As climate related extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, mudslides, and heat waves with their attendant impacts, including the spread of infectious diseases continue to increase, nations, governments, organisations, institutions and communities also continue to invent ways of addressing the impacts of these events.
Ghana is one of the African countries identified as being highly vulnerable to climate change, because her economy, which is mostly natural resources based (agriculture, mining, fishing, etc.) is sensitive to climate change and climate variability.
The country has been benefitting from various initiatives aimed at strengthening her capacity to adapt to climate change and mitigate some events. One of the latest initiatives is the water Infrastructure Solutions from Ecosystem Services (WISE-UP) to Climate project that was launched last year, to demonstrate that natural ecosystems themselves are nature based solutions for climate change adaptation and sustainable development.
The essence of the demonstration is that without healthy ecosystems in well functioning watersheds, the infrastructure built for irrigation, hydropower or water supply may not function sustainably, let alone achieve the economic returns necessary to justify investments made.
WISE-UP is being implemented over a four year period in the Lake Tana basin area in Kenya and the Volta basin areas in Ghana and Burkina Faso. One major feature since its launch a year ago is the establishment of separate teams of decision makers and influencers.
These teams are to facilitate implementation of activities, especially exchange of information and sharing of experiences as a form of learning alliance. Members of the teams are mostly representatives of organisations and institutions whose activities relate to or impact water resources.
The teams for the Volta basin recently interacted in separate meetings in Accra with some key contact persons of the project. The Executive Director of the Volta Basin Authority (VBA), Dr. Charles Biney briefed participants about the status of activities within the Volta basin, especially around the Lower Volta, Black Volta, White Volta and Oti all major tributaries of the River Volta.
He said the population of the area which used to be 18.6 million 15 years ago, is projected to rise to 33.9 in ten years time. Majority of the population, approximately 70 percent is rural and totally dependent on natural resources.
Dr. Biney mentioned growing population; high water demand; creation of dams for hydropower generation, construction of small reservoirs for agricultural production, climate change and increasing industrial activities as the main water resources development challenges.
He further identified operational challenges as insufficient staff, lack of awareness on the Volta basin Authority (VBA), continuous unilateral water resources planning and management by the six riparian countries namely Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo, Mali, Cote d’ Ivoire and Ghana.
Dr. Biney noted that in response to the continuing drought conditions, countries are building more small reservoirs up stream particularly in Burkina Faso and this is expected to increase in the future. He explained that “while these small reservoirs are important for domestic water supply and fisheries, they are also responsible for spread of some water related diseases.” Dr. Biney added that the “creation of more small reservoirs in the basin will impact less on hydro power generation, compared to that of climate change in the area.”
One of the key contacts for the WISE-UP to climate project, Dr. Mark Smith talked about the progress the project has made so far since its inception last year. He said developed hydrological models for the basins, selected sites for activities and established a project advisory board, while political and economic studies are underway among other things.
Dr. Smith who is the Director for the Global Water Programme of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was hopeful that through the project, ecosystems will be recognised and appreciated.
He said this will ensure that the contribution of ecosystems services in watersheds are included in the investment strategies for climate change adaptation as well as incorporated in the planning and development of built infrastructure.
Subsequently, the participants discussed ways of identifying trade-offs and options in their activities and how best to utilise identified approaches to break existing barriers. The discussions awakened the partners to the need to strengthen on-going approaches in their various institutions and organisations that can enhance the natural functioning of ecosystems services.
For instance, the research based organisations and institutions like Water Research Institute and University of Ouagadougou should strengthen research into all aspects of water resources.
Even, the small scale miners association, whose members are being blamed for the current destruction of water bodies in parts of the country, are of the view that they can make meaningful contribution to the quest for the restoration and preservation of the natural functioning of water ecosystems.
The association’s representative at the meeting said members are open to proposals that will enable them to enhance ecosystems functioning and not destroy them.
The Director of the Water Research Institute, Dr. Joseph Ampofo, noted that the current water situation is very challenging and is being worsened by environmental problems and climate change. He was hopeful that once key partners collaborate, the benefits of water can be maximised for all users.
WISE-UP is a global partnership involving the Water Research Institute (WRI) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSRI) in Ghana; the African Collaborative Centre for Earth System Sciences (ACCESS) of the University of Nairobi, Kenya; and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Others are the UK Overseas Development Institute (ODI); the University of Manchester; the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
This partnership has brought together a wide variety of expertise including resource scientists, engineers, computer modellers, governance and political economists, water managers and climate change specialists.
WISE-UP is being funded by the International Climate Initiative (ITI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU).
By Ama Kudom-Agyemang