Get on nature’s good side

A New Year's resolution to recognize the benefits of water-related ecosystem services

A New Year’s resolution to recognize the benefits of water-related ecosystem services

A man at the edge of a irrigation dam in the Northern Region, Golinga.
Reservoir in Ghana’s Northern Region.
Photo: Hamish John Appleby / IWMI

In 2017, countries around the world witnessed plenty of nature’s dark side – its awesome power to wreak havoc on human livelihoods through water-related disasters, especially droughts and floods. The New Year will, of course, see more of the same, afflicting major cities and rural areas. But 2018 will also bring important opportunities to reflect and act on nature’s enormous potential to foster development by providing solutions to water challenges.

Options for realizing this potential will be the central focus of a series of major events (see list below) taking place in 2018. They mark the beginning of the International Decade (2018-2028) for Action – “Water for Sustainable Development,” declared a year ago by the United Nations General Assembly in recognition of the importance of water issues on the international agenda.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), which IWMI leads, will contribute significantly, bringing a wealth of evidence and insights from our global research to key deliberations and decisions on nature-based solutions for water management. New research results will provide the basis of an ongoing communications campaign, aimed at helping build the case to bring nature more fully into national and international development planning and practice. The campaign will reach a wide audience of stakeholders in water management through our online presence, together with social and mass media engagement, in support of our participation in key events.

A development balancing act

Eastern Region, Akosombo_Dam
A view of the Akosombo Dam in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Photo: Hamish John Appleby / IWMI

As governments and the private sector seek to manage water resources more effectively for economic development, while reducing the threat of water-related disasters, they tend to rely heavily on expensive built or “grey” infrastructure, such as dams, dikes and reservoirs. While such investments can generate major economic benefits, it has become increasingly evident in recent years that built infrastructure is not sufficient, by itself, to ensure resilience and sustainable growth for everyone.

A big part of the problem is that the construction of large dams to generate hydropower and make water more readily available for irrigation schemes often has negative impacts on water-dependent ecosystem services (such as biodiversity and water for fish and livestock) and on the people in downstream rural communities whose livelihoods are closely tied to these services.

Key decision makers can curb those impacts through better management of landscapes, based on a recognition of the valuable ecosystem services provided by natural or “green” infrastructure, such as forests, floodplains and wetlands. Typically the focus of conservation initiatives, but rarely seen as important for water security, this natural capital can contribute to development, complementing built infrastructure as a means to foster resilience in the face of climate change and sustainable economic growth. Our research focuses on establishing the value of natural capital, with the aim of strengthening the capacity of institutions to manage water resources in a sustainable and equitable way.

Freshwater horizon

Key events in 2018

See below a list of selected activities in a year dedicated to showing Nature’s good side:

  • Wetlands – diverse ecosystems that include marshes, ponds and many other water bodies – form a vital part of natural infrastructure, offering solutions to a wide range of societal challenges – from food security to flood and pollution control. On World Wetlands Day (February 2), we will join other partners in the Ramsar Convention to highlight the role of “Wetlands for a sustainable urban future,” the theme for 2018.
  • On World Water Day (March 22), we will take part in the launch of the United Nations World Water Development Report 2018, titled Nature-based solutions for water at the World Water Forum, taking place on March 18-23 in Brasilia. Prepared by the UN World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the report incorporates significant contributions from IWMI/WLE scientists, specifically in the chapters on water availability, water quality and water-related risks.
  • Four regional assessments carried out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) will be presented to the Sixth Session of the IPBES Plenary in Medillin, Colombia on March 17-24. IWMI/WLE scientists worked on two of the developing country assessments – for Africa and Asia Pacific – serving as lead author of a chapter in the former and as lead editor as well as lead author of a chapter in the latter.
  • On World Environment Day (June 5), we will present research results from WISE-UP to Climate (Water Infrastructure Solutions from Ecosystem Services Underpinning Climate Resilient Policies and Progammes), a German-funded project led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in which IWMI/WLE are key partners. Working in the Volta River Basin and Kenya’s Tana River Basin, project researchers aim to demonstrate how “nature-based” solutions can contribute to climate change adaptation and sustainable development.
  • World Water Week, organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI and to be held in Stockholm, Sweden, on August 26-31, will be dedicated this year to “Water, ecosystems and human development”). IWMI/WLE will work with the WWAP to prepare a seminar titled “Sustainable infrastructure for inclusive, green growth.” We will also play a leading role with the Asia Pacific Water Forum (APWF) in organizing the annual Eye on Asia side event, aimed at focusing attention on the region’s water security threats and opportunities.

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