappeared in the last century. Every year one percent of those remaining disappear as wetlands are drained or degraded to meet demands for water and land for agriculture, industry and growing urban populations.

Wetlands are vital because they provide food for more than three billion people worldwide and are a source of freshwater and livelihoods for over one billion.

Martha Rojas Urrego, secretary general of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, is encouraging more action to preserve these bulwarks against natural disasters.

It is crucial that more voices speak up for wetlands, more people become informed of their value and more decisive actions are taken to conserve and restore this valuable ecosystem. We seek to mobilize global actions that will lead to the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of all wetlands,” Rojas said.

We encourage policy-makers, experts and community leaders to consider wetlands as an extremely cost-effective and win-win solution for disaster risk reduction,” she said. “Decision-makers should therefore make significant efforts to integrate wetlands in cross-sectoral disaster risk reduction policies and strategies.

Wetlands are crucial for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, water experts explain. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without a decisive action for wetland conservation.

Parties to the Ramsar Convention have designated over 2,250 Wetlands of International Importance, known as Ramsar sites, covering over 2.15 million square kilometres, which are protected for the benefits they provide.

Ten new Ramsar sites, known as Wetlands of International Importance, have been designated for World Wetlands Day 2017.

Madagascar has designated five large Ramsar sites. The country now has 15 sites, which support the protection of over 1.5 million hectares of habitats critical to the island’s unique biodiversity, achieved with the support of WWF Madagascar.

These sites host unique, rich ecosystems, and are of great economic, social and cultural importance in their regions of Madagascar, an island country in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of southeast Africa.

In southeast Asia, Myanmar has designated Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary, a coastal wetland in the southern part of the Irrawaddy Delta, which is also an ASEAN Heritage Park. There are around 30 imperiled Irrawaddy dolphins in the rivers and creeks around the sanctuary. It supports one of the largest remaining mangrove areas in the delta, where mangroves have declined due to logging, fishing and development of shipping lanes.

France has designated Marais Breton, Baie de Bourgneuf, Ile de Noirmoutier et Forêt de Monts as a new Ramsar site. This 56,000 hectare site of coastal marshes and tidal bays on the French Atlantic coast is France’s 45th Ramsar site.

Italy has designated Trappola Marshland – Ombrone River Mouth as its 53rd Ramsar site. Located on the Tyrrhenian coast of Tuscany, this is one of the last remnants of a partly salty and partly freshwater complex of wetlands and sandy dunes.

Ukraine has designated two new Wetlands of International Importance, Byle Lake and Koza Berezyna Mire and Archipelago Velyki and Mali Kuchugury.

Byle Lake and Koza Berezyna Mire is located in southwestern Ukraine between the Stokhid, Prypiat and Styr rivers. It includes a bog, one of the biggest karst lakes in the region, swamp forests, pine woods and a small channelled river. More than 900 native plant species and 500 animal species have been seen there.

This wetland complex plays an important role in the maintenance of hydrological regimes of the region, in addition to carbon storage and climate regulation.

Archipelago Velyki and Mali Kuchugury is an archipelago of sandbank islands and shallows in the upper reaches of the Kakhovka Reservoir in the floodplain of the Lower Dnieper River in south-eastern Ukraine where fish breed and grow. The wetland is of great importance as a natural filter of fresh water in the reservoir.

The Sundarbans National Park in India, and the neighboring Sundarbans in Bangladesh together account for the world’s largest area of protected mangroves.

Featured Image: Delta de Casamance in Senegal, where coastal mangroves act as natural safeguards against disasters. (Photo courtesy  Ramsar Convention) Posted for media use

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Investing in Water for Life


Water is returned to Australia’s Murray River through a Nature Conservancy Water Sharing Investment Partnership, 2016. (Photo by Brian Richter) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

 STOCKHOLM, Sweden, September 1, 2016 ( – Water scarcity is a top risk to global prosperity and ecological integrity. But creative impact investment solutions, such as Water Sharing Investment Partnerships, can shift water back to the environment, while supporting irrigated agriculture and meeting urban needs, finds new research presented during World Water Week in Stockholm.

The new study  from nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, “Water Share: Using water markets and impact investing to drive sustainability,” shows that through new approaches to water markets, the planet-wide problem of water scarcity can be managed.

The WSIP concept was created by The Nature Conservancy’s water program and impact investment unit, NatureVest, to advance the strategic trading of water-use rights within river and lake basins.

The establishment of high-functioning and well-governed water markets – in which a cap on total use is set; rights to use water are legally defined, monitored, and enforced; and in which rights can be exchanged among water users – can provide a powerful integration of public and private efforts to alleviate water scarcity,” the report states.

This model takes advantage of the motivations and incentives for trading water,” says Brian Richter, the lead scientist for the water program at The Nature Conservancy, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia with offices in 30 countries.

As water assumes a value, it provides a huge incentive for water conservation and water savings,” he said.

The Nature Conservancy launched its first Water Sharing Investment Partnership in Australia in 2015 in the Murray-Darling river basin, which drains one-seventh of the continent. As of May 2016, about A$27 million had been invested in the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund , with a target of A$100 million within the next four years.

NatureVest plans to replicate the success of this fund in other areas of the world and is now in the process of scoping various river basins across the western United States and Latin America, where a similar model of water reallocation through investor-funded solutions can be applied.

 The Nature Conservancy is now building off its track record of using philanthropic dollars to purchase water on behalf of the environment in North America, to craft Water Sharing Investment Partnerships (WSIPs) and other water transactions and investment mechanisms to help rebalance water use in stressed basins.

 A WSIP operates within an existing water market, using investor capital and other revenue sources to acquire water-use rights.

These rights can be reallocated to nature, or sold or leased to other water users seeking more supplies, generating financial returns for investors.

The report identifies investor funded solutions, some of which may serve as the basis for a future WSIP such as long-term water trades within farming communities by establishing a complex of water sharing agreements: “…farmers’ water markets, long-term trades between farmers and cities, short-term trades within farming communities and short-term exchanges between farmers and cities.

As water assumes a value, it provides a huge incentive for water conservation and water savings,” Richter says.

Freshwater ecosystems are the most imperiled on the planet, and their condition is getting worse. More than 30 percent of Earth’s water sources are being over-exploited, some to near exhaustion.

A sense of urgency pervades the conference hall as 3,000 people from 120 countries are gathered in Stockholm this week for the 26th annual World Water Week under the theme “Water for Sustainable Growth.”

Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the organizer, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), said, “Without reliable access to water, almost no Sustainable Development Goal will be achieved. To make that happen, we must ensure water’s centrality to the entire Agenda 2030. This will show the power water has a connector.

Water connects not only sectors, but also nations, communities and different actors. Water can be the unifying power, the enabler for progress in both Agenda 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Holmgren.

Stockholm Mayor Karin Wanngård told delegates that cities struggle with some of the biggest problems, but also have access to powerful solutions.

We have the job growth, the universities, the creative ideas,” she said. “We also face the biggest emissions, the social problems, and housing shortage. Our participation in the struggle for sustainable solutions is key for global success. And that means a growing responsibility, a moral responsibility towards future generations and their ability to live in cities where it is possible to work, live in security, breathe the air and drink the water.

Addressing the opening session, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström reinforced the message that water is a connector and an enabler in realizing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 6 – clean, accessible water for all.

Successful realization of Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda will underpin progress across many of the other goals, particularly on nutrition, child health, education, gender equality, healthy cities and healthy water ecosystems and oceans,” said Wallström.

 Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said that water now has come to the front and center of international deliberations. “Water now has the place it needs to have in international priorities,” said Gurría.


Professor Joan Rose is awarded the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize by H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, during a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall, August 31, 2016 (Photo courtesy Stockholm International Water Institute)

Professor Joan Rose from Michigan State University received the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize on Wednesday, for her tireless contributions to global public health; by assessing risks to human health in water and creating guidelines and tools for decision-makers and communities to improve global wellbeing.

The prize, worth $150,000, was presented to Professor Rose by H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, during a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall during World Water Week.

Professor Rose said, “As an individual it is an honor and I am overflowing with gratitude. But it means even more, because it is a prize that honors water, it honors the blue planet and it honors the human condition. Therefore, I am very proud.

Rose and her team, whom she calls “water detectives” investigate waterborne disease outbreaks globally, to determine how they can be stopped and prevented.

She is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on the microorganism Cryptosporidium, an intestinal parasite that in 1993 killed 69 people and sickened more than 400,000 others who drank contaminated water in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

More than two billion people still lack adequate sanitation, and over one billion lack access to safe drinking water. Hundreds of thousands of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases each year could be prevented by improved water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Holmgren.

Joan Rose, our water hero, is a beacon of light in the quest for securing a better, healthier life for this and future generations,” he said.

Speaking of what she views as the world’s greatest water challenge, Professor Rose said, “I think it is going to be the reversal of water quality problems around the world; the algal blooms in fresh water and coastal waters, and the pollution, not just associated with humans, but also with disease outbreaks among our wildlife, like amphibians and fish. I also think reconnecting water and food security will be a major challenge. We are starting to do it but it will definitely continue to be a challenge.”

Water Facts from the United Nations:

  • Some 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people are still without.
  • At least 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated.
  • Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and is projected to rise. Over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge.
  • Of the world’s 7.5 billion people, 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines.
  • More than 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal.
  • Every day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases.
  • Hydropower is the world’s most important and widely-used renewable source of energy and as of 2011, represented 16 percent of total electricity production worldwide.
  • Roughly 70 percent of all water drawn from rivers, lakes and aquifers is used for irrigation.
  • Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters.

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Featured Image: The Jordan River runs along the border between the Kingdom of Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The 251-kilometre (156 mile)-long river flows through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. (Photo by Tracy Hunter) Creative commons license via Flickr

Funding Key to Africa’s Clean Water Solutions


Woman collects drinking water from a stream in Uganda, June 2015 (Photo by CAFOD) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

DAR es SALAAM, Tanzania, August 1, 2016 ( News) – Determination to find lasting solutions to Africa’a age-old water and sanitation problems characterized the mood of delegates to the 6th Africa Water Week conference in Dar es Salam last week.

Organized by African Ministers’ Council on Water in collaboration with the African Union Commission and other development partners, the meeting saw political commitments at the highest level to collectively seek solutions to Africa’s many water and sanitation challenges.

From July 18 through 22 government officials, scientists and civil society actors mapped pathways to success for Africa’s effort to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 – the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Clean water is essential for life, human dignity, and the health of people and of the planet, the United Nations has declared many times, calling the human right to water and sanitation “foundational to the realization and enjoyment of all other human rights.”

In September 2015, all UN Member States committed themselves to ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation in Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, known as Sustainable Development Goal 6.

At the 6th Africa Water Week, 30 African water ministers and high-level delegations from 53 African nations adopted a plan aimed at achieving Goal 6 – sustainable and universal access to safe water and sanitation throughout Africa.

