Guidance for Water Resources Management

Water Resources Management

Guidance for Water Resources Management

This section is design to provide guidance on the approach to climate change adaptation to people working within the Water Resources sector.

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Key Considerations

a. Impact of climate change on water

Due to their limited size, geology and topography, freshwater resources on small islands like many of those through the Pacific are extremely vulnerable to changes in climate and rainfall (Mimura et al. 2007; Hanna 2013). Immediate/direct climate change impacts on water resources can occur via: (1) precipitation (Meehl 1997; Perkins et al. 2012); (2) the resultant intense runoff (Samaniego & Bardossy 2006; Arnell et al. 2011) and flash flooding leading to the temporary contamination of drinking water supplies impacting on water quality; (3) the safety of groundwater, including slower recharge as well as saline intrusion from reduced freshwater flow (Roy & Connell 1991; Chui & Terry 2013); and (4) changes in seasonality/timing of precipitation (Meehl 1996; Irving et al. 2011). Impacts on atolls may be particularly severe, e.g. a 10% reduction in average rainfall (by 2050) would lead to a 20% reduction in the size of the freshwater lens on Tarawa Atoll, Kiribati (Mimura et al. 2007).

Indirect impacts of climate change on water resources are likely to occur due to: (1) pressure on ecosystems and biodiversity and subsequent changes, e.g. changes in favoured forest/tree species, desertification (Amadore et al. 1996); (2) demographic changes as populations are displaced, including the resultant increase in urbanisation; (3) changes to agro-ecosystems and implications for food security (World Bank 2000; Hanna 2013); (4) potential for contamination of water resources as changes/pressures occur, e.g. changes to runoff and sedimentation under changed precipitation intensity, frequency and locations; changing sanitation patterns/practice and public health with demographic and temperature change (Singh et al. 2001; Miller et al. 2013); and (5) sea level rise (WHO & SOPAC, 2009).

The global mean sea level is projected to rise by 40 to 63 centimetres by the year 2100, mainly due to thermal expansion of the ocean (IPCC 2013a), with some estimates of up to an 88 centimetre sea level rise in the Pacific island countries by 2100 (Miller et al. 2013). Sea level rise is predicted to have significant impacts in four main areas: (1) coastal wetland change (Ellison 2009); (2) increased coastal flooding (Pittock et al. 1996); (3) increased coastal erosion (Leatherman 1996); and (4) saltwater intrusion into estuaries, deltas and groundwater (McLeod et al. 2010; Chui & Terry 2013; Morgan & Werner 2014). Reduction in the size of individual islands as a result of sea level rise is likely to reduce the size of the freshwater lens on atolls by as much as 29% (World Bank 2000), above and beyond any changes in recharge rates due to changes in precipitation.

b. Non-climatic threats to water resources

Beyond the impacts of climate change, it is clear that human activities also threaten the condition of water resources in PIC communities. Impacts from practices of animal husbandry, certain sanitation systems (and their maintenance) and other forms of waste threaten the condition and usability of groundwater and surface water resources in some settings. It is also evident that processes around natural soil and volcanic action (Ohtsuka et al. 1985; Fujioka et al. 1999; Cronin & Sharp 2002) and agricultural chemicals (van der Velde et al. 2007; Wen 2011) continue to threaten water resource quality, however there remains scant knowledge on approaches to address these threats in Pacific Island Countries (Heitz et al. 2000).

While pig rearing has become a pillar of food security and income generation in many PIC communities, it simultaneously presents a substantial public health risk, with faecal sludge management endangering the quality of ground and surface water sources, and introducing new infectious diseases that are transmissible from animals to people (Terry & Khatri 2009). Other sources of environmental pollution, especially from sanitation (Duwig et al. 1998; Wen 2011; Fujita et al. 2013) and solid waste management (Carden 2003), also represent an ongoing threat to water quality. Bottomless septic tanks and pit toilets have been implicated in faecal pollution (Fujita et al. 2013; Fujita et al. 2014), although there was little research on the environmental impacts of open defecation, a common practice in many PICs. Despite the concerns, there is very little evidence linking poor sanitation practice to environmental contamination or human health outcomes.

IMAGE Figure 2.

