Remarks by Christian Holmes, USAID Global Water Coordinator, at the International Year of Water Cooperation Panel Discussion

Friday, February 22, 2013
Ways to Integrate Efforts in Furthering Water Dialogue and Cooperation


Thank you for inviting the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to attend this Special Event concerned with the International Year of Water Cooperation (IYWC), 2013. We look forward to this panel discussion concerned with "Ways to Integrate Efforts in Furthering Water Dialogue and Cooperation.” At the outset, we would like to express our appreciation for the leadership of the Governments and institutions engaged in developing this special event, namely the Governments of the Tajikistan, Finland, Hungary, and Thailand, as well that provided by UN-Water and the East-West Institute. 

In 2012, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an assessment of “Global Water Security”[i].[ii]The report projected that between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources. It also noted that water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth. The report noted that while wars over water are unlikely within the next 10 years, water challenges – shortages, poor water quality, and floods – will likely increase the risk of instability and state failure, exacerbating regional tensions. 

In addressing such challenges, water can provide a platform for building trust and cooperation between countries. Water user groups, and increased transparency and accountability between the people and service providers, can both increase access and advance democratic values. While history is not necessarily a good predictor of our future, it’s true that more often than not, water is a source of cooperation rather than conflict.[iii]

In this vein, I would like to address in my remarks today four approaches undertaken by the United States Government where water programs promote cooperation within and across country boundaries.

  1. Development and application of science and technology to advance cooperation 
  2. Development of bilateral assistance programs
  3. Development of regional assistance programs 
  4. Support of partnering mechanisms to advance cooperation

1. Development and application of science and technology to advance cooperation 

Data is becoming increasingly critical to management agencies and negotiators seeking cooperation in the water sector and support of effective frameworks for negotiating differences. An excellent example of effective data gathering and application of data is in the Mekong River Basin, where the Mekong River Basin’s Committee’s first five year plan concentrated heavily on data gathering, which helped preclude data disputes in the future and also allowed countries bordering the Mekong River to build a basis for effective relationships. [iv]The US Government has played a significant role in the collection of data in this geographic area.

Within the overall foreign policy framework established by the US Government's Department of State, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration supports a policy of free exchange of NASA Earth Science and satellite data throughout the world.  The remote sensing based observations are especially valuable to developing countries with limited in situ and observational data.  The access of data and information ranges from somewhat simple to fairly complex as is the case for most earth observation and science data. [v] To support the effective use of data, NASA, USAID and other agencies are supporting a myriad of local to global activities (e.g., training, public outreach, pilot projects, satellite user products, on-line data access, etc.) across a range of simple to complex technologies/applications/decision support systems. US Government partnerships with such important entities as the World Bank and the US Water Partnership play an important role in supporting such activities.

The following are examples of applications of remote sensing technologies to foster economic development and cooperation in the water sector.

Nile River Basin

As a result of a USAID/World Bank workshop in Egypt, USAID supported Project Nile, whose purpose is to distribute hydrological information for water management in the Nile basin. Over the course of the four year project, U.S. scientists at Johns Hopkins University, NASA, USDA, and the University of Wisconsin have worked with partners at USAID, the Nile Basin Office Eastern Nile Regional Technical Office (NBI-ENTRO), the Ethiopian National Meteorological Agency, the US Environmental Protection Agency and Addis Ababa University to develop satellite-based land cover maps, produce satellite-derived evapotranspiration estimates, and implement a Land Data Assimilation System (LDAS) customized to match identified information needs. The work has led to improved water balance estimates across the Nile Basin, and ongoing collaborations of flood and drought response and climate change adaptation in the Nile and surrounding regions.[vi][vii][viii]