Adoption of the plan, “The Dar es Salaam Roadmap for achieving the N’gor Commitments on Water Security and Sanitation in Africa,” was the high point of the conference.

In her remarks, Tanzania’s Vice President Samia Suluhu focused on finding the funds to accomplish this gigantic task.

She urged delegates to “tackle present and future challenges by diversifying our sources of water and be innovative in financing mechanisms taking into account the huge funding requirements for the sector, and the urgency of mobilizing funds to put the right infrastructure and skilled manpower to develop and manage the sector more efficiently.”

Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission, called on Member States to step up efforts to realize the African Agenda 2063 on the “Africa we want” because water is key to reducing poverty in Africa.

There is need for us to put in place sound policies, legal and regulatory frameworks to support investments from various sources in water, sanitation and hygiene and also promote gender equality and women empowerment,” Tumusiime said.

Nigeria’s Water Resources Minister Suleiman Adamu told reporters at the conference, “We are working to ensure that all Nigerians have access to potable water by 2030 through urban water sector reform programme.

The continent’s most populous country, Nigeria is located on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. The government is tasked with providing clean water for its 184 million people.

Adamu said Nigeria was not able to meet its target under the Millennium Development Goals, the precursor to the Sustainable Development Goals, due to sole reliance on the government’s budget.

 Adamu emphasized the need for a change in the public’s attitude toward public utilities, saying “Nigeria must begin to see the importance of paying for water consumed.”

He said the ministry has created a data bank and census covering water supply and sanitation for all water infrastructures in the country to prepare for a renewed effort to reach all Nigerians with clean water.

 Nigeria will soon begin the National Programme on Partnerships for Extending Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, aimed at meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 6 of universal access to water.

 But there are disagreements among African countries over water. The longstanding dispute between Tanzania and Malawi about Lake Nyasa, in which an agreement for a project on the shared water resource has lasted over 40 years without a deal, for example, and the grand mega power project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has stalled for over 40 years.

Still, there are examples of benefits through cooperation. Speaking to members of the Pan African Media Alliance for Climate Change (PACJA),  John Rao Nyoro, executive director for the Nile Basin Initiative, said that the Nile Basin Sustainability Framework is now benefiting all the 10 riparian states along the Nile.

While it is not a legal framework, the NBSF, which is a suite of policies, strategies, and guidance documents, functions as a guide to national policy and planning process development and seeks to build consensus among countries that share the resource,” Nyaoro told the journalists.

The Dar es Salaam Roadmap recognizes the role of innovative financing and budgetary prioritization for the water sector, sanitation and monitoring.

 Water ministers at the 6th Africa Water Week agreed that by increasing transparency and accountability in the sector, governments across the continent can account for financial contributions.

They decided to focus on complementing existing initiatives while avoiding overlap and redundancy, and they pledged to ensure a participatory environment for civil society and citizens in policy formulation, sector planning and monitoring.

Other aspects of the ministers’ plan of action for the continent’s water resources include provision of drinking water, improved sanitation, hygiene, effective and efficient management of wastewater, transboundary water resources, and strengthening Africa’s capacity to respond to climate change.

 But the challenges are enormous. As the conference was underway, for instance, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) launched a relief program to feed families affected by the severe drought in Malawi.

The El Nino-related drought, the worst drought in more than 30 years, has led to food shortages in much of southern Africa, and more than 18 million people across the region are in need of food aid.

On Tuesday, the 15-country Southern African Development Community (SADC) declared a regional disaster and launched an appeal for US$2.4 billion to support the humanitarian needs and disaster response recovery of the millions affected by the drought caused by the Eastern Pacific ocean warming event known as El-Niño.

Botswana’s President Lt. General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, who serves as the SADC chair, said, “The 2016 regional food security and vulnerability assessments indicate that the number of food insecure people in the region is about 40 million, which is about 14 percent of SADC’s total population.

Responding to the appeal, the United States pledged US$300 million, while the United Kingdom pledged £72 million and the European Union pledged €60 million towards humanitarian assistance.

There is a strong effort this year to integrate water issues with climate issues and find mutual solutions for Africa.

Earlier this month, ahead of COP 22, the UN’s annual climate summit, taking place this year in Marrakesh, Morocco, 650 decision makers, researchers, technical experts, financiers and civil society members from 40 countries attended the Water Security for Climate Justice conference in Rabat.

There ministers from 22 African countries issued a statement on the importance of implementing and funding water initiatives in Africa. To be presented in Marrakesh, the “Water for Africa,” declaration noted the opportunities presented by the momentum toward integrating water and sanitation with the climate negotiations.

Underlining the urgency and necessity of acting on resilience and adaptation in the water and sanitation sectors, the ministers called for integrating water and climate, prioritizing water in adaptation discussions, adopting priority action plans for water and the SDGs in Africa, enhancing access to finance for water projects from climate funds, and encouraging civil society involvement.

A woman in Benin drinks clean water following implementation of the Community Driven Development project, September 2010 (Photo by Arne Hoel / World Bank) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Achieving Urban Water Security

35720954 - manhattan downtown skyline with urban skyscrapers over river with reflections.

By 2050 it is projected that 60% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. Coupled with rapid population growth the world will have 41 mega-cities by 2030, each with more than 10 million inhabitants. At the same time global demand for water is projected to outstrip supply by 40% in 2030 and 55% in 2050.

As such numerous cities around the world are at risk of water insecurity – the inability of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate supplies of good quality water – as a result of climate change and the various impacts of urbanization.

The costs of increasing water supply

Traditionally, cities facing increased demand for water, along with variable supply, have relied on large-scale, supply-side infrastructural projects such as dams and reservoirs to meet increased demand for water. This is termed ‘supply-side’ management. However, supply-side management is costly in economic, environmental and political terms. Economically, water has to be transported over long distances increasing the costs of transportation. Additionally, the water is often of inferior quality and so requires additional treatment for potable consumption, increasing energy as well as chemical costs in water treatment plants. Environmentally, large-scale diversion of water disrupts the health of waterways that support aquatic ecosystems. Politically, because the vast majority of water is transboundary, ‘importing’ water creates political tensions with other water users, irrespective of whether they are located in the same country or not.

Balancing rising demand with limited supply

To reduce demand for scarce water, cities are turning to the use of demand management strategies to make better use of existing supplies before plans are made to further increase supply, where demand management is the promoting of water conservation during times of both normal conditions and uncertainty, through changes in the practices, cultures and people’s attitudes towards water resources. In addition to the numerous environmental benefits of preserving the health of ecosystems and their habitats, demand management is cost effective as it allows cities to better allocate scarce financial resources, which would otherwise be required to build expensive dams and water transfer infrastructure.

Achieving urban water security through demand management

Urban water security – the ability of an urban population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate supplies of good quality water – can be increased through demand management that aims to: reduce loss and misuse; optimize water use by ensuring reasonable allocation between various users while taking into account downstream users, both human and natural; facilitate major financial and infrastructural savings for cities; and reduce stress on water resources by reducing unsustainable consumption levels.

Types of demand management instruments

There are two types of demand management instruments available to cities to achieve urban water security: economic and regulatory instruments and communication and information instruments. Economic and regulatory instruments include: the pricing of water to lower consumption levels; subsidies and rebates for the uptake of water-efficient technologies; retrofitting of new or existing developments with water meters and water efficient devices; and product labeling of household appliances’ water efficiency. Communication and information instruments include public education on the need to conserve water including public events and social media campaigns that raise awareness on the need to use water wisely as well as school curriculum that raises awareness of the hydrological cycle at a young age.


With rapid urbanization and climate change impacting urban water security around the world, cities can use a variety of demand management instruments to change people’s attitudes and behavior towards scarce water resources. By balancing rising demand with limited supplies, cities not only reduce their water footprint but also make significant financial savings that can be put towards more productive uses.

Robert_Brears_Profile_Pic_optRobert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley). He is the founder of Mitidaption, Mark and Focus, is Director on the International Board of the Indo Global Chamber of Commerce (IGCCIA), Industries and Agriculture, and a Visiting Fellow (non-resident) at the Center for Conflict Studies at MIIS, Monterey, USA.

In Search of a Water-Wise World


The drought in Somalia has lasted for years. This image of two men carrying a water can on a dusty road was shot on December 14, 2013. (Photo by the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

ENSCHEDE, Netherlands, July 4, 2016 ( News) – Rukiyo Ahmed, 26, discovered she was pregnant just as drought began to parch her village in the East African country of Somalia. Her household lost all its livestock. When the drought intensified, Ahmed and her family had to seek relief with extended family members living in the town of Dangoroyo, 35 kilometres away.

“I was so worried that I would have a miscarriage due to the effects of the drought,” said Rukiyo. “We had so little to eat. I became very weak and could barely walk.”

This story has a happy ending. With the help of the UN Population Fund , Ahmed eventually gave birth to a healthy boy.


China fights the advancing desert by planting trees in Inner Mongolia, May 2010. (Photo by Cory M. Grenier) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Still, water scarcity is a real and present danger for the two-thirds of the global population – four billion people – who live without enough water for at least one month of each year. Half a billion face severe water scarcity all year round, many in China, India and Africa.

Professor of water management Arjen Hoekstra and his team at University of Twente in The Netherlands have come to this conclusion after years of extensive research in a study published in the journal “Science Advances“.

“Groundwater levels are falling, lakes are drying up, less water is flowing in rivers, and water supplies for industry and farmers are threatened,” Hoekstra warns.

Until now, scientists had thought that about two to three billion people were suffering severe water scarcity. Four billion thirsty people is “alarming,” he said.

Professor Hoekstra’s team is the world’s first research group to establish the maximum sustainable “water footprint” for every location on Earth, and then investigate actual water consumption by location.

“Up to now, this type of research concentrated solely on the scarcity of water on an annual basis, and had only been carried out in the largest river basins,” says Hoekstra.

Severe water scarcity exists if consumption is much greater than the water supply can sustain. That is the case particularly in Mexico, the western United States, northern and southern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, India, China, and Australia.

There, households, industries and farmers regularly experience water shortages. In other areas, water supplies are still fine but at risk in the long-term, the Dutch team reports.

In the United States, 130 million of the country’s 323 million people are affected by water scarcity for at least one month of each year, most in the states of California, Florida and Texas.

Hoekstra observes that the subject of water scarcity is climbing higher and higher on the global agenda. “The fact that the scarcity of water is being regarded as a global problem is confirmed by our research,” he said. “For some time now, the World Economic Forum has placed the world water crisis in the top three of global problems, alongside climate change and terrorism.”

“All over the world,” Hoekstra said, “it is clear that the risks associated with high water consumption are being increasingly recognized. The growing world population, changes in consumer behavior, and climate change are having a significant impact on the scarcity and quality of water.”

