October 15 is Global Handwashing Day

October 15 is Global Handwashing Day, an annual global advocacy day to motivate and mobilize people around the world to improve their handwashing habits.

Formerly called “Public Private Partnership for Handwashing” (PPPHW), the day was established in 2008 as a way to design, test, and replicate creative ways to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at critical times during the day to prevent disease.

Steering Committee members include the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Water and Sanitation Programme at the World Bank, UNICEF, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, FHI 360, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, University at Buffalo, and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.

For more information, please visit the Global Handwashing Partnership website.

Water Security: Issues and Opportunities

Editor’s Note: This ME&A article is republished from Devex Global Views.

By John O. Wilson, Ph.D

The signs are unmistakable. An intense drought grips Madagascar, and unprecedented droughts are affecting many other parts of the world. Devastating fires rage in Siberia, Turkey, and Algeria. The Atlantic hurricane season is also active and again predicted to be above average relative to the latest climate record. It is past time to address the threats of climate change, which is intertwined with the issues of water, food security, poverty, and hunger.

Today, some 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. Climate change threatens to rapidly worsen this predicament. A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that global temperatures are expected to increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040. Decreased precipitation and changes in runoff and river flows are anticipated, which increase the frequency, duration, and severity of droughts, putting millions of people at risk of displacement in the years ahead.

Water is fundamental to people’s lives. Nobody can live anywhere without it. Its quality and availability are linked to agriculture and food production, income generation, and human health and well-being. Its management depends on local, national, and international governance systems and transboundary cooperation among countries.

The Water Security Challenges We Face Today

1. Competition over transboundary basins. Transboundary basins account for nearly two-thirds of freshwater resources globally, making competition over dwindling water supplies a potential source of conflict between countries. Climate change impacts — in conjunction with the demands generated by population and economic growth — increase the need for an integrated “win-win” approach to transboundary water management.

Unfortunately, only a few effective agreements regulating access and management of transboundary water basins exist. Armenia and Turkey’s joint, equitable management of the river known as the Akhuryan or the Arpachay is one such example. Both nations share a dam and they cooperate on water management at the local level.

2. Unmanaged groundwater extraction. Approximately 2 billion people depend on groundwater as their primary source of fresh water, and a majority of the water drawn from aquifers is used to produce the world’s food supply. Unmanaged groundwater extraction outpaces the development of governance frameworks needed to regulate it, resulting in problems with allocation, depletion, and quality impairment.

3. Increasing competition for limited water resources. Farming accounts for, on average, 70% of freshwater withdrawals and generates much of the employment in low- and middle-income countries. As populations grow, even more water for drinking and irrigation will be needed to maintain countries’ food security. This will increase challenges around water governance and managing multiple interests.

How to Move Forward

The problems the water sector faces are daunting, and business as usual won’t be sufficient in overcoming them. In fact, the World Bank estimates that $114 billion will be required annually to achieve universal access to safely managed water and sanitation services by the end of the decade, and funds from public sector donors are projected to cover less than a quarter of that amount. Access to clean drinking water and sanitation for most of the world thus depends on substantial increases in private sector and municipal investment.

Fortunately, progress is being made. U.S. Agency for International Development-funded programs such as Tetra Tech’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Finance — or WASH-FIN — are helping bridge the financing gap for infrastructure investment by developing and replicating commercially viable business models, establishing clear regulatory and governance structures, and increasing access to finance for improved and expanded WASH service delivery.

The U.S. government is also implementing a Global Water Strategy that seeks to expand access to sustainable and safe drinking water and sanitation services, strengthen water governance and financing, protect freshwater resources, and promote cooperation on shared waters.

Regional approaches are another source of development innovation and progress in water management. Although regional cooperation has proved difficult, regional approaches strengthen capacity and build partnerships and networks, promoting trust, confidence, and understanding of shared challenges. They also help foster the development and sharing of innovations and lessons learned.

For example, Water and Energy for Food’s regional innovation hubs support innovators with technical assistance, direct funding, and investment-matching services to introduce water-energy-food innovations.

Reuse of domestic and industrial wastewater also can help increase water availability as demand eventually outstrips supply in many countries. Recycled wastewater is particularly attractive as a potential source of water for agriculture. Although unregulated use of treated wastewater is discouraged, promising innovations in wastewater treatment are increasing supplies of high-quality effluent, which is a valuable resource for meeting agricultural and other nonpotable water demands.

