Climate Change Ripples the Water Cycle


07 August 2013 | Graham Watkins

Water is critical to human well-being. Water is needed for food production, energy production, and business productivity. And yet water availability and quality is challenged by climate change, competing demands, and contamination. Most people do not spend much time thinking about water: how to effectively manage its use among competing demands or how climate change will affect our access to water. This is beginning to change as people across Latin America and the Caribbean face extreme droughts and floods or suffer the consequences of poor wastewater management. This is why the Inter-American Development Bank recently invited leading experts on water resources to participate in a roundtable discussion that took a pragmatic look at the “integrated water resource management” in a region that holds about 30% of the Earth’s available freshwater

We challenged the participants in the roundtable to think about on the ground implementation of the theory of integrated water resource management. Within the safeguards unit of the IDB, we have begun to look closely at the ways in which our projects may both affect, and be affected by, water availability and quality. As examples, hydroelectric energy projects need to clearly understand water flows in a dynamic and somewhat unpredictable environment affected by climate change; factories need to consider their use of water and the management of wastewaters to minimize impacts on biodiversity and people downstream. In some cases, the most important interactions between a project and water occur not through surface water but through ground water and aquifers. Excessive water extraction from aquifers coupled with sea level rise can have substantial impacts on coastal agriculture and biodiversity.

One aspect of my job as a lead environmental specialist at the IDB is to provide solutions to environmental and social challenges that may arise in Bank projects and programs. A biologist by training, I am keenly aware of the interconnectedness of climate change, water and biodiversity. We must balance competing needs for water, remaining true to the Bank’s mission to reduce poverty while safeguarding natural resources so that the beneficiaries of projects can thrive for the long term. The IDB is playing an active role in improving our understanding of the interactions between climate change and water while supporting decision makers to improve policy and planning that takes into account climate change and water users. We are also working to improve our capacity to recognize and manage climate change and water risks in the context of projects.

The roundtable discussion, which you can watch here, and the papers from our most recent Sustainability Report, focused on critical water and climate change concerns associated with the rapid growth in hydroelectric projects and artisanal mining to integrated approaches to water management.



The blog was originally posted on IDB: Let's Talk Climate Change. To read the original blog, click here.