To assess water resources and their vulnerability to climatic and non-climatic threats, especially the delivery of adequate quantities of safe drinking water, it is necessary to understand how all of these factors are interconnected (Figure 3).

IMAGE Figure 3.

c. Understanding patterns of water use and community resilience

Another important consideration for water resources assessment in the Pacific region is the appreciation of the fact that many rural communities rely on multiple sources of water, rather than just a single (or primary) water source. Furthermore, research suggests that households often switch between different water resources seasonally and use different resources for different consumptive (drinking and cooking) and non-consumptive (cleaning, washing, bathing) uses (Table 1). Understanding these complex behaviours is essential to understanding the resilience of PIC communities, as a singular reliance on a primary water source will actually heighten the vulnerability of the community to water stress.

Table 1: Percentage of households reporting use of water sources and the purposes for which they use those sources, by season in 8 communities in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Change from wet to dry season is shown as a percentage point change, with negative (red) reflecting a reduction in source use and positive (black) reflecting an increase. Significant seasonal differences are indicated by superscript symbols * (P<0.05), † (P<0.01) and ‡ (P<0.001). Data from Elliott et al. (in press).


In international development, most “drinking water” projects or programs are undertaken with the implicit, if unstated, goal to provide communities with a single water system (e.g. piped to home) or source (e.g., a central borehole or standpipe) for all household purposes. However, the premise that a new water source must replace all traditional sources may be unrealistic, may exclude affordable and appropriate options, and can increase vulnerability to changing precipitation patterns and climate-related hazards. If implementers understand the use of multiple sources in a community, including the relationship between consumptive and non-consumptive uses, they may be more amenable to projects that supplement rather than replace existing water sources. For example, a community with adequate water quantity but poor water quality could benefit from household rainwater storage containers. Ultimately, the combination of water sources and their uses by households also depends on the functionality and service level provided [Fisher et al., 2015].

Significantly, the use of multiple household water sources appears to reflect adaptation to local water resources and precipitation patterns. For example, the lack of surface water and limited supply of uncontaminated groundwater in the Marshall Islands has made rainwater storage essential. In this setting, communities have a culture of harvesting and conserving rainwater for drinking, and of sharing that water with neighbours for the same purpose. In the context of this knowledge, water resource managers may consider implementing multiple sources as a strategy by providing additional water sources that are intended to supplement, rather than replace, existing sources requires investigation. Rationing and sharing of private rainwater in the Marshall Islands illustrates how household resources could contribute to community-level resilience to climate change. Implementation of household rainwater tanks should be explored as an option for projects with a primary or supplementary goal of improving community-level resilience to climate change.

d. Disasters and tensions between development and emergency response

Extreme climatic events hamper sustainable development and attainment of development goals in the Pacific region. Although much has been written around capacity and institutional challenges towards achieving sustainable outcomes in the Pacific, it is also clear that extreme events are responsible for substantial slippage in terms of progress towards MDG targets and, now, the SDG targets (Sindico 2016).

Indeed, we can contextualize the path towards SDG attainment conceptually as a trajectory that will inevitable be interrupted and disrupted by extreme climate events like droughts, floods, cyclones and storm surge, all of which are common in the Pacific region (Figure 3). For many parts of the Pacific region, especially in rural and remote communities, the frequency, intensity and urgency associated with disaster relief efforts is likely to inhibit progress towards long term and sustained development of services and infrastructure. Although progress towards sustainable development is occurring, frequent disasters can both detract from those efforts and push developed communities back into a category which again requires significant investment. Indeed, some extreme events will result in massive backward steps in terms of WaSH coverage and access. This has been historically demonstrated in the Pacific region where stories of lost access to water and sanitation services are commonplace (Finau 1987, Mosley et al. 2004, Martin and Watkins 2010). Recognition of the interaction between progress towards development activities and the impacts of climate change is long overdue and it remains to be seen as to how the SDG agenda (UN 2015) and the climate change response agenda, as highlighted in the Paris Climate Agreement (UNFCCC 2016), can be operationally linked and coordinated.