High Asian Mountain Ranges

USAID and the University of Colorado Boulder are partnering to assess snow and glacier contributions to water resources originating in the high mountains of Asia that straddle 10 countries. The High Asia Mountains funnel water into such major river basins as the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Indus, Amu Darya and Syr Darya. The High Asian mountain ranges under study include the Himalaya, Karkoram, Hindu Kush, Pamir and Tien Shan, which are the mountain ranges straddling  Bhutan, Nepal, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. While about one-third of the world's population depends to some degree on fresh water within the High Asia hydrological system, not enough data exists on river and stream flows and the contribution of seasonal snow and glacier melt to paint an accurate picture of the water resources there. This assessment will be crucial in helping to forecast the future availability and vulnerability of water resources in the region, beginning with accurate assessments of the distinct, separate contributions to river discharge from melting glacier ice and seasonal snow. Such data ultimately will provide a better understanding of the timing and volume of runoff in the face of climate change.[ix]

The researchers will use remote-sensing satellite data from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency to develop time-series maps of seasonal snowfall amounts and recent changes in glacier extent. They also will use local meteorological and river discharge data from throughout the High Asia study area. One of the main project goals is to transfer scientific understanding to people in the region who can continue these measurements and analysis once the USAID project is finished, thereby providing the local population with the information they need to make decisions that will increase sustainability as land use and climate change. The project will hire Asian project managers and collaborate with research scientists affiliated with various Asian institutes. Sub-grants will be given to about 13 institutions to carry out field research and support will be provided for 20 students to achieve their Masters in glaciology at the University of Kathmandu. The students are from South and Central Asia.

Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET)

The USAID-supported Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) is an information system designed to identify problems in the food supply system that potentially lead to famine or other food-insecure conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan, Central America, and Haiti. The USGS FEWS NET Data Portal provides access to geo-spatial data, satellite image products, and derived data products in support of FEWS NET monitoring needs throughout the world. This portal is provided by the USGS FEWS NET Project, part of the Early Warning and Environmental Monitoring Program at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center.[x]FEWS NET predicted a recent drought in Africa and allowed donors to take quick action before the worst conditions set in. In those areas that were expected to be hit the hardest, USAID helped households with “commercial de-stocking”-- selling off some livestock while the prices were still high-- which helped families bring in enough income to feed themselves and their remaining livestock. [xi]USAID also pre-positioned significant amounts of food and non-food commodities and worked to rehabilitate wells before the worst drought conditions, preventing the need to launch expensive water trucking efforts in those regions.

2. Bilateral assistance programs

The following are examples of USG bilateral assistance programs which promote cooperation on a country specific basis.

Ethiopia Sustainable Water Resources

For FY 2011-2013, USAID is supporting the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Transformations for Enhanced Resilience Project, wherein the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and CARE Ethiopia operate in Afar, Oromia, and Somali regions of Ethiopia to improve access to clean and sustainable water sources for target communities. The program improves hygiene awareness and access to sanitation among beneficiaries; improves pastoral rangeland land management practices; and uses approaches to reduce actual or potential conflicts over natural resources.[xii]

Tajikistan Family Farming

In Tajikistan, USAID is supporting the Family Farming Program (FFP), a four-year effort to improve food security in Tajikistan by increasing the volume of agricultural production, boosting the income of food insecure households to make food more accessible, and raising the standard of household nutrition. This project has a significant irrigation component. At the community level, Village Extension Agents serve as activity monitors and liaisons to reach out and train across all FFP activities. Programming focuses on initiatives that have the most immediate yet sustainable impact and feature broad community inclusion, especially for woman-headed households and young women and men.[xiii]

Rwanda Integrated Water Security

In Rwanda, USAID is supporting the Integrated Water Security Program which is designed to positively impact human health, food security, and resiliency to climate change for vulnerable populations in the African nation by improving the sustainable management of water quantity and quality. The program will focus on multiple-use water services, sanitation marketing and product/supply chain development, as well as on-farm water-use efficiency schemes, and will implement initiatives related to community climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, together with climate-resilient water management.[xiv]

3. Regional assistance programs

The following are examples of USAID funded projects which advance cooperation on a regional basis.

