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WISE-UP partners discuss benefits of maintaining water ecosystems

It is almost four years since the climate and water related global partnership known as “WISE-UP to Climate” was formed, to advance knowledge on utilising natural water ecosystems and built physical infrastructure to foster socio-economic development.

Without healthy ecosystems in well-functioning watersheds, built infrastructure for irrigation, hydropower or water supply may not function sustainably

The essence of WISE-Up’s work has been to prove that, without healthy ecosystems in well-functioning watersheds, built infrastructure for irrigation, hydropower or water supply may not function sustainably, let alone achieve the economic returns necessary to justify investments made. This has been informed by the current practice were decisions on river basins are normally based on built infrastructure, while the natural infrastructure is often not taken into account.

The focus areas for its activities are the Volta River Basin in West Africa and the Tana River Basin in East Africa.

It has concentrated its research on developments in the White Volta River, a tributary of the Volta that passes through the Pwalugu Township along the Tamale-Bolgatanga highway in the Upper East Region. Thus, the partnership has been working with public, private and not for profit institutions, organisations and academia in Ghana and Burkina Faso.

The ultimate goal is to ensure that decisions on any new developments such as the proposed Pwalugu Multi-use Dam (PMD) are made consciously considering the need to ensure that the natural functioning of the ecosystem are secured and not compromised. The research results, which are still being finalised, are expected to contribute to the feasibility studies on the PMD.

Studies have dwelt on the benefit functions of the ecosystem, looking at the socio-economic services it provides for the people; the political economy of water infrastructure decisions and governance; and trade-offs between natural and built infrastructure benefits in the Upper White Volta.

As a follow-up to the research activities, the members of WISE-UP has held its 5th Action Learning Forum with a range of decision makers and professionals in two separate meetings in Accra on the 3rd and 4th of April, 2017.

They were briefed on the progress made so far in terms of research findings and training of stakeholders. The session on the socio-economic services was facilitated by Dr. Marloes Mul of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Laetitia Pettinotti of the Basque Centre for Climate Change. They mentioned the natural ecosystem benefit functions as including flood recession farming, fishing in riparian ponds, and habitat function being the significant population of hippopotamus for tourism.

Other specific ecosystem benefit function include supporting the Bagre hydropower dam, irrigation dam at Kanonzoe and domestic water supply at Ziga all in Burkina Faso; while in Ghana there is irrigation at Pwalugu. Proposed future infrastructure activities on this tributary include doubling of water supply from Ziga to Ouagaduogou, expanding the Bagre irrigation and the construction of the PMD.

Dr. Mul and Ms. Pettinotti used different models to project that these functions link the flow of the river to its potential economic value, represent different beneficiaries and can be mutually exclusive. They noted that the natural ecosystem is currently supporting subsistence livelihood of communities.

Discussion on the political economy was led by Dr. Beatrice Mosello of the UK Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and examined issues that influence and bring about change such as the actors, the processes through which change can happen, why change is needed and whom it will be for.

For instance in the scenario of the PWD, the participants were of the view that people in authority will naturally spearhead change looking at the bigger picture of creating jobs and enhancing the livelihood of the people. In doing this, there will be the need for dialogue with the communities whose livelihood are directly based on ecosystem services and are likely to have their livelihoods altered by any physical developments. They will in turn need to be convinced that the change will be for their betterment.

Naturally, such a trend in the decision-making chain, demands trade-offs where actors are required to thoroughly weigh the available options to ensure that what they settle for will be mutually beneficial to all parties including the ecosystem.

Come November 2017, a closing meeting of this phase of WISE-UP, which focused on data gathering, will be held during which full results of the various research works will be presented. The meeting will discuss ways of re-packaging the data collated into practical tools for implementation.

Dr. Emmanuel Obuobi of the Water Research Institute said capacity building is a crucial aspect of the WISE-UP activity and so far seven basin training sessions have been organised in various locations in both Ghana and Burkina Faso for stakeholders. These include the training of 20 stakeholders in Ghana on developing climate products to support climate change adaptation; training of 60 stakeholders in Ghana in Integrated Decision Support System; and training of 21 stakeholders in Burkina Faso in Hydrological Modelling in Soil and Water Assessment Tool/Climate scenario downscaling.

He said three more basin training sessions have been planned for this year, during which will be trained in using trade-off analysis to support and inform decision making and planning among other things.

Dr. James Dalton, the IUCN Head office in Switzerland’s representative on the WISE-UP Team, announced that as WISE-Up prepares to wind up its initial activity, discussions are on-going to develop and submit a concept for a phase two of WISE-UP. The expectation is for a politically supported and demand driven process, with a vigorous ecosystem adaptation decision-making stance.

WISE-UP 2 should result in the practice of adaptation by ensuring that the right thing is done in the right place and at the right scale, and integrate the project into the activities of existing implementing institutions.

Dr. Dalton expected WISE-UP 2 to focus on implementation and upscaling of activities, and said funding opportunities exist under the Green Climate Fund (GCF). This is a global initiative under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to assist developing countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

The Chairman for the meeting, Dr. Charles Biney, who is the Executive Director of the Volta Basin Authority (VBA), said WISE-Up has succeeded in placing ecosystems in the agenda of institutional discussions.  He stated that “the just completed Draft Water Charter for the Volta Basin was influenced by WISE-UP.”

By Ama Kudom-Agyemang in Accra, Ghana

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