Hoekstra’s work is confirmed by many other authoritative research teams.

About one-third of Earth’s largest groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted by human consumption, according to two new studies from the University of California, Irvine, the first to identify global groundwater loses using data from space. The data is drawn from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites flown by the U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).

This means that millions of people are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, conclude the researchers, whose findings were published June 16 in “Water Resources Research.”

In the first paper, researchers found that 13 of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers studied between 2003 and 2013 were being depleted while receiving little to no recharge. In a companion paper, they conclude that the total remaining volume of the world’s usable groundwater is poorly known, with estimates that often vary widely.


California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr

“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

“The water table is dropping all over the world,” said Famiglietti. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

A NASA study released in March finds that the drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region of: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey, is likely the worst drought of the past 900 years.

In a joint statement, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said late last year, “El Niño will have a devastating effect on southern Africa’s harvests and food security in 2016. The current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years.”

El Niño conditions, which arise from a natural warming of Pacific Ocean waters, lead to droughts, floods and more frequent cyclones across the world every few years.

Meteorologists say this year’s El Niño is the worst in 35 years and is now peaking. Although it is expected to decline in strength over the next six months, El Niño’s effects on farming, health and livelihoods in developing countries could last through 2018.

In Central America, El Niño conditions have led to a second consecutive year of drought – one of the region’s most severe in history,

In Africa, Abdoulaye Balde, the World Food Programme’s country director in Mozambique issued a dire warning. “Mozambique and southern African countries face a disaster if the rains do not come within a few weeks,” he said.

“South Africa is six million tonnes short of food this year, but it is the usual provider of food reserves in the region,” said Balde. “If they have to import six million tonnes for themselves, there will be little left for other countries. The price of food will rise dramatically.”

Zimbabwe declared a national food emergency this month, according to the WFP rep in the capital, Harare. Food production is just half of what it was last year, and the staple grain, maize, is 53 percent more expensive.

Water scarcity remedies range from simple conservation and efficiency, to tree planting and wastewater re-use, to highly technical and expensive facilities such as nuclear desalination plants as advocated by the International Atomic Energy Agency  that would turn seawater into freshwater.

Finding sustainable solutions to water scarcity will be the focus of the annual World Water Week in Stockholm, held this year from August 28 to September 2. Hosted and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), this year’s theme is Water for Sustainable Growth.

Water experts, technicians, decision makers, business innovators and young professionals from more than 100 countries are expected in Stockholm to network, exchange ideas and foster innovations that could help satisfy the urgent needs of four billion people for water.

One such innovation is the world’s first certified green bond. It was just issued by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) under the Water Climate Bonds Standard, whose criteria was co-developed by SIWI and the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation.

The Water Climate Bonds Standard is a screening tool for investors that specifies the criteria that must be met for bonds to be labeled as “green” or earmarked for funding water-related, resilient, and low-carbon initiatives.

Proceeds from the SFPUC’s $240m Wastewater Revenue Bond  will fund projects in sustainable stormwater and wastewater management.

Featured image: California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Act Local, Think Global: Three Ways to Ignite Positive Environmental Change

 Arlington, VA – Friday, April 22, 2016 – In observance of Earth Day, the international conservation organization Rare is offering up three easy ways you can be a catalyst for global change.

The strain on the Earth’s natural resources poses an increasing threat to the well-being of both people and nature. Though people are often the source of these pressures, they also hold the solutions – and it all starts with behavior.

Salmon_for_sale1.  Ensure your seafood is sourced sustainably.

42% of people worldwide rely on fish as an important source of protein.

Most of the world’s fisheries are unmanaged and overexploited, and are in serious decline. This puts our food supply in jeopardy and makes ecosystems less healthy and more vulnerable to climate and other changes. A compelling action a single consumer can take is purchasing local, sustainably caught seafood. Check packaging labels, diversify your selection, and seek out seafood guides that list which fish that are caught and sourced sustainably.

Helpful articles on Sustainable Seafood:

2.  Organize or join a community-led clean up near waterways to prevent contamination to rivers, lakes and other fresh water sources.

 Freshwater ecosystems cover less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, but are home to 35% of all vertebrate species.

A healthy watershed, with its forests and unique biodiversity, provides water storage, regulates and filters fresh water and is critical to flood management to surrounding areas. By removing plastics bottles, bags, and other debris along the waterway, you ensure the watershed ecosystem remains healthy and productive.

Helpful Waterways Cleanup resources: 


3.    Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and get to know your local farmer, what they grow, and how they grow it.Agriculture is one of the leading sources of water pollution worldwide.

Small-scale farmers often overuse fertilizer, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. This pollution leaches into streams and aquifers with dangerous effects, finding ways into wetland and river ecosystems. Community Supported Agriculture Networks are an easy and delicious way to engage in your community, and encourage others to adopt more sustainable behaviors. Ensuring that your food is grown locally and pesticide-free benefits the health of both people and nature alike.

Helpful Community Supported Agriculture resources: 

“We believe that conservation’s greatest challenges are the result of human behaviors. And, so too are the solutions,” said Brett Jenks, CEO of Rare. “Rare’s signature Pride campaigns inspire pride around unique natural assets and create a clear path for local change.  By empowering communities to seek their own solutions, the change tends to stick.”

Rare has been implementing proven conservation solutions and training local leaders in communities worldwide for more than 25 years.  Rare’s hope is to inspire people to take pride in their community, not just on Earth Day but all year, and suggests these practical alternatives to environmentally destructive practices.


Rare-Logo-FullColorABOUT RARE

Rare is an innovative conservation organization that implements proven conservation solutions and trains local leaders in communities worldwide.  Through its signature Pride campaigns, Rare inspires people to take pride in the species and habitats that make their community unique, while also introducing practical alternatives to environmentally destructive practices. Employees of local governments or non-profit organizations receive extensive training on fisheries management, campaign planning and social marketing to communities.  They are equipped to deliver community-based solutions based on natural and social science, while leveraging policy and market forces to accelerate change through programs such as Fish Forever.  To learn more about Rare.


Images: Creative commons license via Wikipedia and free stock photos 

Jordan’s Refugees Must Drink


By Sunny Lewis

AMMAN, Jordan, March 24, 2016 ( News) – Jordan, one of the world’s driest countries, is dumping much of its water into the sand – allowing 76 billion liters a year to flow from broken pipes, according to an assessment by the nonprofit aid organization Mercy Corps.

“By one estimate, the amount of water lost nationwide every year could satisfy the basic needs of 2.6 million people, or more than a third of Jordan’s current population. It is a tragedy of waste,” mourns the report, “Tapped Out: Water Scarcity and Refugee Pressures in Jordan.

Published in 2014, the report outlines urgent needs and provides key recommendations to guide institutional donor efforts and policies, advisories that are even more urgent today as distressed refugees from war-torn Syria surge across the border into northern Jordan.

Since the onset of the Syrian crisis five years ago, Jordan has borne the impact of this massive Syrian refugee influx. Today, those refugees account for about 10 percent of the kingdom’s population of 6.3 million, placing severe pressure on its water resources at a difficult economic period.

The Mercy Corps report quotes former deputy prime minister of Jordan Marwan al-Muasher, who warns, “Water scarcity is an existential threat to Jordan.”

An irrigation canal in Jordan, where groundwater levels are falling a meter each year. (Photo courtesy Global Freshwater Initiative)

An irrigation canal in Jordan, where groundwater levels are falling a meter each year. (Photo courtesy Global Freshwater Initiative)

Based on interviews conducted in three northern governorates in Jordan – Amman, Mafraq, and Irbid, the areas taking the greatest number of Syrian refugees – the Mercy Corps report asks donors to invest in long-term infrastructure development, strengthen government agencies and address the nexus of conflict and conservation.

A team of Mercy Corps engineers is working to rebuild the aging water system so that both Jordanian and Syrian refugee families will have enough clean water to stay healthy. Their work has already improved access to clean water for 500,000 people in Jordan.

Ghassan “Gus” Hazboun, Mercy Corps’ Water Engineering Director, said last July that in Jordan’s northern areas the leakage can be up to 70 percent of the water that flows through the network. “So we have water that’s already been treated, already been pumped from the aquifer to far-away places, and then we lose that water in the network,” he said.

“The best thing we can do, the only way forward, is to treat the network – to fix any damage and spare the waste of water. Reclaiming that wasted water is better than finding a new source of water,” said Hazboun.

Mercy Corps started with two wells in the Zaatari refugee camp, and now has three wells there, one well in Azraq camp, and several projects in host communities.

“We recently developed a well near the border between Jordan and Syria,” said Hazboun. “The water comes here, to the water treatment and filter area. And now we are ready to build a new pump station, control building, and a 500-cubic-meter reservoir.”

“This infrastructure is very important for the northern areas, including the city of Mafraq. The water we are providing goes to all the houses and we are supplying everybody, both Jordanians and Syrians,” Hazboun explained.

The World Bank is working to increase Jordan’s water supply in a different way.

On Monday, the bank released an account of its efforts to help the Jordanian government restore ecosystems and improve people’s livelihoods in the Badia desert, which covers about 80 percent of the country.

The World Bank and the Global Environment Facility are collaborating on a US$3.3 million grant to help the government create opportunities for the nomadic Bedouin livestock breeders of the Badia and make them more resilient to climate change and water scarcity.

Through the Badia Ecosystem and Livelihoods Project, this work is focused in Mafraq and Ma’an, impoverished governorates in north and south Badia with diverse, fragile ecosystems, unique archaeology and ancient history.

Livelihoods Project partner National Center for Agriculture Research and Extension (NCARE) is establishing rangeland reserves and reservoirs of rainwater for animal drinking. A mandated rest period in the reserves is allowing endemic plants, gone for 20 years, to re-emerge.

The bank also is supporting “high-value, low-volume ecotourism” by working with the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) to establish an ecotourism corridor in Mafraq that is already attracting other donors.

The project is expanding ecotourism by strengthening RSCN’s Al Azraq wetlands reserve and the Shaumari wildlife reserve.

All this work and investment is crucially important to Jordan, one of the world’s most water-vulnerable countries, but more help is needed.

Struggling with low rainfall, limited surface water storage, excessive groundwater mining and high dependence on waters shared by neighboring countries, Jordan now must also provide drinking water to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

In view of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, influential countries such as the United States should consider how to help the region’s vulnerable nations steer clear of destabilizing water crises, says Professor Steven Gorelick who teaches at Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and is a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

“Jordan is a peaceful and generous country that has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees,” Gorelick said in January. “The U.S. is not sufficiently helping that country deal with the consequent stress of inadequate water supply.”

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa are over-pumping groundwater, he said. In Jordan, where people depend on groundwater for 80 percent of their freshwater, levels are dropping three feet (one meter) each year, and will likely be depleted by 30 to 40 percent within the next 15 years.

