Using data and connecting systems to build a water secure future
Water is essential to life on our planet, but freshwater — that’s used for drinking and washing — is rare and becoming rarer. Many of the water systems that keep us thriving and feed a growing population have become stressed, and climate change is causing shortages and droughts in some areas, and floods in others. Allen Hollenbach, Technical Director, WASH Services Quality at World Vision, describes how the organisation is connecting systems in its work - through Integrated Water Resources Management.
The hidden resource beneath our feet — groundwater
When we talk about protecting water resources, often what comes to mind are flowing streams of water, born in mountain landscapes, that make their way through forested ecosystems, through pastured fields, alongside rural settlements and cityscapes, and into the ocean. Yet, much of the world's most precious water is buried beneath us, and thus often forgotten. The vast and varied aquifers beneath our feet are home to massive quantities of pristine water resources. The stewardship of this water is critical to sustaining life and flourishing on this planet — and we have a collective responsibility to protect it.
The important role of groundwater in thriving human communities cannot be overstated. According to the United National World Water Development Report of 2022, groundwater provides half of the total volume of water used to meet daily needs for drinking, food preparation, hygiene, sanitation, and bathing. It is even more critical for rural populations and represents “the only feasible and affordable way to extend basic water access to the unserved.”
Managing groundwater is critical to water security and requires working across sectors and systems. Communities, organizations, businesses, and governments must each play a role. If collaboration breaks down at any point, water security is threatened.
But how do we do this? What practical steps can we take?
The complexities of water use, land use, and conservation require involvement from key stakeholders beyond the WASH sector because the organizations that regulate water use and quality span multiple sectors (e.g., environment, agriculture, industry). Additionally, linking to national policies and management frameworks is essential for long-term accountability and sustainability. World Vision approaches Integrated Water Resources Management, including groundwater management, from multiple angles — comprising awareness, advocacy, planning, and evidence-building — as we seek to partner with communities and government counterparts to build a water secure future.
As entry points to Integrated Water Resources Management, World Vision has identified four focal points for the protection and rehabilitation of watersheds and ecosystems:
Consider where water comes from (water resource boundaries) and how water is managed from the primary source to consumption
Monitor and promote healthy land use in the geographic areas around drinking water systems, which requires engaging with governments and communities to protect critical water source recharge areas
Support government and service providers to implement a thorough plan to protect water from source to consumption (reflecting the World Health Organization's best practices), with emphasis on culturally appropriate engagement and assessment of climate risks to support more climate-resilient WASH services
Strengthen Integrated Water Resources Management by utilizing ground- and surface-water data and weather data
Using data to protect the water
Building on this final point, hydro-meteorological data often serves as the foundation to better management of surface and groundwater resources. As the saying goes, we cannot manage what we do not measure. How can we support communities and governments in data-driven planning through the collection and analysis of this data?
One example of how World Vision is doing just that is through our Somalia Accelerator Fund project, where we plan to monitor groundwater data for early warning signs of droughts or floods and work with the UN and government of Somalia to use the data for disaster mitigation planning. The more we know about this invisible source of water, its quantity and quality, the better we know what to do together to ensure children and their communities can have consistent access to water sources.
Learn more about this innovative approach by taking part in this story map on groundwater resources-monitoring in one of the world’s most water insecure regions, the Horn of Africa.
The availability of fresh water is vital to human thriving, but this limited resource has become stressed by the growing global population and its influence on the planet. Water security is further worsened by climate change, which has brought more severe and frequent droughts and flooding. Ultimately, water insecurity undermines sustainable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services and disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations.
To learn more about how World Vision and others are promoting water resources management in our country programs, join us at the All Systems Connect International Symposium, May 2-4 at the Hague, the Netherlands. Register here.