An example is the USAID-funded Advanced Science & Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development Project, led by ME&A. It is piloting the use of recycled discharge water from fish farms for irrigation in Armenia’s Ararat Valley. This innovation has enormous potential for increasing agricultural productivity in areas where an industry using and discharging water competes with agriculture for limited groundwater reserves.

Lastly, desalination holds promise for reducing freshwater scarcity. The technique is widely used around the world for the production of freshwater. But desalination plants are relatively expensive to build and operate, even as these costs go down over time. A cheaper option worth exploring more widely is brackish water desalination. Brackish water is less salty than seawater, so it requires less energy to desalinate and therefore the process is less costly.

Research carried out by Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates brackish groundwater is a substantial untapped resource for many water-limited parts of the world. Taking advantage of this resource, USAID has funded the construction of a large brackish water desalination plant in the Jordan Valley to augment the water supply for Amman, Jordan.

As the inexorable impacts of climate change, population growth, and urbanization continue to mount, many countries will confront water challenges that threaten human health, economic growth, and food security. The journey ahead will be fraught with challenges. Innovative approaches are needed to enhance governance and scale up the technological transformations and innovations necessary for affordable, safe, and secure water.

ASPIRED’s Work Curbing Over Extraction of Groundwater in Armenia’s Ararat Valley Showcased

How Armenian authorities are improving groundwater management in the Ararat Valley after cooperation with the USAID Advanced Science and Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED) Project was the focus of a recent ASPIRED close-out conference. The ME&A-led ASPIRED project, concluding its six-year run, assisted the Government of Armenia in developing technical solutions and policies aiming to curb over extraction of groundwater in the Ararat Valley to sustainable levels.

In six years, the ASPIRED project recorded an impressive list of achievements: modernizing the State Water Cadaster Information System, designing the three-dimensional structure of the groundwater basin and the Ararat Valley Atlas, and developing special decision-support tools on water allocations. These and other accomplishments and lessons learned were discussed at the close-out conference, which brought together government stakeholders, donor organizations, partners, and representatives of the communities in the Armavir and Ararat regions.

An innovation the ASPIRED project piloted was cleaning discharge water from fish farms and recycling it for irrigation.

“I am proud to know that USAID and the Government of Armenia have already been working to improve management of the country’s water resources for many years. Because of this remarkable, collaborative effort, over 32,000 people in the Ararat Valley who were severely impacted by water-loss now have access to safe, reliable, and clean water,” said John Allelo, USAID/Armenia Mission Director, in his speech during the event. “This impacts Armenia more broadly as well. As the breadbasket of Armenia, these communities can now sustainably support agriculture and businesses, which produce and provide food and income to thousands,”

Over 30 communities in the Ararat Valley face drinking and irrigation water problems due to over extraction of groundwater resources. The ASPIRED project implemented 17 pilot projects in the region, demonstrating application of water and energy saving solutions to communities and fish-farmers. Eleven communities of the Ararat and Armavir regions were involved in the drinking and irrigation water projects. Due to these projects, over 13 mln. cubic meters of groundwater and 1,380 megawatt-hours of energy will be saved annually, which is equivalent to nearly $125,000.

The ASPIRED project provided the Government of Armenia recent data on groundwater reserves in the Ararat Valley and the estimated amount of groundwater that could be extracted without overtaking the aquifer’s ability to replenish itself. The data the ASPIRED project developed can serve as the basis for the government to execute balanced water sector policies and regulations, which comply with the long-term resource conservation objectives and the region’s water needs. The ASPIRED project also assisted the Ministry of Environment to improve legislation in the water sector. In collaboration with the ministry, the ASPIRED project expanded the requirements for protection of water resources in recreational zones that were adopted and came into effect in 2019. In September 2021, the project will present to the Government of Armenia a method to assess the self-purification capacity of Armenian rivers.

M&A implements the ASPIRED project for the USAID Mission in Armenia. Begun in September 2015, the ASPIRED project was designed to support sustainable water resource management and sustainable practices of water users at the core of the water-energy nexus through the use of science, technology, innovation and partnerships approaches. ASPIRED is a task order under the USAID Water and Development Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity Contract.

COVID-19 Pandemic Cuts World Water Week Both Ways

Editor’s Note: This post is by Loren Schulze, Ph.D, ME&A Vice President for Marketing and Business Development.

As World Water Week 2021 runs August 23 to 27 this year, I reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic cuts both ways the leading conference on global water issues in Stockholm, Sweden.

