A fresh approach to water security
Local people have more power than they think to adapt to new water supply patterns from climate change. An EU-funded project is helping communities in tropical forests in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile self-organise to ensure secure access to water and wiser use of resources.
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As the Earth’s atmosphere warms up, this is likely to impact where and when people can access fresh water, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In Latin America, water basins are expected to become drier, while demand for water is expected to increase, which may lead to social conflicts. Many communities in these regions already have poor access to water, and the tropical forests that protect the water cycle are under threat from poorly-managed development.
In the EcoAdapt project, researchers, civil society organisations and local communities have developed strategies for sustainable water supplies in low-income areas in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile. The EU-funded project has improved understanding of how tropical forests impact fresh water availability, while showing how scientists and communities can work together to solve environmental problems.
“The project will help water management in the future,” says its coordinator, Grégoire Leclerc of France’s Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement.
He explains that the project improved scientific knowledge about how social and environmental factors interact to ensure access to water. Its studies provided new information on the impacts of climate change, flows of water in and out of a system (water balance), management of water resources and human-environment dynamics.
The project has developed:
The involvement of local people and non-government organisations has been an important feature of the project, says Leclerc. “Empowerment of civil society acknowledges its crucial role in collective action and leads to more trust and buy-in to research. And the quality and relevance of research is greatly improved by interacting with civil society organisations.”
Models for coordination and sustainability
EcoAdapt focused on three study sites: the Jujuy Model Forest in Argentina, the Chiquitano Model Forest in Bolivia and the Alto Malleco Model Forest in Chile. These are part of the international model forest network, which promotes sustainable landscape management in local public-private-civil society partnerships.
With input from project site stakeholders, researchers set up pilot measures to improve access to water and limit negative impacts from droughts or floods. Chosen from priorities identified by local communities, these measures include better irrigation for small farmers in Argentina, drinking water treatment in Bolivia and restoration of hillside forests and topsoil in Chile.
Each study site community has also developed a strategic plan to deal with future impacts of climate change. The plans are living documents that can be updated and revised as new information emerges and as the context evolves.
“Water security is now a central, mobilising issue for local partners, so we know the impact of the project is long-lasting,” says Leclerc.
The team is now adding the final pieces of modelling information and economic evaluation to the strategic plans. To support future adaptation, they will transfer some of the computer tools they have developed to the project’s local partners under Creative Commons licences, adds Leclerc.
Workshops and meetings have been another key part of the project. Its final workshop, held in October 2015 with the Mediterranean Model Forest Network, explored scaling up its collaborative approach to possible cooperation between Mediterranean and Latin American model forests.
Using the outcomes of this workshop, EcoAdapt has developed recommendations on how countries in Europe and Latin America can cooperate better to adapt to climate change. These will be the basis of future project proposals to continue the team’s work, says Leclerc.