Dear colleagues and partners,
This promises to be a momentous year for IWMI as the institute celebrates its 30th anniversary and, together with its partners, moves ahead with its ambitious new research strategy.
I feel it is also a good moment to consider why IWMI’s innovative work is as vital today as it was when the institute was founded.
1. IWMI has consistently moved with the times
Over the past three decades IWMI has been defined by its ability to evolve in response to the emerging development challenges facing society.
It has grown from a scientific research center focusing predominately on irrigation, to one that looks at a wider range of research themes. While it still maintains a strong emphasis on agricultural water management, it takes a broader perspective, reflecting on the relationships with other sectors and considering the major drivers of change, such as urbanization, demography and climate change. Through our close work with the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystem (WLE), we are exploring how an ecosystems approach can lead to the sustainable intensification of agriculture.
IWMI has established close working relationships with many governments to help formulate policies on sustainable water management more broadly and address the interactions and trade-offs inherent in the water-energy-food nexus. In our strategy, we have emphasized IWMI’s role as a think tank. This sees the institute tasked with finding new, holistic solutions to ensure competing demands from water users in urban and rural areas, and the energy sector, are fairly considered and balanced against the needs of the environment to continue providing benefits.
As the world moves ever closer to a projected population of 9 billion by 2050, competing demands for water will almost certainly intensify, as will communities’ demands on this essential natural resource. Mediating these demands requires a deep understanding of both the biophysical and socio-cultural dimensions as well, under future development scenarios.
2. Water is more widely recognized as a crosscutting resource
Many of the world’s development challenges are closely linked to water and it has been very encouraging to see this reflected in the formulation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which will be launched later this year.
Several of these ambitious new targets for poverty alleviation and natural resource management are underpinned by the need for sustainable water use.
IWMI is well placed to support international efforts to achieve and monitor progress towards these goals. Our scientists have a deep understanding of both natural and manmade systems for capturing, storing, moving and using water, as well as ways to respond to climate variability, and a perspective from field level to transboundary scales.
3. Our science can make a difference
This year we will continue to focus on a range of critical issues, from developing innovative ways to recycle nutrients by safely treating and re-using wastewater for agriculture, to examining the two double-edged issues of renewable solar pumping and reversing the over-abstraction of groundwater, to improving the water productivity of irrigation systems across Asia and Africa.
While exciting new technologies and farming systems allow us to be smarter in our use of water for growing food, there are large areas of agricultural land that have been abandoned as a result of poor land management. For example, unproductive salty soils caused by over-irrigation affect an area equivalent to the size of France. In 2015 – the International Year of Soils – WLE will consolidate its work in identifying innovative measures to bring such degraded land back into productive use.
IWMI will also continue its work to better predict and monitor droughts and floods through advanced ‘big data’ applications – both of which are expected to become more frequent and extreme as a result of climate change and environmental degradation.
These are complex challenges. But with IWMI’s targeted, demand-driven research, our ever stronger networks of research and development partners and closer contact with policymakers, our work on sustainable water management has enormous potential to improve lives while preserving the integrity of the ecosystems we all depend on.
As well as a year of reflection for IWMI as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations, 2015 is also the year in which we move firmly ahead to find solutions to existing and emerging challenges, and together take another step closer towards a water-secure world.
With our good wishes for the year ahead,