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.

USAID Features ME&A-Led ASPIRED Project in World Water Day 2021 Article

The story focuses on how multiple USAID projects are partnering to conserve water and advance scientific research in Armenia’s Ararat Valley. The Ararat Valley is considered Armenia’s breadbasket, accounting for about 40 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.

The Sustainable Fisheries for Enhanced Water Resources in Armenia (SFEWRA) project was the article’s main focus along with its collaboration with ASPIRED and the Participatory Utilization and Resource Efficiency of Water project to advance research on water saving technologies and empower Armenia’s scientific community, local governments, and the public to address the valley’s water crisis.

USAID/Armenia awarded ASPIRED to ME&A as a task order under the Water and Development Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity Contract (WADI) providing the USAID Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment with services and technical support to assist USAID’s Missions, Bureaus, and Offices worldwide in the implementation of the Agency’s Water and Development Strategy.

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 Water Day 2021: Valuing Water in the Ararat Valley, Armenia’s Breadbasket

Water is a valuable and finite source; it is life’s most basic necessity. We need water to drink, clean, irrigate, generate electricity, farm fish, and just about everything else you can imagine. With ongoing population increases and the impact of climate change, the stress on global water resources is mounting rapidly. Unless humanity unites its efforts to value and care for its most precious resource, our planet could face the greatest disaster in human history.

With World Water Day approaching, ME&A showcases the collaboration between the USAID-funded Advanced Science & Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED) project and its partners successfully promoting the value of water and protecting this vital resource. World Water Day, held on March 22 every year since 1993, focuses on the importance of freshwater.

Over the past five years, ASPIRED has benefited more than 33,000 inhabitants of the ancient Ararat Valley, saving over 13 million cubic meters of water and some 1,381 MWh of energy annually. It has also resulted in a GHG emission reduction of 2,585 tons per year.

“Every piece of land is valuable in the Ararat Valley. Without cultivation, the farmlands are gradually degrading,” the mayor of the village of Hayanist said after the village implemented water reuse and irrigation improvements. “The project brought a tremendous benefit to the community and its residents because farming and livestock breeding are the only source of income for the local people. With access to water, people can cultivate land, make their living. When there is water, there is life.”

The ASPIRED team has been working closely with key government stakeholders, community members, and the private sector to ultimately reduce the rate of groundwater extraction to sustainable levels. The project strives to reach this goal by upgrading water-related data systems, introducing energy- and water-saving technologies to water users, supporting legal changes, and coordinating actions with other stakeholders and partners.

“The Ararat Valley is our country’s breadbasket. Many rural communities here already confront drinking or irrigation water shortages,” ME&A’s Chief of Party for ASPIRED, Magda Avetisyan, said. “As the water crisis in the region exacerbates, we need to rethink the ways we manage our country’s vital water resources through effective policies, innovative technologies, and behavioral change both on the individual and public levels.”

The ME&A-led ASPIRED project assists the Government of Armenia in developing consistent policy and technical solutions for a more regulated use of the nation’s vital groundwater resources. ME&A was awarded ASPIRED as a task order under the USAID Water and Development (WADI) Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity Contract.

ASPIRED Partnership Benefits 400 Farmers in Small Community in Armenia’s Ararat Valley

Pokr Vedi is a small community on the left bank of the Araks River in the Ararat region. Agriculture provides the main livelihood for the local population; fruit orchards represent the primary source of income. The village has a population of nearly 3,300.

The adequate supply of water for irrigation is of utmost importance to secure a stable income and decent livelihoods for the villagers. The community had been getting water for irrigation from two sources, but the deteriorated network and significant water losses did not permit proper irrigation of fields. In 2020, the Pokr Vedi irrigation system was upgraded through a partnership between the USAID-funded Advanced Science and Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED)  and Participatory Utilization and Resource Efficiency of Water (PURE Water) projects, “Hayastan” All Armenia Fund, and the Artashat Water Users Association.

Gevorg Sheroyan

Gevorg Sheroyan is one of more than 400 farmers benefiting from the renovation of the irrigation system. Gevorg, a mechanics teacher by profession, was born and grew up in Pokr Vedi. He taught mechanics in the village school for 37 years, sharing his knowledge and experience with school children in the use of agricultural machinery. Gevorg is also an experienced farmer. In 2008, he introduced drip irrigation system in his greenhouse to increase yield and improve crop quality.

Gevorg noted that the ASPIRED Project solved the most important problem, i.e., huge water losses in the irrigation network. Encouraged by this, in the spring of this year on his own initiative and expense, Gevorg installed a drip irrigation system on his1.6 hectares of land for the commercial production of quality tomatoes.

“The increased water supply and proper pressure ensured smooth operation of the pump and I was able to successfully operate a drip irrigation system in this field. This system will allow irrigating up to 20-30 hectares of land. Thus, I’m planning to expand the drip irrigation into another four hectares.”