For the second year in a row, World Water Week is a full-scale digital event. This year, however, all sessions are available for viewing free of charge. Only networking passes cost money. This change represents a powerful opportunity for students, young entrepreneurs, activists, and NGO representatives from the emerging market and developing economies to attend virtually. World Water Week this year focuses on “Building Resilience Faster” and the critical role of water in tackling challenges, such as climate change, poverty, biodiversity loss, and worldwide pandemics.

Since World Water Week began in 1991, I have followed this global event closely. Upon retirement from USAID I began working with ME&A and managed the Integrated Water and Coastal Resources Management (Water II ) IQC under which ME&A provided technical assistance and support services to the USAID Water Team for nearly a decade. We provided the USAID Water Team research, analysis, writing, editing, tracking, and strategic planning and in 2013 supported USAID’s work at World Water Week in Stockholm.

This year World Water Week topics like water, sanitation, and hygiene take on additional urgency during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNICEF, 3 billion people worldwide, including hundreds of millions of school-age children, do not have access to handwashing facilities with soap. Clean water and sanitation — alongside social distancing and mask-wearing — remain the most effective ways people in many nations without access to vaccines can combat COVID-19. The pandemic also puts additional demands on women and girls for water collection. This exacerbates gender inequalities and puts women and girls at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure.

During and after the pandemic global action through strong international cooperation is required to deal with these critical issues. World Water Week’s free online format this year is a timely and laudable innovation toward enabling stakeholders everywhere to brainstorm around playing their full part in ensuring safe, secure, and sustainable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene around the world. It is easy to register for World Water Week here.

Armenian Village Celebrates USAID-Funded Irrigation Efficiency Improvements

The completion of USAID-funded irrigation efficiency improvements benefiting 150 households in the Armenian village of Mrgashat was commemorated August 10, 2021, at a community celebration. USAID/Armenia Mission Director John Allelo, Armavir Province Governor of Hambardzum Matevosyan, and Mrgashat Mayor Gevorg Danielyan attended the celebration along with Magda Avetisyan, ME&A’s Chief of Party for the USAID-funded Advanced Science & Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED) Project that implemented the efficiency improvements in collaboration with the Mrgashat municipality.

USAID/Armenia Mission Director John Allelo examines new pump controls.

Mrgashat has a population of 5,500 and is one of the largest villages in Armenia’s Armavir region. The village receives irrigation water from two sources and has an adequate supply of irrigation water. Before the irrigation efficiency improvements, however, network inefficiencies prevented 30 hectares of farmland from being irrigated for more than 20 years. About 80 percent of the village’s water did not reach these fields and was lost along the way, impacting 150 households who can now irrigate the 30 hectares of farmland and grow crops.

Specific improvements included building a new irrigation network with polyethylene pipes to prevent water losses in the system, installation of new pump controls with phase and current protection circuits, and construction of outlets in the fields to distribute the water to the farm plots. These upgrades will result in water and energy savings equivalent to 228,000 m3 of water and 59,280 kWh of energy annually.

Under ASPIRED, ME&A collaborates with the USAID/U.S. Global Development Lab/Center for Data, Analysis, and Research (DAR), the U.S. Geological Survey, and other relevant institutions to pilot innovative technologies for water conservation and fish farms; establish transformational partnerships; and promote evidence- and science-based water resource monitoring, planning and management. In addition, ME&A also works with the private sector, academia, and other donors to leverage their resources and expertise in the Armenian water and energy sector.

New Solar Photovoltaic System for Fish Farm in Armenia’s Ararat Valley

A new solar photovoltaic system was recently installed in a fish farm in the village of Hovtashat in Armenia’s Ararat Valley with support from the ME&A-led, USAID-funded Advanced Science and Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED) project in Armenia. The 30 KW PV system helps offset extra energy costs from the use of recently upgraded aerators and recirculation pumps that provide more efficient water use.

Considered Armenia’s breadbasket, the Ararat Valley accounts for about 40 to 50 percent of the country’s agricultural production. Unregulated fish farming in recent years, however, has strained the region’s groundwater supply, drying up essential water sources in local communities and putting some at risk of desertification. ASPIRED pilots technologies to make fish farming and agriculture production able to co-exist in an environmentally sustainable way. Besides the energy efficient solar powered aeration system, ASPIRED has also piloted recycling fish farm water for irrigation.