FIGURE 3 . Conceptual representation of

Common Approaches

a. Building capacity to move towards development and away from the emergency cycle

In light of the impacts and scale of natural disasters often encountered throughout the Pacific region, emergency responses are often well documented as there is a huge effort to critically assess water and sanitation needs and subsequently mitigate the threat of water-borne disease following disasters (Finau et al 1986; Finau 1987; Dengler & Preuss 2003; Keim 2010; Choudhary et al 2012). Examples of emergency aid, which typically focus on water supply, include the provision of bottled water, rainwater tanks and catchment devices and other water treatment methods. Sanitation needs are typically met after the initial emergency response which first aims to secure lives and safety by providing water, food and shelter (Dengler & Preuss 2003). Critically, the disaster response literature lacks a well-rounded assessment of not just the emergency response action, but of the short, medium and long term consequences of emergency aid. Dengler and Preuss (2003) provide a useful framework for understanding the four stages of disaster recovery, which enables us to highlight where the bulk of the work has occurred, and, where the greatest knowledge and resource gaps remain. The phases and their goals are as follows:

  1. Emergency Response: secure life and safety.
  2. Relief: provide basic social necessities for survivors. Includes: providing food, shelter and sanitation.
  3. Recovery: reconstruct and rehabilitate impacted communities. This includes the construction or restoration of permanent housing, sanitation and water systems, educational systems and restoration of the economic framework.
  4. Reduction of vulnerability: reduce impacts of future disasters. Includes construction methods, land use decisions, education, advance planning for future disasters and warning systems where appropriate.

There is a lot of work in the Pacific with respect to disaster response and recovery, however, what is largely missing are the elements of the final two phases, which cover reconstruction and rehabilitation and reducing the impacts of future disasters. Without the two final phases of disaster response and recovery, which sit more in the space of ‘development’ than ‘emergency’, coupled with limited monitoring and evaluation around the first two phases, the long term prospects for communities recovering from disasters is unknown and unable to be assessed (Figure 4).

In the context of sustainable development, which represents a sequence of reconstruction/rehabilitation interventions rather than just “emergency aid” per se, it is easy to identify scenarios of when a disaster response intervention can contribute to long-term disaster risk reduction (tsunami risk mitigation), but may simultaneously increase water-related vulnerability. For example, the relocation of coastal villages may reduce exposure to one type of hazard (tsunami), but may increase exposure or sensitivity to other water-related hazards, especially if the relocation site has less access to high quality water sources.

Another example of an intervention which can increase community vulnerability is provided by Bailey & Jenson (2014), who highlight the importance of extraction of water from the freshwater lens in emergency situations when other water infrastructure is damaged, but also note that the digging of wells in the reef plate diminishes its natural protective function, thus increasing the likelihood of saline contamination of the freshwater lens in future overwash/storm surge events.

FIGURE 4 . Mainstramed

A critical aspect to consider, especially with respect to interventions following disasters, is how easily small, remote and largely rural communities, like many of those in the Pacific region, can go from achieving WaSH or other development goals to failing them. A single large event can remove infrastructure to the degree that entire communities can permanently lose access to clean safe drinking water, as was the case for a particular study in Samoa (Martin and Watkins 2010). In that study, it was suggested that rainwater harvesting should be adopted both as a failsafe approach following disasters and as a means by which water can be provided to the community while they wait for the infrastructure to be re-built (which is a process that may take several years according to the authors).

b. Ridge to reef and IWRM philosophies to build understanding and resilience

Integrated water resource management (IWRM) is increasingly viewed as a strategy to achieve improved climate change resilience throughout the world, including the Pacific. The IWRM framework promotes a process for integrated and inter-sectoral decision-making for water for people and human health, as well as other competing water-use sectors such as agriculture, industry and the environment (GWP 2010). The approach encourages that the relationships between all activities in a catchment to be explicitly understood and considered prior to management intervention (Al Radif 1999). IWRM is a systems approach, rather than a traditional approach which focuses on discrete components of the system, like sanitation, for instance (Al Radif 1999; Biswas 2008). The IWRM approach is also appealing in that it enables managers to consider water and climate change challenges (and the risks associated with their management solutions) concurrently and not independently of each other. IWRM is based on the concept of sustainability, which is of course, also an objective that falls under the goals associated with both sustainable water development (WHO 2013) and climate change adaptation (Hadwen et al. 2011). The approach aims to achieve balance across the three E’s 1) economic efficiency, 2) social equity, and 3) environmental sustainability (Lenton & Muller 2009). Whilst some authors have questioned the utility of IWRM (Biswas 2008), others have argued for its scope to broaden in order to mainstream climate change within the IWRM framework (He 2013). Indeed, as Ludwig et al. (2013) recently stated in their review of the differences between climate change adaptation approaches and the integrated water resource framework, the main difference between the approaches is based on the temporal scope, whereby IWRM looks at historical and current issues while climate change adaptation looks at future changes. Decision-making for water resources in PICs, which combines both an holistic catchment view of water resources as well as climate change would, vastly improve services and adaptation measures thus increasing community resilience.