“Refugee migrations from conflict-torn lands and global warming-related extreme weather will likely worsen the situation,” said Gorelick.

Gorelick heads the Stanford Woods Institute’s Global Freshwater Initiative, focused on developing a comprehensive national hydro-economic model to evaluate new supply options and demand strategies.

The initiative is coordinating the Jordan Water Project, an international, interdisciplinary research effort aimed at developing new approaches for analyzing strategies to enhance the sustainability of freshwater resources in Jordan and, ultimately, arid regions throughout the world.

Featured image: Refugee child draws water in Zaatari Refugee camp in northern Jordan. Coming from a country with sufficient supply of water however, Syrian refugees are adjusting to water scarcity, especially difficult for mothers and children. (Photo by European Commission) Creative commons license via Flickr
Header image: A view of Zaatari refugee camp, where at least 80,000 refugees live, is located 10 km east of Mafraq, Jordan, June 2014. (Photo by Dominic Chavez / World Bank) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Sustainable Standard Set for Half the World’s Main Dish


MANILA, Philippines, November 11, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The world’s first standard for sustainable rice cultivation debuted late last month, presented by the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP)a global alliance of agricultural research institutions, agri-food businesses, public sector and civil society organizations.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the United Nations Environment Programme convened the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) five years ago in order to promote resource use efficiency and climate change resilience in rice systems so important to global food security.

At its 5th Annual Plenary Meeting and General Assembly in Manila October 27-29 the Sustainable Rice Platform welcomed representatives of its 29 institutional stakeholders.

Isabelle Louis, Deputy Regional Director and Representative UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, opened the meeting by reminding the more than 120 delegates that at least half the world’s people rely on rice.

“With more than half the world’s population, 3.5 billion people, depending on rice for 20 percent or more of their daily calories, and almost one billion of the world’s poorest people dependent on rice as a staple, we are reminded of the critical importance of rice,” she said, “rice as a source of livelihoods and food and nutritional security for billions; rice as a consumer of land, water and other natural assets; and on the other hand, rice as a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.”

“According to IRRI, by 2050, we are going to need 50 percent more rice to feed the world’s population,” said Louis, “and most of this increase will have to come from intensification and increased productivity.”

The new Sustainable Rice Standard is made up of 46 requirements, covering issues from productivity, food safety, worker health, and labor rights to biodiversity protection.

One requirement, for instance, is documented proof that the soil is safe from heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and lead.

Another that inbound water is obtained from clean sources that are free of biological, saline, and heavy metal contamination.

A third requirement is that measures are in place to enhance water-use efficiency.

An attached set of quantitative Performance Indicators enables farmers and market supply chain participants to gauge the sustainability of a rice system, and to monitor and reward progress or the lack of progress.

“The SRP Standard represents the world’s first initiative that will set environmentally sustainable and socially responsible rice production management standards,” said Robert Zeigler, director general of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

“Our key challenge now,” he said, “is to incentivize and scale up adoption, especially among resource-poor small farmers.”

The SRP says a fifth of the world’s population depends on rice cultivation for their livelihoods.

The SRP Standard uses environmental and socio-economic benchmarks to accomplish three things: maintain yields for rice smallholders, reduce the environmental footprint of rice cultivation, and meet consumer needs for food safety and quality.

Development of the standard draws on global experience in other sustainable commodity initiatives such as sugar, cotton, coffee and palm oil, said the developers: UTZ Certified, Aidenvironment and IRRI and members of the Sustainable Rice Platform.

They took into account the unique challenges rice cultivation presents for environmental protection.

Growing rice uses 30 to 40 percent of the world’s freshwater and contributes between five and 10 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, especially the potent greenhouse gas methane (CH4), according to the IRRI.

The crop yield is declining from 2.2 percent during the 20 years from 1970-90 to less than 0.8 percent since then.

And the global rice production area also is declining due to land conversion, salinization and increased water scarcity.

To complicate matters, pesticides used on rice kill nontarget rice field fauna, accumulate in the food chain, runoff from the ricefields, pollute the water table, and take their toll on farmers’ health.

Paddy fields and irrigation systems facilitate breeding of mosquitoes that act as vectors of malaria, lymphatic filariasis, Japanese encephalitis and dengue.

All these effects can be more extreme in tropical and subtropical environments, where climatic and cultural conditions are more favorable to vector-borne diseases and CH4 production.

Kaveh Zahedi, director of the UNEP Regional Office of Asia and the Pacific, has confidence in the effectiveness of the new standard to solve many of these problems.

“For most of Asia Pacific, rice is a staple. It is part of the social fabric and influences many aspects of our lives – economic, social and religious,” Zahedi said.

“The SRP Standard and Indicators will help ensure that the cultivation of this vital commodity becomes more sustainable and benefits people, communities and the planet.”


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main image: Caption: Spring rice planting in Chiba Prefecture, Japan (Photo by Phil Hendley under creative commons license via Flickr)
Featured image: Harvesting rice in northern Vietnam (Photo by Tran Thi Hoa / World Bank under creative commons license via Flickr)
Image 01: Rice terraces in northern Bali, Indonesia (Photo by Patrik M. Loeff under creative commons license via Flickr)

Israel, Jordan, Palestine Unite for Jordan River


By Sunny Lewis

TEL-AVIV, Israel, October 23, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The Jordan River, famous in story and song, unique in its natural wealth, is now threatened by excessive water diversion and contamination.

In this arid region torn by many differences and struggles, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Israel, Jordan and Palestine are working together to restore the Jordan River – unity forged on the anvil of fear for their life-giving waterway.

The river flows 251 kilometres (156 miles) to the Dead Sea from sources in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains that divide Syria from Lebanon. Israel and the Palestinian territories border the river to the west, while the Golan Heights and Jordan lie to its east.

The Jordan River is an important water resource for Israel and for Jordan. Israel’s National Water Carrier, completed in 1964, delivers water from the Sea of Galilee to the Israeli coastal plain. Jordan receives water from Israel since the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty through a pipeline from the Sea of Galilee.

Though the Jordan River is depleted and polluted, its water is desperately needed by migrants fleeing the Syrian civil war. Some 600,000 have settled in dry and water-scarce Jordan, including 150,000 that have made their home in Za’atari, the world’s second largest refugee camp.

Ecopeace Middle East, formerly Friends of the Earth Middle East, has been working with its NGO counterparts to ensure restoration of the river.

In June, the NGOs invited politicians and decision makers from the three countries to an international conference, “Planning for Our Shared Future: Public Release of NGO Regional Master Plan for Sustainable Development in the Jordan Valley.” Read full report here

There at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dead Sea, Jordan under the patronage of the Jordanian Minister of Water Dr. Hazim al Nasser, the first-ever integrated regional NGO Master Plan for rehabilitation of the Jordan River was introduced.

“From a Palestinian perspective the Master Plan helps advance a two state solution with an independent Palestine prospering in the West Bank of the Jordan Valley due to full access and riparian rights to both water and land resources in the valley. All sides will gain when independence and integration lead to economic prosperity,” said Nader Khateeb, EcoPeace Middle East Palestinian co-director.

Government officials, too, participated. Ayoub Kara, Israel’s deputy minister of regional cooperation, told conference delegates, “The Jordan River is not a normal river. It is one of the most important rivers in the world. It is in the hearts of 100s of millions of people around the world. The project for developing the Jordan River is a responsibility not just for our region but for the whole world.”

“Agricultural, economic, rural and touristic projects as well help form a peaceful interaction,” said Kara. “We have to, today, find every way possible to protect and develop the natural treasures that God has given us, including the Dead Sea.”

“I call upon you to put politics aside so the cooperation will allow us to be able to enhance the environment and economy,” said Kara. “Our cooperation will be the secret to success.”

The conference marked the conclusion of a three-year program funded by the European Union. It gathered many high-level government officials from Jordan, Palestine and Israel, international diplomatic representatives, development agency representatives, and environmental experts to discuss the advancement of the program from planning to implementation.

The Master Plan was presented according to its seven strategic planning objectives:
  1. Pollution Control
  2. Sustainable Water Management and River Rehabilitation
  3. Sustainable Agriculture
  4. Jordan River Basin Governance
  5. Ecological Rehabilitation
  6. Sustainable Tourism and Cultural Heritage Development
  7. Urban and Infrastructure Development

The Master Plan identifies 127 specific regional and national projects or “interventions,” related to the strategic planning objectives, with a total investment value of US$4.58 billion through the year 2050.

The conference concluded with clear support from government representatives to continue the work presented in the Master Plan and to advance its interventions to secure sustainable development and prosperity in the Jordan Valley.

Mira Edelstein, Jordan River Projects Coordinator with EcoPeace Middle East, said the three governments are cooperating with the NGO efforts.

“The current turmoil makes regional cooperation at the government level even more difficult, yet there is work going on in a parallel basis,” she said, pointing to projects in all three countries.

In Palestine, Jericho is expanding the sewage network of the city.

In Israel, the Drainage Authority is conducting river bank rehabilitation work.

And the Jordan Valley Regional Council is completing a new lookout at the area of the proposed Jordan River Peace Park.

Government agencies in each of the three countries contributed much to the process of formalizing the Master Plan.

“The Jordan Valley Authority, has greatly contributed to the development of the Master Plan. Data collection and support with identifying projects would not have happened without their involvement, support and assistance,” said Edelstein.

The Jordanian Ministry of Municipal Affairs demonstrated the “political will to work with Israel and Palestine on water and environmental issues,” she said. The Ministry of Agriculture expressed its willingness to support the master plan.

Jordan’s Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation both supported the consultants with data for the baseline study and report, the environmental status of the Valley, the sources of pollution and their measures to control and mitigate these impacts on the Jordan Valley.

At the June conference, Secretary General of the Jordan Valley Authority Eng. Saad Abu Hammour said in a statement, “The projects articulated in the master plan are important for Jordan, in particular those that deal with wastewater and solid waste management.”

Among the priorities of the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation is the implementation of these projects through donor agencies and the Jordanian government, said Hammour.

Funding negotiations are ongoing, said Edelstein of Ecopeace Middle East. “We are focused on an additional investment plan and moving forward a financial strategy. We will hold meetings in London, Brussels and Washington D.C. on financing issues,” she said.

The Palestinian Water Authority has repeatedly expressed support for the Master Plan project, and so have the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Planning, and the Ministry of Local Government and Local Councils, who are directly responsible for the Palestinian municipalities along the Jordan Valley.

Dr. Mohammed Hmaidi, CEO of the Palestinian Water Council said, “The Palestinian delegation came from five different governmental institutions and that shows, that just like Jordan and Israel, we are interested in this conference, its recommendations, and outcomes.”