The privately owned fish farm ASPIRED supported uses a water recirculation system that replicates technologies ASPIRED piloted at the government’s Aquaculture Technologies Transfer Center. It uses air lift pumps for enriching water with oxygen and passive settlers for sludge removal, consuming more energy and increasing production costs. That is where the solar application comes in. Use of the solar voltaic system is an environmentally friendly alternative to compensate for extra energy costs. 

The farm produces about 90 tons of fish annually and uses only 40 liters of water per second. The production rate is 2.25 tons of fish for the water flow of one liter/second, which is nearly three times more fish than the industry accepted standard of 800 kilograms. The energy saving is estimated to be 46 megawatt hours annually while the total energy consumption of the fishery is about 350 megawatt hours annually.

Under ASPIRED, ME&A collaborates with the USAID/U.S. Global Development Lab/Center for Data, Analysis, and Research (DAR), the U.S. Geological Survey, and other relevant institutions to pilot innovative technologies for water conservation and fish farms; establish transformational partnerships; and promote evidence- and science-based water resource monitoring, planning and management. In addition, ME&A also works with the private sector, academia, and other donors to leverage their resources and expertise in the Armenian water and energy sector.

World Oceans Day Focuses on Mobilizing Movement to Protect Our Home

World Oceans Day 2021 is being celebrated around the world with the theme “One Ocean, One Climate, One Future – Together!” today, Friday, June 8, 2021. Per the World Oceans Day website:

“For 2021 World Ocean Day is uniting conservation action to grow the global movement calling on world leaders to protect at least 30% of our blue planet by 2030. This critical need is called 30×30. By safeguarding at least 30% of our ocean through a network of highly protected areas we can help ensure a healthy climate and blue planet!”

The purpose of the Day, observed by all United Nations member countries annually on June 8, is to inform the public of the impact of human actions on the ocean, develop a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean, and mobilize and unite the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the world’s oceans.

Visit the World Oceans Day website for more information on the annual celebration and ways to find or plan an event in your area.

New Digital Technologies and Research Unit Drives Innovation at ME&A

Will there be enough food to feed a certain country next year? How much carbon is sequestered in a rainforest? Where are the hotspots for the spread of zoonotic diseases? How will climate change effect coastal cities?

In response to these and other similar questions and challenges, ME&A has created a new Digital Technologies and Research Unit (DTRU). The DRTU combines expertise in economics, geography, geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, research, and analysis to expand the digital toolkit ME&A has been using during the pandemic to provide innovative, cost-effective solutions to international development challenges.

“We want to think strategically and be proactive about integrating geospatial technologies and advanced analytical methods into our work to add greater value to the products and services we deliver to clients,” said Gary Woller, Ph.D., who directs the new unit. “Contemporary approaches in geospatial science and technology allow us to address development hotspots on local to global scales. DTRU provides the data collection, analysis, and reporting tools necessary to enable better, more informed decision-making with these new technologies.”

GIS training in Armenia under the ME&A-led ASPIRED project.

Dr. Woller, a former professor at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, has designed and implemented dozens of evaluations and project performance monitoring systems in more than 30 countries across Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America for USAID, the U.S. Department of State, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank among others. He also currently serves as ME&A’s Chief of Party for the Feed the Future Global Program Evaluation for Effectiveness and Learning (PEEL).

Other members of the DTRU are Benjamin White, geospatial architect with more than 20 years of experience with geography, remote sensing, and GIS; Christopher Coffman, senior project manager with a decade of experience in data collection and analysis and project management; Ricky Perez, GIS specialist with experience mapping across the Latin America and the Caribbean; and Thomas G. England, GIS specialist with expertise in storymaps, photography, and video.

“The DTRU unit will leverage the value of spatial analysis and the science and technology that is associated with it to augment ME&A’s current analysis, evaluations, and projects and facilitate ME&A’s movement into new strategic directions,” White said. “A short-term goal is to move the paradigm from looking at GIS as just GIS to a more integrated perspective using a ‘geographical approach’ — basically a more comprehensive look at what it means to think geographically versus just using a tool.”

The DTRU will also provide technical training both to ME&A staff and external clients in the use of advanced research, analysis, and geospatial technologies and practices.

