Q & A from TheWaterChannel Webinar ‘Water and Change’ (August 15, 2012)

On August 15, 2012, TheWaterChannel organised a webinar titled ‘Water and Change.’ The discussions were led by Henk van Schaik from the University for Peace, The Hague.  (More about webinars)

Henk has worked in water/sanitation projects and international policy for over 40 years.  In the webinar he spoke about how he’s seen the focus of the ‘water agenda’ evolve from rural supply and health in the 1970s, to climate change impact and adaptation in the early 2000s. He also discussed why he reckons that themes like ‘water and peace,’ ‘new water allocations for green growth’, and ‘water & cultural heritage’ are set to assume greater importance in the decades to come. (Watch the recording)

During the webinar, participants raised many questions. Henk was able to answer some of them. Here are his responses to others that he could not address due to lack of time.

You can also take the discussion forward in the Comments section below.

Jacqueline Noga: I am still concerned about the economic sustainability of the projects. Because the projects are dependent on external funding, can we consider them to be sustainable? Would it be possible to create a system where those using the water systems began to contribute to the overall costs or pay a fee for use?

Henk van Schaik:  Fees are being set and collected in Malawi for the direct operational costs. But these fees do not cover the costs of major overhauls (or catastrophies) and also not for changes in governing system. These costs are born from external sources (e.g. Government and its supports/donors). These costs are not foreseen, and cannot be budgeted. This also applies in developed countries. A major overhaul of a road in Europe because of the damage of a very severe winter is paid out of central government budgets. The problem with central government budgets in developing countries like Malai, still depends to a considerable amount on external support in the form of loans or grants.  

J. de Schutter: the key question for the future is "how to improve irrigatuion efficiency" Current irrigation techniques are wasting water. Change starts from this conclusion.

Henk van Schaik: I agree. A lot can be done with water saving technologies and other measures (tariffs, demand management etc. But how effective are these measures to date? And how best are these measures made more effective? This depends on political will a.o. 

zenrainman: One key factor is what is called Behaviuor Change and its communication. Henk ,anything to say on it ?

Henk van Schaik: Behaviour change does not come by itself. It needs incentives and sometimes also penalties. Behaviour change is strongly connected to political will. 

Naomi: to what extent is the water security problem a problem of access and governance, rather than physical scarcity?

Henk van Schaik: I would say that water scarcity has to do with all, physical availability, perceptions, culture (water as a free good there to be wasted or water as a scarce good that needs care and restraint) etc.

Peter Manyara: sorry i came in late, did you mention anything on drought and famine mitigation? and implications to water supply and adaptation by ecosystems and communities?

Henk van Schaik: No, not really. This was not my topic.

zenrainman:Is it possible to marry the Human Right to water with economic/ecological cost recovery ?

Henk van Schaik: It is possible to marry very different issues, but, what would be the reason/rationale  to do so?

stefan:what about the increasing scale and complexity: it's global not local – floods in Thailand – price of harddiskdrives go up globally – drought in USA – global foodprices go up. When do we realise we're in it together!

Henk van Schaik:  You are right. Water is possibly primarily a local concern, but global dimensions  of water through virtual water need also to be taken into account. Global actors in particular in the private sector know this all too well.  

Peter Manyara:in my country, lots of funds are used in drilling boreholes in asal areas,  with many zero-yield ones the order of the day, with lesser interest in funding comprehensive surveys that would contribute to understanding the resource potential and dynamics.

Henk van Schaik:  This is wasting money. Indeed, surveys can help a lot to improve the successrate of boreholes. Which country are you talking about? 

Thomas Dyck:I wonder if you can speak to some of the drivers of the changes in water governance found in Malawi over the last 40 years.

Henk van Schaik:  Drivers for change are: 1. The international water policy debates that favoured decentralisation. This broke down the Central Government set up we had developed. 2. The international pressure on  sustainability that is dogmatic and does not consider local abilities and need but rather adherence to theoretical political positions. 3. Local political changes that led from gravity systems to favouring boreholes and now back again 4. Demographic changes  5. Extreme events such as exceptional heavy down pours that blew out intakes. But, the good thing is that despite all these factors and changes, the systems are even after more than 40 years still operating. So, the local people (essentially still the same) plus support fro m local up to global level together manage the systems still. This is what I call sustainability.The proof for sustaibauility is in the eating or drinking in this case. 

Naomi: this water-energy-food (or land) nexus is a popular concept at the moment, do you have any thoughts on this idea- is it useful? where does it lead us?
Henk van Schaik:  In my view it should lead decision makers (governments but also private sector and indeed the public to better understanding of the linkages between water for drinking, water for food and water for energy, and thus to more conscientious and better understood investment decisions in development and water allocations.  It should also enable decision makers and indeed private sector and the public, once a decision is made, to prepare mitigation measures if need be for the consequences. 
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August 21, 2012  
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