“The Master Plan is in harmony with the Palestinian policies and expectations,” said Hmaidi. “We do have national strategies and plans, and the proposed interventions do not contradict with these plans and priorities. There are a number of initiatives that can be implemented as of tomorrow.”

In Israel, there already was a National Master Plan for the Israeli section of the River, so the Israelis were seeking acceptance of the regional vision.

Adi Ashkenazi, director of the Economic Research Division of Israel’s Ministry of Regional Cooperation, said, “The most important thing that we learned from what we saw here is the great willingness and the commitment of the people that came here from all parties – the Palestinians, the Jordanians, and also ours, our people in Israel – to rehabilitate this river.”

Edelstein said the most urgent need is funding for specific “interventions” that are identified in the Master Plan that can move forward immediately, needing about US$500 million.

“With the continued instability throughout the region, the Jordan Valley effort is a real ‘Marshal Plan’ effort that could be a model for regional integration for the whole region,” she said. “If we do not counter 50% youth unemployment in the Jordan Valley, we should not be surprised to see increased radicalization in the region.”

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: Boys enjoy a dip in the Jordan River as a break in a dusty, desert day. (Photo by Hannah Temple under Creative Commons license via Flickr)
Header image: The Jordan River is a muddy trickle near Jericho, near the Dead Sea. (Photo by Derek Winterburn under Creative Commons license via Flickr)







World Running Out of Time to Sustainably Manage Oceans

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, September 18, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The greatest threat to the world’s oceans comes from human failure to deal quickly with the many problems that human activities have created in the marine environment, finds the first World Ocean Assessment written by a UN-convened group of experts.

“Human impacts on the sea are no longer minor in relation to the overall scale of the ocean. A coherent overall approach is needed,” according to the report, presented to the UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Working Group on the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects, at a meeting from September 8 to 11.

“Many parts of the ocean have been seriously degraded,” the report states. “If the problems are not addressed, there is a major risk that they will combine to produce a destructive cycle of degradation in which the ocean can no longer provide many of the benefits that humans currently enjoy from it.”

The World Ocean Assessment does not include any analysis of policies. It is intended to support informed decision-making and contribute to managing human activities that affect the oceans and seas in a sustainable manner, under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

 World Ocean Assessment’s Ten Themes:


  1. Climate change: Climate change means rises in sea level, higher levels of acidity in the ocean, the reduced mixing of ocean water and increasing deoxygenation.

“The ocean is acidifying rapidly and at an unprecedented rate in the Earth’s history. The impact of ocean acidification on marine species and food webs will affect major economic interests and could increasingly put food security at risk, particularly in regions especially dependent on seafood protein,” according to the assessment.

“The consensus is that increases in global temperature, in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and in the radiation from the sun that reaches the ocean have already had an impact on some aspects of the ocean and will produce further significant incremental changes over time,” the report states.

  1. Overexploitation of marine life: Harvesting of living marine resources has exceeded sustainable levels in many regions. And overexploitation has caused ecosystem changes such as the smothering of corals by algae caused by the overfishing of herbivorous fish in parts of the Caribbean.

Overfishing, pollution, loss of habitat and climate change are all putting pressure on fish reproduction with important implications for food security and biodiversity.

Women fish in shallow water in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania (Image credit: Matt Kieffer creative commons license via Flickr)


  1. Food security and food safety: Fish products are the major source of animal protein for a large fraction of the world’s population, but globally, the current mix of the global capture fisheries is near the ocean’s productive capacity, with catches on the order of 80 million tons a year.

Ending overfishing, including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and rebuilding depleted resources could result in a potential increase of as much as 20 per cent in yield, according to the assessment, but rebuilding depleted stocks would be costly. In some areas, pollution and dead zones are also depressing the production of food from the sea.

  1. Biodiversity: The pressures on marine biodiversity are increasing, particularly near large population centers, in biodiversity hotspots, and in the open ocean, which has so far suffered limited impacts.
  1. Crowded Ocean Spaces: Conflicting demands for dedicated marine space arise from the expansion of longstanding ocean uses, such as fishing and shipping, and from newly developing uses, such as hydrocarbon extraction, mining and offshore generation of renewable energy. As yet there is no clear overarching management system or evaluation of their cumulative impacts on the ocean environment.
  1. Pollution: The burgeoning human population as well as industrial and agricultural production are increasing the emissions of harmful materials and excess nutrients into the ocean.

Sewage discharge levels often are beyond local carrying capacities and can harm human health; still, discharges of industrial effluents and emissions are growing.

Plastic marine debris from the poor management of waste streams on land and at sea means that fish get caught in “ghost” nets, seabirds and seals die from eating plastic bags. Plastic debris destroys the natural beauty of many ocean areas, affecting the livelihoods of local residents who work in the tourist industry. Less obviously, zooplankton and filter-feeding species suffer from the nanoparticles into which those plastics break down, with “serious effects all the way up the food web.”

HumpbackMorroBayHumpback whale breaches in Morro Bay in front of smokestacks at San Luis Obispo, California (Image credit Devra creative commons license via Flickr)


  1. Cumulative Impacts: The cumulative adverse impacts of activities that in the past seemed sustainable are resulting in major changes to some ecosystems and in a reduction in the services they provide. For instance, where biodiversity has been altered, the resilience of ecosystems to climate change is often reduced.
  1. Uneven Benefits: Differences in capacities to manage sewage, pollution and habitats create inequities between developed and developing countries. Gaps in capacity-building hinder less developed countries from taking advantage of what the ocean can offer them, and reduce their capability to address the ways they degrade the ocean.
  1. Coherent Marine Management: This requires taking into account the effects on ecosystems of each of the many pressures, what is being done in other sectors and the way that they interact. The ocean is a complex set of systems that are all interconnected, and a coherent management approach requires a wider range of knowledge about the ocean.
  1. Solutions Delayed are Solutions Denied: There are known practical measures to address many of the pressures on marine ecosystems that are degrading the ocean, causing social and economic problems. Delays in implementing known solutions, even if they are only partial and will leave more to be done, mean that “we are unnecessarily incurring those environmental, social and economic costs,” the assessment warns.

The World Ocean Assessment was born 2002, when the World Summit on Sustainable Development recommended that there be a regular process for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, and the UN General Assembly accepted that recommendation.

In December 2010, the General Assembly established a formal Group of Experts to produce the first World Ocean Assessment by 2014. A much larger pool of experts assists the Group of Experts in conducting the assessments and provides peer-review to ensure the high quality of the outputs.

The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations, acts as the secretariat for the World Ocean Assessment.

A Bureau of 15 UN Member States, representing the regional groups of the United Nations, oversees the entire process.

Find the basics behind the first World Ocean Assessment here.

Read a summary of the World Ocean Assessment here:

About the Author: Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990. Find ENS online at:

Featured image: Endangered Hawaiian monk seal entangled in marine debris (Image credit: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Much more than just a conference – Lilongwe Malawi, 14-17 April 2015

World Vision AUS

We need your help to raise $122,000

in order to restore land and change lives

Maximpact is reaching out to its network to assist World Vision  in raising  the remaining $122,000 for the 2015 Beating Famine Conference in Africa.

This is your opportunity to be part of a global movement

In 2012 the first Beating Famine conference was held in Kenya, with incredible results. The conference introduced cost effective land regeneration techniques and instigated the roll out of ground-breaking projects across the East Africa region. These projects are now actively restoring land, regenerating trees, increasing crop yields and ultimately improving livelihoods and food security for people across East Africa.

  • Contributed to NEPAD/Africa Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance’s decision to cast FMNR as a foundation of Climate Smart Agriculture.
  • Helped convince the Australian Government overseas Aid program to invest $1.5 million matching funds to the FMNR for East Africa project.
  • Contributed to the Dutch Government decision to fund the Euro 40m DGIS project in five Sahelien countries.
  • Resulted in strengthening World Agroforestry Centre – World Vision collaboration, helping to scale up activities East Africa and opened up new opportunities around the world.

In 2015 we want to offer you the chance to be involved in the second Beating Famine conference, to be held in Malawi. Our 2012 event was the catalyst for huge changes in the region. In 2015 we want to provide Southern Africa with the same opportunity. We cannot do this without your help.

World Vision Malawi, World Vision Australia, and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) will deliver the ‘Beating Famine’ conference from 14-17 April 2015. It will showcase leading global land restoration techniques and will feature world class speakers from the private sector, NGOs, research institutes, governments and more,. This conference is more than just a way to reach out to local farmers and communities, it is also a vibrant platform for knowledge sharing and developing new partnerships in the sector.

About the 2015 Beating Famine Conference

The conference will showcase leading global land restoration techniques and will feature world class speakers from the private sector, NGOs, research institutes, governments and more.

This conference is more than just a way to reach out to local farmers and communities, it is also a vibrant platform for knowledge sharing and developing new partnerships in the sector.

How you can help

There are many ways that you can actively support this conference and Southern African communities. Your attendance will not only involve you in a global movement, it will provide you with networking and knowledge sharing opportunities.

Alternatively your donation can go towards co-sponsoring this conference, which will secure your promotional material and presence throughout.

To be involved 

If you would like to support, attend or donate the Beating Famine Conference please contact us on +61-3-9287-2604 or email us at

For more information please visit

world Vision

The Evolving Meaning of Sustainability

By Marta Maretich  @maximpactdotcombaby hands plant

Sustainability is a key concept for our times. For impact investors who want to put their capital behind better ways of doing business, it’s an important indicator of investability. But what exactly do we mean when we say “sustainability” or “sustainable”?

The dictionary sheds a little light.

1. Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
2. Able to be upheld or defended.

Originally taken from the biological sciences, the term sustainability first referred to conservation of natural resources. Though it retains this meaning, sustainability today can mean different things in different contexts. Sustainability in its classic sense and new uses of the term are proliferating as sustainability goes mainstream in business and popular culture.

The mainsteaming of classic sustainability

The definition is changing as the movement goes mainstream. More businesses are taking steps to incorporate sustainability into their operations as well as their performance metrics; national governments are regulating and incentivizing it in a number of new ways. Meanwhile investors are increasingly making non-financial performance, including sustainability, a priority when choosing where to place capital.

All this means that “sustainability” is an evolving idea with increasingly diverse interpretations. Most sustainability efforts still focus on the environment, however, with an emphasis on maintaining ecosystems and conserving natural resources for future use.

Sustainable forestry: Saving forest habitats has been an active area for impact investors. Despite the collapse of carbon markets, organizations like Rainforest Alliance are expanding their activities. Certification schemes like the FSC are helping sustainably sourced wood to become standard in building and consumer goods.

IrrigationSustainable agriculture: Impact intermediaries like Root Capital and development organizations like OPIC have developed successful models for promoting sustainability in agriculture. Encouraged by government regulation and subsidies, big agribusiness companies like Monsanto and multinationals like Coca Cola, are now pursuing sustainability strategies.