“We have provided GIS training services for USAID implementing partners in El Salvador, and we are now being requested to provide training in GIS to USAID/Guatemala,” said Perez, who also serves as a GIS specialist on the USAID Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Initiative in El Salvador (ME&L El Salvador). “Moreover, the DTRU advises projects in the field about the use of GIS tools related to data collection and mapping. This enhances the use of GIS tools across ME&A activities and represents an opportunity to collect georeferenced data for mapping.”

Besides El Salvador and Guatemala, ME&A-led projects for USAID in Armenia, Bangladesh, and Tanzania currently incorporate GIS and other digital tools. Moreover, many of the more than 200 evaluations and assessments ME&A has conducted in over 50 countries worldwide have included advanced data collection and analysis and digital tools, including remote methods.

The DTRU also uses Esri storymaps to chart USAID assistance and development challenges in countries like El Salvador, Tanzania, and South Sudan.

Celebrating Earth Day on the Banks of the Amazon

Editor’s Note: This post is by Loren Schulze, Ph.D, ME&A Vice President for Marketing and Business Development.

When the first Earth Day rallies in 1970 sparked the modern environmental movement, I was living on the banks of the Amazon River in Leticia in the Colombian Department of Amazonas as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer assigned to the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

I remember learning from Voice of America radio programs of news from home about how Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans — at the time, 10 percent of the U.S. population — to attend massive coast-to-coast rallies against environmental degradation. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment across socio-economic divides, creating momentum for the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, adoption of many U.S. environmental policies, and passage of major U.S. environmental protection laws. Earth Day was one of multiple historic events happening back home I missed as a Peace Corps volunteer between 1969 and 1971.

Loren Schulze (left) in Colombia in 1971

Loren Schulze (left) in Leticia, Colombia, in 1971.

Working in agricultural development in one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet gave me additional perspective on the connection between the political awakening in the United States and the people of the Amazon, shaping my commitment to the environment and social progress in my international development career after. The Amazon rainforest is home to up to a fourth of the world’s terrestrial species and plays a critical role in the Earth’s global carbon cycle — and thus its vulnerability to climate change. As trees in the Amazon are cut or burned down, the rainforest is becoming a carbon source instead of one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, contributing to rising global temperatures. Of course, that was not clear back then.

The theme for Earth Day 2021, today, is “Restore Our Earth.” The event is meant to evoke optimism in restoring the world’s ecosystems through natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking. The White House is marking the day by hosting a virtual International Climate Summit of 40 world leaders where the Biden Administration is expected to unveil its greenhouse gas emissions target for 2030 as part of the U.S. renewed commitment to the Paris Agreement. In his invitation, President Biden urged world leaders to use the Summit as an opportunity to outline how their countries also will contribute to stronger climate ambition.

I hope to watch some of the virtual event and look forward to hearing the presentation of President Iván Duque Márquez of Colombia, whose country remains near and dear to my heart. In the 50 years since my Peace Corps days, there have been successes and failures in the effort to protect the environment, curb climate change, and create an awareness of the human impact on the environment around us. As a USAID Foreign Service Officer for more than 23 years, and now here at ME&A, I continue to stand alongside those striving to affect environmental changes for the good that Earth Day has come to represent. When I think back to working on the banks of the Amazon River, I reflect on how the world’s environmental awareness has advanced over the decades. But we still have much to understand to address the human impact on the environment.

Earth Day 2021: ‘Restore Our Earth’ Today and Year Around

This Thursday, April 22, is Earth Day 2021 with the theme “Restore Our Earth.” The theme is meant to evoke optimism in restoring the world’s ecosystems through natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking.

Due to COVID-19, the celebration will be virtual this year with virtual events for youth and educators scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday, April 20 and 21, the two days before, as well as the main virtual event on Earth Day. Workshops, panel discussions, and special performances will focus on “Restore Our Earth.”

The Earth Day website emphasizes that protecting the Earth is a year-around effort.

Climate change and other environmental degradations have broken our natural systems, leading to new and fatal diseases as well as a breakdown of the global economy. But just as climate change and coronavirus painfully remind us of the harm we’ve caused, Restore Our Earth reminds us of the opportunities that lay ahead. We must Restore Our Earth not just because we care about the natural world, but because we live on it. Every one of us needs a healthy Earth to support our jobs, livelihoods, health & survival, and happiness. A healthy planet is not an option — it is a necessity.

On Earth Day, as every day, ME&A supports environmental protection in our offices around the world and in the work we do. ME&A, a participant in the UN Global Compact since August 2018, is proud to commit to high standards in protecting the environment in the workplace, marketplace, and community.