World Water Day 2022 Shines a Light on Groundwater

Today is World Water Day, an annual United Nations observance day on March 22 drawing attention to water conservation and the more than 2 billion people currently living without access to safe water.

This year’s theme – “Groundwater: making the invisible visible” – was picked to highlight the impact of groundwater, which exists in aquifers and saturated zones beneath the land surface. Groundwater provides almost half of all drinkable water across the world, but only its impact is visible on the world above ground. The theme is meant to draw attention to the fact that since most people never see groundwater, they tend to not visualize it or think about it in terms of sustainable management, climate change impacts, or losses.

ME&A thinks about groundwater today on World Water Day as we do every day. We have advised and worked on many projects over the years dealing with groundwater with the USAID/Armenia Advanced Science and Partnerships for Integrated Resource Development (ASPIRED) Project a recent significant example. Earlier this year, we produced a storymap showcasing our work under ASPIRED to reduce the rate of groundwater extraction in Armenia’s Ararat Valley to sustainable levels.

Here are links to some of our recent “News and Views” posts highlighting our work on important groundwater issues in Armenia and other places in the world:

9th World Water Forum Will Take Place in Dakar, Senegal

The 9th World Water Forum is taking place March 21 to 26, 2022, in Dakar, Senegal. With the theme “Water Security for Peace and Development,” the forum aims to identify, promote, and implement concrete responses and actions for water and sanitation in an integrated way.

The World Water Forum is the world’s largest event on water. The forum has been organized every three years since 1997 by the World Water Council, the founder of the event, in partnership with a host country.

This year will the the first time the forum is hosted in sub-Saharan Africa. USAID and many other donors are sponsoring the event along with the government of Senegal. It will bring together more than 1,000 diverse participants from governments, bilateral/multilateral institutions, academia, civil society, and the private sector to collaborate and make long-term progress on global water challenges

For more information, visit the World Water Forum 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, Senior ME&A Consultant.

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.

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.

ME&A Begins Water and Sanitation Assessment in Tanzania

Today, Nov. 19, marks World Toilet Day, an official United Nations day taking place annually on this date. On World Toilet Day, as every day, ME&A works to play our part in tackling the global sanitation crisis and helping achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which promises sanitation for all by 2030.

One of ME&A’s current projects representative of our work forwarding SDG 6 is a water assessment our USAID/Tanzania Data for Development Project is set to kick off today for USAID/Tanzania. James Origa, team leader, and subject matter experts, Dr. Windfred Mbungu and Dr. Rich Noth, will begin field work to collect information to be used to identity and analyze blockages hindering the Government of Tanzania (GOT) from achieving its water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) targets.

These blockages are reflected in GOT and WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) data. According to the GOT, the percentage of Tanzania’s rural population with access to water dropped from 85.2 percent to 58.7 percent in 2018 due to operations and maintenance challenges. The urban population with access to water dropped from 86 percent to 78 percent. The GOT target is to reach 90 percent urban and 85 percent rural populations with access to water by 2020.

JMP data, however, shows basic access data with lower numbers than the national data. According to JMP, almost 43 million people in Tanzania lack access to improved sanitation (about 80 percent of the population) with 56.7 percent of Tanzania having access to water supply as of 2017.

The Data for Development assessment team will conduct a thorough literature review of existing sources as well as reach out to various stakeholders within Tanzania’s WASH environment. Specifically, the team will work with GOT ministries and national agencies/institutions responsible for water resources management and WASH, water program staff, international donors, and international nongovernmental organizations, and various academic and research institutions.

Fieldwork on the assessment begins today, World Toilet Day 2019, and is scheduled to conclude Dec. 6, 2019. ME&A anticipates that the final report will be completed in January 2020. The information the assessment team gathers will inform USAID/Tanzania’s water and sanitation strategy over the next five years.

USAID/Tanzania awarded ME&A the Data for Development Project in 2017 as a task order under the Policy, Planning and Learning-Learning, Evaluation and Research (PPL-LER) IDIQ contract to provide evaluation, monitoring, and assessment services for USAID Missions and Offices worldwide.

WRI Data: Quarter of World’s Population Faces Extremely High Water Stress

Seventeen countries, home to one quarter of the world’s population, face “extremely high baseline water stress,” according to new World Resources Institute data from its Aqueduct tools, which map water risks such as floods, droughts, and stress, using open-source, peer reviewed data.

WRI defines “extremely high baseline water stress” as when irrigated agriculture, industries, and municipalities withdraw more than 80 percent of their available supply on average every year. A narrow gap between supply and demand leaves countries vulnerable to fluctuations like droughts or increased water withdrawals and once “unthinkable” water crises.

The 17 countries (in order of risk) are Qatar, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, the United Arab Emirates, San Marino, Bahrain, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Oman, and Botswana.

In addition, the WRI data shows 44 countries, home to one-third of the world, face “high” levels of stress, where on average more than 40 percent of available supply is withdrawn every year.

The reason for these crises and growing crises are the more than doubling of water withdrawals globally since the 1960s due to increasing demand.

More information on the WRI data by country and region is available on its website.

ME&A Improving Irrigation Performance, Monitoring, and Evaluation in Albania

ME&A’s expertise in data-driven decision-making is being used to improve irrigation performance, monitoring, and evaluation at the municipal level in Albania.

The technical assistance under a World Bank contract will enable the Government of Albania to increase the effectiveness of municipal Irrigation and Drainage Units (IDUs), which it recently established to manage irrigation networks and irrigation dams within municipality boundaries. ME&A’s technical assistance will focus on four municipalities with Albania’s largest irrigation areas—Divjaka, Lushnje, Roskovec, and Konispol—and include local farmers as well as IDU personnel.

A key part of the contract is creating an Irrigation and Drainage Management Information System (IDMIS) integrating operation and maintenance of irrigation systems with monitoring and evaluation and programmatic support within a modern, uniform, and centralized management information system including geographic information systems (GIS). The IDMIS will enable municipal IDUs to:

  • Collect, process, and visualize data on monitoring and evaluation framework indicators to assess progress achieved
  • Make better decisions using GIS and contextual tools for mapping
  • Access online tools for planning, documentation, complaint handling, etc.

The IDMIS will also, in the future, become an important tool for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to identify, assess, and prioritize support programs and monitor progress against service delivery targets.

Agriculture is a very important sector of Albania’s economy providing employment for about 40 percent of the population. The sector has grown in recent years with increased exports, due largely to increased investments and Albania’s comparative advantage vis-a-vis regional competitors given favorable weather conditions. Reliable irrigation and drainage infrastructure is critical for further increasing Albania’s agricultural yields and exports while safeguarding against severe weather risks and climate change effects.

M&A is the prime on this $626,300 World Bank contract and has two partners: IDRA Research & Consulting, a leading Albanian research and development consulting agency, and DeveloperSix, a U.S.-based digital consultancy and software development company.