Central Asian Republics

USAID is supporting the Central Asia Regional Environmental Center’s (CAREC) project, “Stakeholders Partnerships in Collaborative Policy-Making: Fostering Transboundary Cooperation on Small Watersheds in Central Asia.” USAID is supporting, a comprehensive analysis of the economic ramifications of optimized water-energy resource utilization in the Syr Darya and Amu Darya River Basins. This is being done through the Executive Committee of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (EC-IFAS) and within the Aral Sea Basin Plan-III, developed primarily with German and EU assistance, and in coordination with the World Bank. This assistance will provide a comprehensive inventory of the economic interests affected, directly and indirectly, by the region’s water-resource management practices in different sectors. USAID is also supporting, through the EC-IFAS and within the Aral Sea Basin Plan-III, an analysis of the impact on regional hydrology of Global Climate Change. It seeks to provide an analysis of the risks to the region’s hydrology as a consequence of global climate change and the increasing speed of glaciers’ melt.

USAID has supported the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea (IFAS) to develop an economic model in 2012 for water use in the Aral Sea Basin, named the Aral Sea BEAM (Basin Economic Allocation Model.) The purpose of the BEAM model is to explore the impact of changes to water allocation and investments in water management infrastructure on the overall welfare of the Aral Sea basin.

Senegal and Niger River Basin Management

To address the impact of climate change and changing rainfall patters in the Senegal and Niger River basins, USAID plans to support the RIVERS project which investigates such linked questions as: what has been the impact of climate change on the vegetation of riverine systems to date; and what are the benefits and costs of different methods of increasing food security though irrigated rice production noting the impact on livestock production. [xv]

Trans boundary Water for Biodiversity and Human Health in East Africa

The Mara River, some 395 kilometers long (245 miles), begins its flow southward in southern Kenya. It passes through Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve, and then into the adjoining Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania. To help meet these varied water demands across the Mara River Basin, in 2005 the USAID provided funding to launch the Trans boundary Water for Biodiversity and Human Health in the Mara River Basin (TWB-MRB) TWB-MRB project. The project has helped local communities develop new water services, refurbish nonfunctioning water systems, and improve sanitation services. There has also been support for setting up water user associations and village savings and loan groups, emphasizing the participation and empowerment of women and the long-term sustainability of the new organizations. More recently, the project completed an environmental flows assessment (EFA) for the river basin. The EFA quantified the water needs through the basin and recommended steps to ensure that those competing demands are satisfied. The assessment was officially adopted by the Lake Victoria Basin Commission of the East African Community. That high-level endorsement will be key to the effective, long-term cross-border management of the basin's water resources in both countries.[xvi]

Mekong River Basin

USAID supports the Mekong River Commission and the riparian countries to plan the sustainable development of water resources in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB), where 60 million people live and 80% of them rely directly on the Mekong river system for their food and livelihoods: The Mekong River supports the largest capture fisheries in the world and the rice bowl of Southeast Asia. Its water resources are primarily threatened by climate change and hydropower development, and USAID helps to address these challenges through several projects that promote informed water resources planning:   

  • Improving Sediment Flows and Management 
    • USAID strengthens the capacity of the Lower Mekong countries to manage sediment flows and plan future dam construction in ways that mitigate the anticipated impacts of climate change.
  • Enhancing Scenario Planning Approaches 
    • USAID supports the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct regional and country training workshops on a strategic scenario planning framework that is stakeholder-driven and considers uncertainly and trade-offs in basin development.
  •  Promoting Sustainable Fisheries Management 
    • USAID provided support to the MRC to improve sustainable fisheries management and rural livelihoods. USAID assistance will promote an improved, science-based understanding of the status and trends in fisheries and address the impacts of major development projects on fisheries.

4. Support of partnerships to advance cooperation

The Shared Waters Partnership

This is an initiative out of the U.S Department of State, UNDP, and the Stockholm International Water Institute to support regional dialogue on shared water issues.  In part, this is driven by the recognition that little support exists for the process of bringing countries together and building the political will for cooperative approaches and solutions.  This program is a response to that need.  SWP works to establish long-term partnerships to enhance cooperation – through capacity-building, building stakeholder platforms, mediation, and process support.