Gevorg invested approximately USD 4,200 in installing a drip irrigation system including filters and pipes purchased from Russia. The ASPIRED Project helped Gevorg upscale and expand the economic gains of his farm by the installation of a new irrigation system. This increased his yield three times, improved crop quality, and created additional jobs for the community.

Beneficiaries like Gevorg enhance the project’s impact through the improved livelihood of both the community and individuals; community members value the use of innovative technologies and invest in them to improve their own businesses. Gevorg’s experience is a shining example of sustainable development in rural communities.

“The tomato yield is actually three times more than that of the traditional fields. If I subtract the investment expenses, my yield was doubled, and I generated more income. The increased yield is creating additional jobs. At present, I have 15 employees, both men and women, who work and collect the harvest. The higher the yield, the more people will be involved in the harvest. After all, improved livelihood is gained through work.”

Before the improvements, the network’s losses were about 40 percent. The competed project resulted in annual water savings of approximately 936,000 m3, while energy savings totaled 341,640 kWh during the irrigation season. The annual financial benefit from saved energy is around AMD 13.3 million or USD 27,400. This project is proof that multilateral operation, joint efforts and investments benefit hard working farmers and the community at large.

USAID/Armenia awarded ASPIRED to ME&A as a task order under the Water and Development Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity Contract (WADI) providing the USAID Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment with services and technical support to assist USAID’s Missions, Bureaus, and Offices worldwide in the implementation of the Agency’s Water and Development Strategy.

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 Toilet Day Highlights ‘Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change’

Tomorrow we celebrate World Toilet Day, a reminder to take action to ensure that everyone has a safe toilet by 2030. World Toilet Day is an official United Nations international observance day occurring annually on November 19.

This year’s theme is “Sustainable Sanitation and Climate Change” in recognition of the fact flood, drought, and rising sea levels threaten sanitation systems – from toilets to septic tanks to treatment plants. For instance, floodwater can damage toilets and spread human waste into water supplies, food crops and people’s homes. These incidents, which are becoming more frequent as climate change worsens, cause public health emergencies and degrade the environment.

World Toilet Day also brings attention to the 4.2 billion people living without access to safely managed sanitation. Instead they often use unreliable, inadequate toilets or defecate in the open — in the streets, in the bushes and by rivers and other water sources — contaminating the water and soil that sustain human life. The crisis is most severe in parts of Africa and Asia facing extreme poverty and and a population boom.

Untreated human waste gets out into the environment and spreads deadly and chronic diseases. Sustainable sanitation systems, combined with the facilities and knowledge to practice good hygiene, are a strong defense against COVID-19 and future disease outbreaks.

For more information on this annual event occurring on November 19, visit the World Toilet Day website.

New World Bank Portal Provides Curated List of Water Data

The World Bank recently launched the World Bank Water Data Portal offering a curated list of water data from the World Bank and other sources and institutions. Previously the World Bank’s Open Data Initiative provided free, open access to the Bank’s development data but not in one place combined with outside data sources. Users can search by:

  • Country for specific national goals
  • Regional level for big-picture view
  • According to three pillars: water resources, delivering services, and building resilience

Created with support from the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP), the new portal includes sourcing from World Bank-funded initiatives such as the International Benchmarking Network for Water and Sanitation Utilities (IBNET), the Rural Water and Sanitation Information System (SIASAR) and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and supplementing that with dozens of quality data sources such as the OECD, the UN, World Resources Institute, the World Wildlife Fund, and a number of governments.

The portal is aimed at client countries in need of data to help tackle some common development challenges as well as the World Bank and the broader development community to ensure insights and evidence from global research and analytics is widely shared and used in the field.

For additional information, please visit the World Bank Water Data Portal and/or watch this video the World Bank created about the new portal below.

ASPIRED Interns Learn About Sustainable Management of Armenia’s Groundwater Resources

In December 2019, two graduate students from the Yerevan State University, Department of Geography and Geology began their internship at the USAID-funded Advanced Science and Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED) Project. During a ten-month internship, Inga Siradeghyan and Nara Mnatsakanyan successfully completed multiple tasks aimed at sustainable management of groundwater resources in the Ararat Valley of Armenia. The tasks were quite technical and complex, and they were carried out under the continuous mentorship and supervision of the ASPIRED staff.

Inga Siradeghyan

Practical application of knowledge is the key to becoming a good professional…

Since I was a student, I dreamed of obtaining a Master’s degree to deepen my professional knowledge and pave my way for a future career. My Master’s thesis was about modeling and assessment of the level of danger of avalanches in the Zangezur Mountain Range of the Syunik region of Armenia. The topic was not easy, requiring advanced tools and skills for their targeted application. This is where the opportunity with the ASPIRED Project internship came to help.

After joining the USAID ASPIRED Project, a new horizon opened for me. As an intern, I came to understand the practical aspects of my profession and learned to effectively use my capacities and skills for the achievement of specific professional goals and tasks.