Sustainable water use: With changing climate in places like California driving the adoption of more sustainable water policies, businesses and services are springing up to meet a newly-defined demands. Driven by regulation, large multinationals including Unilever are beginning to look at water sustainability from a number of angles: their own use, water use by suppliers, and the water needed to use their products.

Sustainable mining: Mineral extraction is a sector with a raft of social and environmental issues and has been avoided by many social investors. That may change as groups like the IIED work to build the commitment to sustainability across the industry.

Sustainable energy: The focus is on wind, water, solar and other forms of generation and storage, such as hydrogen cell batteries. A popular area for impact investors, even designer Vivienne Westwood has committed GBP£1 million to sustainable energy. Big fossil fuel companies are also putting money into it. Though their motives are often questioned, it is a sign of how far the notion of sustainability is becoming part of the fabric of corporate life in the developed world.

Sustainable consumer goods

Sustainability has taken on a new meaning in consumer markets as it has become a persuasive selling point for everyday goods and services. Public enthusiasm remains high for brands with sustainability credentials and sustainable practices, far from being unusual, are now what consumers expect of businesses.

Sustainable fashion: The fashion industry has been thriving in a throwaway culture, but the photograph of a lady in a dress of flowerssustainable fashion movement hopes to change attitudes and move toward sustainability. To keep up with this vibrant movement, follow top tweeters in fashion sustainability and check out the five top sustainable fashion stories of 2014.

Sustainable building: Changing the way we build and design cities could make a huge difference to our future and, increasingly, governments are regulating for sustainability in construction processes, materials and design. This is reshaping the construction industry, especially in the developed world. Construction companies are adapting the way they source and use products and materials and new education centers, like this one at Harvard, and this one in Edinburgh, are training the sustainable builders of the future.

Sustainable tourism: More people are taking vacations than ever before, but increasingly tourists want to avoid damaging the environment, squandering natural resources or hurting local communities. The global travel industry is waking up to this fact and offering sustainable tourism to the masses. Portals such as Sustainable Tourism Online provide go-to resources for the public and professionals who want tourism to be good for the planet and the communities in host countries.

Evolving meanings: Financial sustainability

Beyond its original, environmental meaning, sustainability has recently developed a financial meaning that applies in some sectors. Governments strive to make public services “sustainable”. Non-profit organisations try to create “sustainable” programs to deliver mission. In this context, sustainable can mean both environmentally sound or financially viable for the future or both.

Sustainable healthcare: Concerns about being able to afford healthcare for citizens in the future is driving innovation in healthcare delivery and finance models.In a bold move, the UK health service, the NHS, is embracing both environmental and financial sustainability.

Sustainable transportation: Concerns about climate change, contracting budgets and public pressure are encouraging many governments, including China’s,  to organize public transportation policies around sustainable principles, in both the financial and evironmental senses.

Sustainable finance: In a final evolution, “sustainable finance” seeks to apply the principles of sustainability to banking and investment. Impact investing and its sister disciplines across the spectrum of social finance including responsible investing, ethical investing, social investing and microfinance form part of this growing movement, which seeks to revolutionize the use of market methods to create better social and environmental outcomes.  Sustainable finance methods are now being put to use in a wide, and growing, range of contexts, with new techniques and approaches developing across the sector. For more on sustainable finance,  browse the top five stories in sustainable finance for 2014.


Sustainability has moved from the margins to the mainstream and is now a widely-accepted approach being incorporated into many areas of business, finance and the consumer marketplace. As it continues to expand its influence, sustainability will continue to evolve new meanings and serve as a paradigm for conservation and wise stewardship of the environment, human and natural resources and, now, capital. This movement is positive, but for impact investors seeking sustainable investments, it will mean taking a closer look at all claims for sustainability and determining exactly what is meant.

Want to comment? Tell us how you are innovating in sustainability? Tweet us @maximpactdot com

Thinking Systemically About Water: An interview with J. Carl Ganter

By Marta Maretich, Chief Editor, Maximpact, @mmmaretich

Water sector investments continue to be high on the wish-list of many impact investors. But what are the wider issues surrounding investment in water? Maximpact talks to J. Carl Ganter, award-winning CEO and Founder of Circle of Blue and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Water Security.

What’s your view of water sector investing?

A few years ago, some venture capital firms invited me to make the rounds in California. I visited three different firms. Two of them had practically the same list of 68 companies to invest in, which they slid across the table with great gravitas. They asked me to comment, to tell them which ones I thought were winners.

What struck me at the time was that all these investments were what I think of as traditional. They were investments in a new type of pump or a new type of filter, for example, or a desalination plant. The venture capital firms, at least at this point, still had a very old world, 20th century, incremental way of thinking about investing in water. They were looking for ways to turn the water crisis into an opportunity by doing what they had always done.

I flipped their perspective and asked, “What if you had known in advance that Australia was under severe drought and its entire rice industry was going to collapse and this was going to ripple across world markets, affecting not only commodities traders, but impacting on the way the UNHCR manages its budgets for human disasters, its ability to buy food for refugees. How would that have changed your water investment choices?”

I don’t think they had ever thought about the wider ramifications of investing in water. Clearly, they weren’t thinking systemically about water. Hopefully, impact investors will take a more sophisticated approach.

What do you mean by “thinking systemically about water”?

I am seeing this as one of the biggest trends in the water sector today. I have an unusual perspective right now, with one foot in the “water buffalo” crowd; the community of water experts and people on the inside of the conversation; and the other in the world of journalism, which requires more of an everyman’s perspective.

In the water buffalo crowd, we’re hearing a lot more talk of a nexus of water, food and energy in a changing climate. In other words, it’s better not to think of water in isolation, but to consider it as part of a system in which those four pieces; water, food, energy and the effects of climate change; are interlinked.

And why is that important for impact investors?

From my experience, it seems that many in the investment community are still trying to figure out where the big play is in the water sector. But by thinking this way, they’re missing a massive opportunity.

If we understand there is a system in operation here, a competition, it’s possible to take a very different approach to everything we do. It’s become our mantra at the WEF, where I’m a member of the Global Agenda Council on Water Security. We joke about tattooing it on our foreheads; water, food and energy in a changing climate. We can’t think exclusively about water anymore; even the dedicated water buffalo’s can’t; we all have to think about the four-part system.

When it comes to impact investing, we need to embed that meta-message so that people looking for capital and impact investors are all thinking systemically. For example, if you’re in micro-finance and your focus is on women’s issues, then you really need to have water and sanitation embedded in your thinking. If you don’t, your work won’t be as effective as it could be. Or it may fail all together.

Why is that? When you bring water to communities in an appropriate way, you bring health, gender equality and education to girls and women. Girls will come to school because there are bathrooms that are safe for them to use. They have time for education because they aren’t carrying water all day. By thinking about these issues systemically, you can really have an outsized impact with the same level of investment.

Apart from thinking systemically, what can we do to be more effective when it comes to investing in water?

At the WEF, we’ve identified two major areas where change needs to happen. Both of these have implications for impact investing.

The first is governance. How do we break down the siloes within governments so that the water ministry talks to the infrastructure ministry and the education ministry? How do we remove the obstacles that prevent institutions from different sectors collaborating? Governance; the systems and processes that encourage cooperation and safeguard accountability; is key to breaking down siloes and creating conditions where collaboration can happen.

The other issue is values: What is the value of water? How much should people pay for water services? To what degree is water a human right? The answers to these questions tell us how much we value water for human use, industrial use, agricultural use and ecological use. Considering the value of water helps us include water in all of our conversations so that it isn’t an afterthought. It shouldn’t come down to a crisis situation if that can be avoided with foresight.

What would you like to say to an impact fund manager trying to put a portfolio together that includes water?

I’d advise someone on the sharp end of investing to think about water impact risk. By this I don’t mean only for water investments, I mean for all investments.

From the micro finance to large-scale bonds, it’s possible to go down the line with each investment, not only in the water world, and rate each one by risk of water impact.

For example, you might have an investment in an energy company. If you’re drawing a percentage of energy from hydro-electric energy, you need to consider how a prolonged drought like the one in California would affect electricity output. If you have investments in manufacturing businesses overseas you need to think about how drought in those parts of the world might ripple through your investments.

Organizations like Ceres have been successful in getting companies to disclose their water and climate risks in their annual reports. They’ve developed a method for assessment that impact investors could learn from.

Any other advice?

Our biggest obstacle lies in what we don’t know about what’s happening around the planet in this competition between water, food and energy. Our first step should be to invest heavily in understanding what is really going on. To this end, the White House recently announced its landmark Climate Data Initiative. Circle of Blue is participating and supporting this initiative with a new data dashboard that displays in real-time California’s water supplies.

This kind of information scaled will provide the key to finding solutions for the water issues we’re facing today. Not only that, but data projects like these will offer deeper insight for investment and return. Impact investors should consider how they can capitalize companies and projects that are collecting data and putting it in context.

One last thing: Do water experts really call themselves Water Buffalos?

(Laughs) Circle of Blue recently did two huge conference calls on water issues that each included about 400 people from around the world, with such experts as Peter Gleick, Jay Famiglietti and Lynn Ingram. I polled the participants beforehand, and many preferred, only half joking, to be identified as water buffalo’s. Perhaps it symbolizes persistence and strength while wading through vast pools of water and mud.

Circle of Blue announces new initiative exploring the water-food-energy nexus in India.

Ceres President Mindy Lubber will participate in the opening plenary of the 2014 Skoll World Forum in Oxford, U.K., from April. Hear what she has to say.

J. Carl Ganter

About J. Carl Ganter: J. Carl Ganter is co-founder and director of Circle of Blue, an internationally recognized center for original front-line reporting, research, and analysis on resource issues, with a focus on the intersection between water, food, and energy. He is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Water Security and, for more than five years, served on the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Navigating Peace Water Working Group. In 2012 he received the Rockefeller Foundation Centennial Innovation Award

Liquid Assets: Impact Investing in the Water Sector

By Marta Maretich

Water is a hot issue in investing circles these days. Once considered a free natural resource, water is increasingly a focus for finance and speculation; hardly surprising in a world where water stress is a reality, global demand for water is on the increase and investment in water-related infrastructure is urgently needed, according to sector-watchers such as the World Bank-sponsored 2030 Water Resources Group.

There are a number of well-known “tailwinds” pushing this trend. Population growth, uneven distribution of resources, increasing urbanization and new government regulations are some of the factors influencing the rise in demand for water. Pollution, deforestation and climate change are taking a toll on supply, with many dry regions, like California and Australia, experiencing the longest droughts in their history.