We have found that ensuring trans boundary water cooperation is a long-term process, which is difficult to achieve alone.  For example, in the Mekong Basin, we see great value in the SWP’s ability to engage multiple stakeholders and to provide a common, sustainable platform for support. The focus of this initiative will be on laying the groundwork – i.e., meetings, workshops, legal/technical/ facilitation expertise that establish a foundation for cooperative work between and among countries on shared waters.  Once that groundwork is laid, it will greatly enhance impact and viability of long-term capacity building and institutional reform that is traditionally supported through bilateral and regional development assistance efforts.

Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Partnership

The United States Government considers sanitation and water and our related partnering activities to be a critical component of our overall international development assistance effort.  Last year, USAID joined the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) Partnership.[xvii] The SWA partnership brings together governments, donors, civil society organizations, and development partners to achieve universal sustainable sanitation and drinking water. In so doing, USAID and the US Department of State are committing resources to the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP)[xviii] to support the SWA-led National Planning for Results Initiative (NPRI), a platform to support national planning efforts related to sanitation and water. With this funding, WSP will be able to work with targeted fragile and ‘off track’ countries to identify constraints to effective national planning and address those constraints, helping to build the capacity to sustain efforts and maximizing the use of existing resources and activities on the ground.

The US Water Partnership (USWP)

The US Water Partnership (USWP) [xix] is a U.S.-based public-private partnership (PPP) established to unite American expertise, knowledge, and resources, and mobilize those assets to address water challenges around the globe, especially in the developing world. The U.S. Water Partnership will connect people and resources, making information easily accessible and leveraging the assets of partners to offer a range of “best of the U.S.” solutions tailored to priority water needs. The three levels of service include:

  1. Access to knowledge – synthesize and manage the wealth of U.S. information through readily accessible, centralized physical and web-based network tools, and provide a central platform for knowledge sharing
  2. Technical assistance and training – build capacity to understand U.S. information and develop recipient-led solutions.
  3. Partnership development – facilitate and build “best of the U.S.” collaborations and expert teams to provide integrated solutions and rapid response to address significant international challenges.

[i] Intelligence Community Assessment. Global Water Security   ICA 2012-08, 2 February 2012

[ii] Intelligence Community Assessment. Global Water Security   ICA 2012-08, 2 February 2012

[iii] Testimony of Dr. Aaron Salzberg, Special Coordinator on Water Resources, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, US Department of State, before the Subcommittee on Water and Power of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, United States Senate, on the Global Water Challenge, December 8, 2011

Managing and Transforming Water Conflicts, by Jerome Delli Priscioli  and Aaron T. Wolf f, Cambridge University Press,  pps  77-81, 2009

[vi]  Reference: Anderson WB , BF Zaitchik, CR Hain, MC Anderson, MT Yilmaz, J Mecikalski, and L Schultz (2012) Towards an integrated soil moisture drought monitor for East Africa. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 16: 2893-2913; doi:10.5194/hess-16-2893-2012

[vii] Reference: Simane B, BF Zaitchik and M Ozdogan (2013) Agroecosystem analysis of the Choke Mountain watersheds, Ethiopia. Sustainability 5(2): 592-616; doi:10.3390/su5020592

[viii]    Reference: Anderson MC, BF Zaitchik, and B Simane (2012) Water Blance from Space: Promoting climate resilience in the Blue Nile/Abay Highlands.  Resource. May/June p. 14-15.

[xi] Remarks by USAID Global Water Coordinator Christian Holmes at the International Water Forum Friday, September 16, 2011;Subject Meeting Global Water Needs: Challenges and Solutions

[xv] 9-21=-12 email from USAID  BFS  Joyce  Turk to Christian Holmes


United Nations

Last updated: November 07, 2016

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