I applied the innovative approaches and tools introduced by ASPIRED for water resources management, to conduct the studies for my thesis, particularly the ArcGIS (Geographic Information System) and the Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) analytical method. Working in the ArcGIS environment I developed the skills and experience of using practical tools, which were later applied to model avalanche-prone areas of the Zangezur Mountain Range and assess the risks of danger. Thus, the new skills I acquired can be used to conduct thorough analyses, both strategic and economic, and propose sound solutions to existing issues in different sectors. I am sure that this knowledge will help me, as a beginner, to be competitive in the labor market.

In addition, while working on the ASPIRED Project, I acquired a number of other skills that served as a cornerstone for my current work: the compilation and organization of databases, and the analysis of temporal and spatial datasets within ArcGIS.”

Since July, right after completing the ASPIRED internship, Inga started a new position as assistant to an expert at the “Community Consolidation and Support Center” NGO based in her hometown of Alaverdi. Together with her colleagues, Inga works on identification and analysis of various issues in the communities of the Lori region of Armenia, raising cases of human rights violations, and providing advice and support, while applying the knowledge and experience gained under ASPIRED.

At the end of our conversation Inga mentioned: “Apart from everything else, I would like to emphasize that during my internship with the ASPIRED Project, I learned to work with a professional team, acquire knowledge, listen to and learn from them, and grow professionally and personally. I consider this an important gain to serve as an effective member of the team and be part of an important program.

Nara Mnatsakanyan

My final thesis was “Real estate transactions in medieval Armenia,” linked to a prototype of the cadastral system and transactions in medieval Armenia. Obviously, this was a complex topic that required reliable data, identification of potential sources, and extensive data analysis.

Based on the modeling experience gained during my internship in the ASPIRED Project, I developed a large database for my final thesis. Apart from this, I often applied this practical knowledge to develop and design thematic maps.

The knowledge gained during my internship encouraged me to enroll in a business project and I am hopeful of success. No doubt, the ASPIRED internship was a great experience for a beginner to make her first professional steps. It was a great learning opportunity for a GIS analyst.”

At present, Nara is working at the Ijevan Branch of Yerevan State University, teaching information systems analysis using GIS.

My vision of my career and future are linked to GIS analyses. It is hard to explain, but I love my job and I yearn to improve my skills further in this field.

Why Global Handwashing Day is More Important Now Than Ever

On Global Handwashing Day, USAID is reminding people that handwashing is more important than ever during a pandemic that could be stemmed, in part, by everyone taking hand hygiene seriously.

“Hand Hygiene for All” is the theme of this year’s Global Handwashing Day, following a recent World Health Organization initiative calling for improved hand hygiene. Formerly called “Public Private Partnership for Handwashing” (PPPHW), Global Handwashing Day was established in 2008 as an annual observance on October 15 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.

Among the ways USAID is marking annual observance this year during the COVID-19 pandemic is a podcast from Global Waters Radio featuring USAID water, sanitation, and hygiene experts: USAID/Indonesia’s Trigeany Linggoatmodjo and USAID/South Sudan’s Amuda Joseph. They discuss ways USAID has been elevating the role of handwashing in response to COVID-19 in recent months as well as challenges USAID has faced working to create sustainable handwashing behavior change during the pandemic.

USAID is a member of the steering committee for Global Handwashing Day along with 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.

Benchmarking Household Water Insecurity Around the World

While the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6 underscores the need to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” policymakers lack robust, globally comparable data on water insecurity to work together to achieve that goal.

For this reason, Northwestern University and UNESCO joined forces with Gallup to expand Household Water Insecurity Experiences (HWISE) surveys to 31 countries in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. With nationally representative surveys in all of these countries (including India, China and Brazil) researchers will now be able to benchmark water insecurity among roughly half the world’s adult population.

Among the issues the HWISE surveys will help policymakers understand and compare between countries include the relationship between access to water and wellbeing, how gender and other socioeconomic factors affect water security, and how water insecurity relates to food insecurity. The data will enable policymakers to develop interventions where they are needed most; tailor them to specific countries, regions, cities, and villages; and track progress toward achieving water security. The HWISE survey is scheduled to be repeated in 2021 and thereafter.

For more information, please see the Gallup website.

Using GIS and Remote Data Collection on Housing to Combat COVID-19

How existing remote technology for monitoring housing in developing countries can be repurposed in the fight against COVID-19 is the subject of an interesting World Bank blog post.

Housing stock plays a role in the spread of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, because a lack of running water prevents frequent handwashing and one bedroom for an entire family prevents social distancing.

The blog post focuses on the World Bank’s Global Program for Resilient Housing’s use of drones and car-mounted cameras to capture images of homes, which machine learning algorithms then process remotely applying the local context to extract characteristics about each house. When combined with existing geographic information system data, information on overcrowding, land tenure security, poor access to health services, and lack of utilities – which increase COVID-19 vulnerabilities – can be derived at a household and neighborhood level.

The post recommends decision-makers make use of such geospatial data and remote data collection methods to identify neighborhoods in need of sanitary housing interventions during the months ahead. Additional background on the World Bank’s Global Program for Resilient Housing is also available on the World Bank website.