An integrated assessment of water, sanitation and hygiene that includes information about water resources (type, number, volumes, recharge rates etc), water protection (water quality), climate change threats to water (floods, droughts, extreme events) and other uses of water will, therefore, generate different, and more sustainable, solutions in vulnerable communities. Greater systems understanding will ensure that the implementation of services will be done in a deliberate and strategic manner, ensuring that management decisions consider resilience of communities, infrastructure, institutions and governance arrangements (formal or informal). A calculated decision to adopt an integrated approach reduces the likelihood of maladaptive interventions and can build resilience in communities to current and future climatic and non-climatic threats (Hadwen et al. 2011). PICs present a special case when it comes to water resource management interventions: PIC communities in the Pacific are already amongst the most isolated and vulnerable globally, and the already difficult task of servicing these communities with water and sanitation is further exacerbated by climate change. In these cases it is essential that integrated management approaches incorporate adaptive management based on risk assessments (Smits et al. 2009), and that this be intersectoral. As some countries in the Pacific already show evidence of moving from crisis to crisis (for example, the Marshall Islands which in 2013 suffered emergency drought, and storm surge through the capital), it is essential social, economic and environmental systems be considered as community resilience will require support and adaptation measures across different areas at different times. IWRM is already well known within the Pacific, with most countries having undertaken diagnostic studies and adopted IWRM Plans with support from international donors (Overmars and Gottlieb 2009, SOPAC 2009). In addition, IWRM has been recognized by the University of the South Pacific, which has been offering a training scheme on this topic, tailored to PICs and their water resource issues, since 2005 (Terry et al. 2007) While a broad appreciation of the value of IWRM has been achieved and a regional strategy to manage water using the IWRM principles has been developed (Carpenter & Jones 2004), large-scale projects adopting IWRM principles have been slow to eventuate at the national level. Indeed, many of the initial demonstration projects supported by SOPAC and GEF were small-scale applications which focused solely on a single aspect of water (i.e., water quality or wastewater treatment) (Carpenter & Jones 2004). To this end, some of the projects have not adequately addressed all of the issues that are likely to influence water and its quality and quantity in the study area. Part of this stems from the deliberate focus of the pilot projects on current issues of concern in particular communities in some instances, but there is also growing evidence that IWRM projects throughout the world often do not operate broadly enough to integrate land-based activities and their consequences for water (Falkenmark et al. 2014). In order to tackle water resource management and climate change adaptation in areas like the Pacific, IWRM needs to be broadened and mainstreamed into planning (for all activities) within catchments (Carpenter & Jones 2004; He2013). This is no doubt a challenge for many PICs, especially since many are characterized as having government administrations with poor capacity and limited communication among and between departments (Carpenter & Jones 2004). Fortunately, there is evidence of a move towards a more holistic appreciation of water resources within the Pacific with the growing support and recognition of ‘Ridge to Reef’ approaches to managing water and land (GEF 2004; Overmars & Gottlieb 2009; IUCN 2013). This movement towards a catchment-based approach to water management, even in atoll settings within the Pacific, is a critical first step towards a truly integrated application of IWRM principles. Broad regional acceptance of this approach and its support from global organizations and donors (like GEF and the IUCN) mean that the PICs are well placed to adopt approaches that will integrate water resources and climate change decision-making processes. Through the adoption of a spatially (Ridge to Reef) and temporally (past, current, and future) integrated approach, based on IWRM principles, PIC communities will be able to develop sustainable practices with respect to WASH in the medium to long term that do not compromise other aspects of their lives or increase their vulnerability to climate change threats (Hadwen et al. 2015).

Examples / Case Studies

a. IWRM in the Pacific

b. Ridge to Reef