Large international development organizations like the UN, the WEC and the WHO have been vocal about the need for more water investment and cross-national cooperation and now key players, like China and the US, are waking up to the urgent need to invest in infrastructure and water security. Collecting water data will be part of this. Earlier this month the US launched a climate data collection initiative to “stimulate innovation and private-sector entrepreneurship in support of national climate-change preparedness.” The results will certainly influence future government spending on water-related issues, and probably increase it. In drought-hit states, like California, the spending has already begun and the trend toward more state investment activity is likely to continue, spurring overall market growth in the water sector.

Doing good and preventing harm

All these factors are coming together to produce what some commentators have called a “blue gold rush“; a sharp rise in interest in water investing among mainstream investors that clearly holds opportunities for impact investors, too. The reasons for this are obvious: Clean, plentiful water is necessary to all forms of life on the planet. Animals, plants, ecosystems and habitats all require adequate water to thrive. Human societies need water, too, for health, agriculture, industry and economic development. Investing in water is clearly a way to create a whole range of positive impacts.

There’s another compelling reason for impact investors to get involved now: Preventing harm. Water sector investment is undergoing a boom and, if the right safeguards aren’t applied, social and environmental concerns could fall by the wayside. Water that serves people has to come from somewhere, for example, and irresponsible extraction or dam building can lead to destruction of habitats and communities. Polluted water; such as agricultural runoff, which is often full of nitrates; can devastate whole ecosystems and destroy species. Competition for water can mean the poor and marginalized are denied fair access. Water grabs, linked to land grabs, are becoming more common in places where resources are scarce. Pricing is an issue in a sector where many analysts agree that consumers have not been paying enough for the water they consume; a situation that is set to change as water becomes more market-oriented.

Addressing the risks of privatization

As business becomes more involved in the supply and management of water, there’s concern about negative consequences of treating water as a commodity. Water hoarding and monopolizing, and the exploitation of water rights, could all be harmful to human communities, to the environment and even to world peace.

There are certainly wrong; as well as bizarre; ways to invest in water. And some business leaders have shown a distinct lack of understanding of the complex issues surrounding water. Yet there are moves in many parts of the business community to manage the risks of privatization. Ceres, a US nonprofit that encourages sustainability, works with businesses to identify and address negative water impacts across their operations. The CPD, a UK charity, works with investors and companies to uncover risk and catalyze corporate water stewardship. It holds the largest collection of self-reported climate change, forestry and water risk data in the world.

Water activist Maude Barlow takes a different tack. Starting from the premise that water is a human right, she recommends limits to its commoditization and calls for businesses and governments to adopt a new “water ethic“:

“Water must never be bought, hoarded, sold or traded as a commodity on the open market,” she writes, “and governments must maintain the water commons for the public good, not private gain. While private businesses have a role in helping find solutions to our water crisis, they shouldn’t be allowed to determine access to this basic public service. The public good trumps the corporate drive to make profits when it comes to water.”

Building robust impact portfolios with water

Whatever one’s stance on the commercialization of water, it’s clear that the water sector is now at a turning point and this means impact investors have a golden opportunity to shape its future. What’s more, water investments may be the ideal basis for building robust, profitable impact portfolios. In the words of Steve Falci, head of strategy development: sustainable investments, for Kleinwort Benson Investors, “Water is probably the biggest win-win of all the sectors in terms of delivering reliable financial returns and positive impact.”

In a recent white paper, Integrating Publicly Traded Water and Agribusiness Equities Into Impact Investor Portfolios, impact advocate Jed Emerson and Falci explore the potential of including water sector investments in impact portfolios. Water, the paper argues, has much to offer impact in financial terms. First, it’s a huge sector that boasts a wide range of investment opportunities in companies that provide the operations, equipment, chemicals, and services that make water available for municipal, industrial, and agricultural markets worldwide. These include:

-Water waste and water utilities: Companies managing infrastructure and delivery of water and or treating wastewater or reuse and safe remediation back into the environment
-Water infrastructure: Companies providing pipes, filters, pumps, seals, valves, water purification and desalination equipment, design engineering and construction services
-Water technology: Companies providing filtration, disinfection, test and measurement products and metering.

Next, not only does the water sector offer a vast array of different companies to invest in, it also offers a complete spectrum of different types of investments to choose from.

Without straying from the water sector, investors can elect to place their money in seed stage businesses, mid-sized growth businesses or large, established corporations. They can combine investments from different asset classes, each carrying a different level of risk and reward, and choose defensive and cyclical holdings to create a solid portfolio that gives reliable returns. For an explanation of how this works, see Matt Sheldon’s article on how he constructs Calvert’s successful Global Water Fund.

Including publicly traded equities

Most importantly, Falci and Emerson stress, impact investors can expand their horizons by including investments in publicly traded companies in their portfolios. As Falci explained, “Impact’s success so far has been in channeling private capital to small businesses that lacked access to other sources of finance. Many impact investors have focused entirely on investing in private markets, but publicly traded equities, chosen carefully, can help strengthen and balance an impact investment portfolio without sacrificing the commitment to positive impacts or small businesses.”

Falci and Emerson aren’t alone in advocating impact’s expansion into publicly traded equities. Others, including Michael Van Patten of Markets With Mission, have made similar suggestions. However using this method with water equities may work particularly well, according to Falci, because few water sector companies engage in activities considered negative or even controversial.

And what about managing negative social or environmental impacts of capitalizing on water? The authors suggest using SRI and ESG screening, both well established in mainstream business, to provide assurance. “Public equity managers increasingly have the tools to assess areas such as companies; carbon footprints, water usage and Base of the Pyramid activities,” they write. Undesirable consequences may be addressed through “engagement with company management; an element of investor strategy that has been a central part of most sustainable/responsible investing approaches for years.”

Whether one agrees with this “total portfolio management” approach or not, what’s interesting is the way it brings together several strands of the larger social and sustainable investing movements. Emerson and Falci are both social investing veterans with track records that predate the “invention” of impact. Their approach calls for the judicious application of various systems for ensuring positive outcomes and avoiding negative ones; including established systems like SRI and ESG and newer ones, like ISIS; to evaluate a variety of impact investments across a diverse impact portfolio. The water sector, with its great size and diversity, as well as its benign reputation, offers the perfect opportunity to experiment with this sophisticated approach to investing for impact.


The issues surrounding water; its use and abuse, its scarcity, its relative availability, its cost to consumers; are set to be high on the global agenda for the foreseeable future. With the situation becoming more critical, governments, international development agencies and businesses are all stepping up efforts to find solutions. This will create a buoyant marketplace for water-related investing in coming years. Impact investing, with its pragmatic approach to profit and its commitment to delivering social and environmental benefit, has a unique opportunity to engage with this market and influence its development for the better.

Read the white paper on water investing by Jed Emerson and Steve Falci

10 Things You Should Know About Water Infographic from Circle of Blue

To find live impact deals in the water sector, logon to Maximpact.

Image Credit: 123rf stock photography


Water Sector Spotlight Deal: HydroMentia

Imagine a water treatment technology that costs less than traditional chemical treatment methods but which improves water quality by delivering low treatment levels using a natural and sustainable solution.

Our latest spotlight deal; HydroMentia; can do just that. The company delivers sustainable, commercial-scale water treatment using natural algae to remove high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater, surface water and other water bodies.

Algal blooms are a problem in the Gulf of Mexico and thousands of other water bodies across the world. Caused by increased nutrient levels in the water, these blooms can contaminate seafood, spread disease and lead to marine mammal and seabird deaths as well as extensive fish kills, according to the EPA. Now HydroMentia has found a way to turn the destructive characteristics of algae into a water treatment powerhouse by making a virtue of what these organisms do best: Recovering excess nutrients.

HydroMentia has spent several years perfecting their water treatment technology to harness nature’s power for nutrient pollution control by optimizing algae’s natural capabilities. With a growing reputation, the process has been described as “best in its class” for improving water quality at low treatment levels using sustainable attached algae systems.

The system is based on shallow, sloped pools in which contaminated water is passed over dense beds of attached algae. As they reproduce, the algae remove nitrogen and phosphorus (as well as CO2) from the water. The algal biomass is then recovered and processed to recover organic and inorganic by-products, a practice that maintains the algae in an accelerated growth phase. The algal biomass is then processed into marketable commodities such as soil-enhancing compost or livestock feed. The process is less expensive than more established chemical treatment methods and uses far less land areas than traditional treatment wetlands.

The Algal Turf Scrubber, one of the company’s leading products has been demonstrated at commercial and pilot scale from Florida to New York and from Chesapeake Bay to California. One county in Florida has successfully operated this product for several years, with a second system being installed in 2014. Other clients in the pipeline include a mining company and an environmentally responsible real estate development.

The company is well positioned to expand both within the US and globally due to their widely applicable solution to a growing challenge. In order to do that they are seeking 1 million to 5 million USD in investment and have their eyes set on the impact investing community.

At the moment HydroMentia is still looking for investors and collaborators, so if you would like to learn more about this deal, register with Maximpact today further explore their potential.

View more Maximpact water sector deals.

Funding Water and Sanitation Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid

By Katie Bessert, Maximpact guest blogger

Today’s global water and sanitation crisis claims over 3 million lives every year according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the majority of these in communities at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid (BoP). Finding answers to this problem will require more than government funds and charitable donations. According to recent World Bank research, in order to improve quality and availability for the poorest communities, we need to build sustainable independent businesses that meet a variety of water-related needs.

My colleagues from the Colorado State University Global, Social and Sustainable Enterprise program and I are now taking part in a project to identify innovative ways to fund small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) bringing solutions across the water and sanitation sector to BoP communities. Our findings so far shine a light on the water challenges facing the world, and they provide insight into how impact investors and funds can be part of the solution.

The need for private intervention

The WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) sector has historically been an expensive and risky market for investment. Yet it has potential: For every $1 USD invested in global water and sanitation efforts $9 of economic value are returned.

However, to tap into this inherent economic value it has usually been necessary to leverage local government funding to finance massive infrastructure projects that often take several years to complete. These infrastructure projects are rarely directed towards the poorest BoP communities where the vast majority of deaths and illnesses from water-related diseases occur. For example, the majority (73%) of Calvert Investment’s water fund is invested in infrastructure projects and utility companies, of which 48% are based primarily in the U.S.

There is evidence, too, that the private sector is already bearing the costs and reaping the rewards of WASH projects. A large percentage of funding for improving water sources and increasing access to sanitation already comes from the domestic private sector in the form of tariffs, initial capital investments, and recurrent costs. A 2012 WHO report on sanitation and drinking water found that 44% of reported funding for the WASH sector came from household contributions in comparison to just 18% contributed by government. Currently, the WHO reports, the median government investment for water and sanitation is only 0.48% of GDP, indicating a lack funding for the projects that are necessary to reach the Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation.

This makes it clear that it is time to shift focus away from government funding towards partnering with the private sector.

