Journal Article Roundup

IWMI contributions to research in July and August 2022

By Isis Palay, Consultant, IWMI

This summer, many regions of the world were hit by extreme weather events. Floods, droughts, and heat waves again demonstrated the urgency of developing smart water and groundwater solutions for health and food security, ecosystems protection and climate adaptation. In July and August of this year, our researchers worked on developing and scaling solutions for a water-secure world. Below is a selection of some of IWMI’s key articles from the past two months, covering a wide range of topics including wastewater reuse, gender empowerment, groundwater conservation, climate adaptation, mangrove protection, climate finance, and urban waste.

Nile in Luxor, Egypt. Photo: Javier Mateo-Sagasta / IWMI
Nile in Luxor, Egypt. Photo: Javier Mateo-Sagasta / IWMI

July

WHO guidelines for safe wastewater use

Globally, around 30 million hectares are irrigated with untreated, diluted or partly treated wastewater. To minimize health risks arising from the use of unsafe wastewater irrigation, in 2006 the World Health Organization (WHO) produced a revised version f their 1998 guidelines to focus on ‘farm to fork’ practices in developing countries. However, a recent study led by IWMI’s Pay Drechsel and published in Water, finds that the WHO’s updated guidelines are more technical and reliant on behavioral changes than the previous set of directives, thus presenting a new set of challenges for developing countries. The team of researchers also highlights a lack of practical advice on ways to trigger, sustain and support the practices highlighted by the WHO. The paper hence recommends diverse measures to identify zones that are most at risk, and to create impactful changes in wastewater irrigation practices.

Read more here.

Women’s empowerment and the will to change: Evidence from Nepal

‘Women’s empowerment’ has become a buzzword in the development sector, but a study led by IWMI’s Marie-Charlotte Buisson and published in Journal of Rural Studies shows that ‘the will to change’ should also be considered by development agencies trying to improve women’s quality of life. Through a household survey and qualitative data collected between 2015 and 2020, the paper demonstrates how Nepalese women with  higher visible agency and critical consciousness are more willing to  gain agency in some empowerment domains. Dr. Buisson and her co-authors show that gaining agency can expand women’s horizons and domains of possibility, while higher critical consciousness encourages a want for more agency. The authors explain that these findings should encourage policy and development interventions to open conversations on social norms and practices, rather than solely focus on promoting visible agency.

Read more here.

Groundwater Resources in Moroccan Coastal Aquifers: Insights of Salinization Impact on Agriculture

Populations living on the Moroccan coasts are often dependent on groundwater for their irrigation needs. In a study with contributions from IWMI’s Youssef Brouziyne and published in Environmental Sciences Proceedings, a database aggregating information on thirteen coastal aquifers is used to assess patterns of groundwater consumption for irrigation. The study shows that 92 percent of groundwater samples collected in coastal Morocco are not suitable for agricultural use. The authors explain that seawater, artificial chemicals used in intensive agriculture, and untreated wastewater are polluting the region’s groundwater resources. To remediate this issue, management plans are proposed, including the monitoring of seawater intrusion, sustainable drip irrigation, and treated wastewater reuse.

Read more here.

August

South Asian agriculture increasingly dependent on meltwater and groundwater

South Asia’s irrigated cultures rely on meltwater, monsoon rains and groundwater, but climate change is altering the planet’s hydrological systems. The timing, composition and magnitude of water supplies is changing, while socio-economic growth is increasing global demand for water. Using a high-resolution cryosphere-hydrology-crop model, a study published in Nature Climate Change with contributions from Santosh Nepal, finds that meltwater and groundwater are growing in importance for irrigated agriculture. The authors describe how early melt peaks increase meltwater withdrawals before cropping season in May and June in the Indus, while farmers rely on groundwater pumping to sustain their crops in July and August. These findings are vital to improving regional agricultural productivity during South Asia’s pre-monsoon season, and will hopefully inform smarter water management practices in the Indus.

Read more here.

Can cash incentives modify groundwater pumping behaviors? Evidence from an experiment in Punjab

India’s groundwater levels are in decline, but reducing extraction for irrigation purposes could jeopardize food security. A study, partly funded by IWMI and published in American Journal of Agriculture Economics with contribution from IWMI alumna Soumya Balasubramanya, presents a potential solution to prevent the overexploitation of groundwater resources. The paper describes the success of a pilot scheme led in Punjab, where farmers were allocated a monthly entitlement of electricity, provided with eight hours of daytime electricity, and compensated for any additional units they had not used. The study finds that farmers who had enrolled in the scheme had significantly lower consumption levels than farmers who had not enrolled, with comparable rice yields. Cash incentives for responsible consumption, combined with daytime electricity provision could thus have the potential to conserve aquifers in many places.

Read more here.

Warming climate and elevated CO2 will enhance future winter wheat yields in North China Region

Climate change is disproportionately impacting developing countries, and endangering food security in the Global South. However, a recent study published in Atmosphere, with contributions from IWMI’s Muhammad Shafeeque, shows that elevated levels of Carbon dioxide, higher temperatures and increased precipitation could, under specific scenarios, improve Chinese grain yields in the winter. In fact, if certain sowing times, irrigation levels and fertilizer application rates were followed, the study projects that wheat yields could increase by 34 percent in the long-term. These findings will indeed help farmers and decision-makers plan for the adoption and implementation of best management practices to mitigate future climate change impacts on wheat grain yields.

Read more here.

Global mangrove extent change 1996–2020: Global Mangrove Watch version 3.0

Mangroves provide an extensive list of ecosystem services to the global population, and to the communities living in their vicinity. Alas, human-induced pollution, land use change and deforestation have caused mangroves to significantly reduce in global extent over the last 50 years. However, the true extent of damages on the world’s mangrove was unknown before a study, published in Remote Sensing with IWMI’s Lisa-Maria Rebelo’s contribution, attempted to estimate changes through datasets from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. After detecting changes compared to a baseline map, the paper found that 3.4 percent of the world’s mangroves were lost since 1996. Titled the Global Mangrove Watch Version 3.0, this assessment is expected to support a wide range of mangrove-protection activities.

Read more here.

Are climate finance subsidies equitably distributed among farmers? Assessing socio-demographics of solar irrigation in Nepal

Solar-powered pumps have the potential to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change impacts, but their high costs often prevent farmers from investing. Subsidized solar irrigation pump (SIP) programs, a form of small-scale climate finance, could make all the difference. However, a study written in collaboration with IWMI’s Gitta Shrestha and Aditi Mukherji, and published in Energy Research and Social Science, shows that even when government agencies give explicit preference to female and ethnic minority farmers, social and institutional barriers prevent marginalized individuals from applying to the program. The authors’ recommendations are to solicit applications from wider pools of farmers, revise SIP prices periodically to reflect market prices, provide after-sale services, and revise current subsidy schemes to be more inclusive.

Read more here.

Urban waste and agriculture: a win-win for farmers and for the city?

Cities generate tons of organic waste and wastewater, which often weigh heavily on urban sanitation and sewage systems. But municipal waste is also a precious resource that is rarely tapped. In a recent article published in Urban Agriculture Magazine, IWMI’s Pay Drechsel presents the arguments for a more efficient rural-urban nutrient loop, based on water reuse and energy recovery, and supported by an enabling environment where social benefits are internalized. Financial cost recovery varies across cities, but because of current limitations, the main goals of these programs should be to benefit farmers, and not necessarily public waste management and sanitation systems.

Read more here.

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