Promising models

Addressing this water issues at the base of the pyramid means first identifying appropriate technologies and solutions for individual communities. There are a variety of local solutions for these global problems; including in-house latrines, public latrines, borehole wells, decentralized water purification systems, safe household water appliances, water vending machines and community-based water distribution centers; and it’s important to find the right one for each case. Assuming that there is a blanket cure for the diverse problems of water access and sanitation can prevent growth in this important market while evaluating the specific needs and capabilities of each community is key to furthering models with promising financial return and successful impact. Once the right approach is identified, investors can provide working capital to those SMEs that offer appropriate solutions.

Several promising models are now emerging for investable WASH sector SMEs:

Sanergy employs a unique franchise model that allows for the installment of affordable latrines. These public latrines are owned and operated by individual entrepreneurs. The units are serviced on a daily basis and when possible human waste is converted into a biofuel or organic fertilizer which provides another revenue stream for the franchisee. 35% of the world’s population lacks access to adequate sanitation facilities so the market potential for businesses like Sanergy is massive.

Grundfos LIFELINK delivers clean water to rural communities by setting up community water distribution systems from uncompromised groundwater sources. Each project is funded through partnerships with local banks and private investments. Community members purchase water credits through mobile money transfers (M-Pesa) and once a month the money spent on purchases for the water credits are forwarded to the local community bank account and the savings from this account are used to repay the loans.

Montana-based Habihut LLC has successfully launched three solar powered water kiosks in Kenya. These kiosks deliver water, contain a solar-powered cell phone charging station, and sell prepaid phone cards. Based on this successful initial launch the company plans to deploy their technology with a Hot Spring Micro-Franchise initiative. Franchisees can generate revenue from four distinct streams: Billboard advertising, cell phone charging, prepaid cell phone card sales, and water sales.

Beyond capital

Poor communities and entrepreneurs serving the BoP are often in need of not only working capital but advice on the business skills necessary to make the projects self-sufficient. The lack of local financial expertise and business acumen is a challenge to this grassroots method of delivering sustainable change. The success of this approach depends upon a conscientious deployment of capital, yet it is crucial to leverage the local entrepreneurial capacity against the challenges facing each community to deliver significant social and financial return.

About the author: Katie Bessert is a graduate student in the Colorado State University Global, Social and Sustainable Enterprise program. This summer she will be working with the charity Water for People as part of research team investigating the uses of crowdfunding as a source of capital for small businesses in the WASH sector.

To view SME deals in the WASH sector, login to Maximpact now.

Image credit: benedektibor / 123RF Stock Photo


by Marta Maretich

The World Sanitation Financing Facility (WSFF) started life as a timely idea. Born out of a conversation between Arthur Wood, then global head of Ashoka’s social financial services, Jack Sim, founder of the World Toilet Association and World Toilet Day, and Dr Guy Hutton, the leading Sanitation Economist for the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), it came into being just as the wave of interest in social benefit investing was gaining momentum.

The WSFF’s aims were ambitious from the beginning. It sought to advance the practice of social finance and nurture a multi-stakeholder, outcome-oriented approach across an entire sector of social benefit. The idea was to try new approaches on one sector and use the lessons to build models that could be used in any sector. The choice of sanitation as a focus for this groundbreaking work was strategic.


“I was interested in sanitation for a number of reasons,” Wood recalls. “Chief among those was that sanitation is a very large sector and it impacts on a whole range of other issues – water, environment, health, women, education, children. It’s seriously under-funded. Only one dollar in twelve of the money spent on water and sanitation combined actually goes toward sanitation. To be honest we hoped that would make people in the sector more open to trying new approaches.”

Sanitation was also a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target, which connected the WSFF’s work to a broader international agenda. Its MDG status provided an additional benefit: Sanitation came with a single, authoritative data set. “The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation linked to the work of WSP (World Bank),”says Wood. “It gave us a standard data source with a high degree of consensus in terms of the metrics and the identification of externalities. That’s rare, if not unique, in the world of social benefit.”


The WSFF began by convening a wide range of players including governmental and non-governmental organizations, aid agencies, charities, legal firms, utilities and funders. Fostering collaboration and innovation lay the heart of its mission. “Despite the rhetoric,” says Wood, “these agents were still working in silos.” The idea was to provide the scattered players with a common platform where they could meet and exchange ideas.

But the WSFF was designed to be more than just a talking shop. Part of its purpose was to advance the work of market building in the area of social investment. The founders knew that sanitation offered an opportunity to tap into an emerging global market of huge proportions and that it had the potential to be profitable financially and economically. In a recent post for the World Bank, Dr. Guy Hutton placed the economic cost of poor sanitation and water supply at $260 billion annually in developing countries, or 1.5% of their GDP. He puts the total economic benefit of meeting the MDG target for sanitation at $54 billion annually.

“Not only does lack of sanitation cost societies,” says Wood. “We are missing the opportunity to use waste as a resource. Human waste could potentially be one of the largest carbon markets if turned into fuel or it could be developed into fertilizer.” The WSFF’s founders saw that deficiencies in the social investment market were holding back both sanitation investment and progress.

To help develop the market, Wood and the others came up with a two-pronged approach. First, the WSFF would commission a wide-ranging study into the global sanitation market conducted by a leading consultancy firm, McKinsey and Company. The purpose was to establish a framework, a fact-base and a set of metrics that all sector players could use to coordinate interventions and develop new collaborative approaches. Second, the WSFF would work toward establishing the sort of financial and legal models that would facilitate the kind of collaboration and coordination they envisaged.

The WSFF was launched in 2009. Heavy hitters like the Water and Sanitation Program at the World Bank, UNICEF’s Water Sanitation and Hygiene Section, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council came on board along with many other citizen sector players including Ashoka and UBS Philanthropy. Full WSFF steering group. Now, four years on, what has come of this ground-breaking working group?


The social finance sector has come a long way since 2009. Public awareness and acceptance of new methods of financing social benefit has risen markedly. New kinds of players are coming into the sector every day and these agents are experimenting with hybrid legal models. Convergence, collaboration and co-investment are buzzwords. Many agents (like Maximpact) are making efforts to find ways to unite the disparate parts of the sector and get them working and investing together.

There’s also a growing recognition of the need for new legal and regulatory models to facilitate these multi-stakeholder approaches and some, like the L3C and the BCorp have emerged. Recent studies, notably by the Omidyar Network, have advocated adopting a whole-sector approach to building social investment markets. In brief, the maturing sector has come around to seeing things the WSFF way and many of its tenets are gaining traction.

Yet for the WSFF itself, success has been mixed. In the end no funder came forward to back the crucial market research into the sanitation sector. “This was the height of the financial crisis,” remembers Wood. “Still, I was surprised. Here we had a large-scale project with the business case done by a top-flight consultancy firm, headed by two thought leaders, with most of the major players from across the value chain and an offer of hosting by the UN. I thought the foundation world would be convinced by that and pick it up. Perhaps I was na’ve.”


The lack of follow-through by funders meant the WSFF research project was stalled in its tracks. However other parts of its agenda have gained ground, largely carried forward by Wood.

He has been instrumental in developing the social impact bond, now seen as an important tool for collaborative social investors. “My thinking about how you scale social impact bonds and the move to outcome models was birthed inside the WSFF,” says Wood. “It provided an answer to the question of how you bring the partners together.” Wood has also been at the forefront in developing new collaborative legal structures such as the SELLP and the L3C. In 2011 he participated in creating the Hague Framework, a report that echoed many core WSFF themes, including the urgent need for social investment and the necessity of creating collaborative outcome-oriented structures.

In the meantime Wood has helped fulfil another WSFF aspiration by founding, along with his US partners, Total Impact Advisors, a new kind of social finance intermediary. He explains, “There are lots of innovative social entrepreneurs; they’re great, brilliant, dedicated passionate people. They’re specialists in the things they do but they’re not finance specialists. Someone needs to look out for their interests. We believe that there needs to be a new kind of financial intermediary in the marketplace, one that understands what blended value is and actually has the expertise in blending different sorts of capital.”


Throughout all this activity, Wood hasn’t abandoned his hope of bringing progress to the sanitation sector. “It’s a labor of love,” he says. And it continues: He has recently collaborated on a paper with Dr. Guy Hutton: Impact Investing and Outcome Models. “It’s an attempt to demonstrate the collaborative model of the WSFF and the opportunities of impact investing and the move to outcome models using sanitation as a test case.” The paper will be published through UNESCAP.

What Wood would most like to see at this point is a practical project that puts WSFF ideas to the test. “I’d like a chance to prove the effectiveness of a collaborative outcome model in the real world,” he says. “I’d love to see one of the major multinational organizations take leadership of it. Foundations, too, could accept more of a leadership role. The danger,” he warns, “is that if the social sector doesn’t take the lead in defining these models and processes, other stakeholders in the commercial sector will do it. Then how do we ensure that social mission is hard-wired in?”

So far, no such leader has come forward. Meanwhile, the world sanitation crisis continues. The MDG target for sanitation will not be reached by 2015, according to the latest monitoring figures. Sanitation coverage is only predicted to be 67% by the deadline, leaving 580 million people without adequate provision. An estimated 30-50 million children will die from diarrheal disease as a result. Perhaps it’s time the sector tried a new approach.

Spotlight Deal: Wello WaterWheel

spotlight deal wello waterwheel

The case of the Wello WaterWheel, now listed on Maximpact’s Intermediary Portal, shows how fast a good idea can catch on, attracting enthusiastic users, collaborators and investors from an early stage.

WaterWheel is an innovative water delivery system that provides a way for people to transport large amounts of drinking water with much less effort. Rather than lugging heavy containers by hand, users push the WaterWheel’s 50 liter barrel in front of them using a convenient handle. The device was designed through an immersive, human-centered design process involving target users and experts in the field. The result is a robust, adaptable system that makes it easier for people, especially women and children, to convey needed water cleanly and efficiently, even over rough terrain.

The WaterWheel is designed to deliver more than water. By giving people easier access to potable water the device frees up valuable time, removes barriers that prevent children from going to school and empowers women to engage in more productive activities. The WaterWheel is also a potential income-generating tool for its target users, giving them a way to help lift their families out of poverty.

After nine months of extensive research and field testing,the latest model of the WaterWheel is now in production. Wasting no time in its efforts to get this technology into the hands of the people who need it, Wello is currently busy raising funding to deliver its technology on a broader scale. Investors have been quick to recognize the WaterWheel’s impact potential, both in social and financial terms: Wello is now just short of meeting its fundraising goals; yet it is still looking for funding to unlock a secured matching grant.

Wello is also using its Maximpact listing to reach out to collaborators. “We’re in the process of building Wello’s board right now,” says founder and CEO Cynthia Koenig. “We’d love to hear from people with expertise in the following fields: legal, finance and accounting, advertising and marketing, mechanical and industrial engineering, fundraising, and working with large international NGOs and other institutions. I’m also looking for business mentor who can provide high-level advice and guidance as we expand.”

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