20 doctoral researchers from around the world and faculty from renowned business schools paid a visit to iHub, the innovative ICT hot spot located outside the city center of Nairobi, to discuss Kenya’s booming ICT sector. The visit was part of the oikos UNDP Young Scholars Academy in Nairobi. Opened in March 2010, iHub was a response to the post-election turmoil that rocked the country. Techies were using less than adequate Internet connections at cafes, on their phones, and wherever else they could connect. A need for space to share, network, and incubate was widely recognized, and iHub, a facility for the tech community that focuses on young entrepreneurs, Web and mobile phone programmers, designers, and researchers, was born. iHub currently connects to more than 8,500 members through a weekly newsletter and events that include Start-up Pitch Night, Fireside Chats, and Hack-a-Thons. A tiered membership scheme gives select members daily access to the facility, including the 20MB Internet connection and space for meetings, Internet use, networking, and collaborative projects.
Low quality water is essentially wastewater that has been treated using high-level technology so that it can be used (or more aptly reused) to irrigate agricultural and industrial crops and recharge aquifers. Why would we switch to using low quality water when we currently use fresh water for agricultural irrigation? Sources of freshwater are steadily decreasing across the globe, and agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawal. As the world’s population increases and the amount of available freshwater decreases, water scarcity and food security will soon become two major concerns. The use of irrigation is also increasing to meet the food demands of a growing population. Already, there has been a net increase of 117% in irrigated land from 1961-2009, and in some countries, irrigation uses more than 40 percent of renewable water resources. Unfortunately, not all of this water reaches the crop; as much as 60% of water withdrawn for irrigation is lost through leakage, spillage, evaporation, or infiltration. How can we decrease the amount of freshwater withdrawn for irrigation? Well, first, technology, education and maintenance issues must be addressed to reduce lost water in irrigation. One solution is also to reuse low quality water for irrigation to mitigate the global strain on freshwater.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for sanitation is “to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.” There are an estimated 2.5 billion people who currently lack access to basic sanitation, with more urban people lacking basic sanitation than rural people. These statistics alone make you realize what a challenge it is to reach the MDG, but what about the things we don’t usually think of? What about people with disabilities? What are their challenges to achieve basic sanitation? How do they gain access to a toilet without a ramp? How do they wash their hands when the tap is too low or too high? What about puberty-age school girls? How do they achieve basic sanitation when there are no proper facilities or disposal methods at school? Disability and gender issues don’t get nearly as much attention in the global conversation, but they are two very important issues that must be addressed to achieve the MDG for sanitation and hygiene. Basic sanitation for females and the disabled is linked to a whole host of socio-economic issues, including education, poverty, career choice, and ability to leave the home, even for the shortest and most basic trips. Increasing access may be as simple as adding a ramp so people in wheelchairs or on crutches gain access to toilets; increasing size of the toilet stall so a wheelchair will easily fit into the space; raising or lowering the height of the tap; providing disposal units for sanitary napkins; and providing a sink and soap for washing reusable pads.
Why do small farmers need our support and how do they fit into the global conversation about water and food security? Smallholder farms are small plots of land typically supported by a single family growing a mix of cash and subsistence crops. These farmers make up 40% of the word’s population, and in sub-Saharan Africa smallholder farms make up more than 90% of agricultural production. In a world where 70% of freshwater withdrawal is used for agriculture, smallholder farmers in both developed and developing countries play a key role in water management and food security. Most smallholder farmers are women, live in rural areas, and when water and weather crises occur, are the first victims of malnutrition. The Women’s Collective of Tamilnadu, India organizes women at the village level to create self help groups around socio-economic issues. Seeing a need for more climate friendly approaches to agriculture and water use, the Women’s Collective gathered local women farmers and reintroduced the practice of using traditional seeds for agriculture. Traditional seeds were replaced during India’s green revolution with high-yield seeds and increased use of irrigation and fertilizer. The widespread switch from millet (which has a high nutritional value) to rice during this time also led to a decrease in nutrition.
Lindsay Shafer had the opportunity to interview John Etgen, Senior Vice President of the Project WET Foundation, about the role of education in water sustainability. This education is vitally important because today’s kids are tomorrow’s leaders. In the interview, Etgen discusses Project WET’s initiatives, which include giving kids the opportunity to discuss complex water issues from all sides and viewpoints. Project WET reaches kids through teachers, informal classes, and water festivals throughout the United States and in more than 50 countries on 5 continents. The initiative incorporates water lessons through activities that integrate into the existing curriculum for art, math, music, social studies, and science.
When else can you find yourself in the same room as the French Minister of Agriculture, the Director of the International Seed Foundation, the President of the Food Security Council, the Assistant Director General for Natural Resources Management and Environment at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, and a host of other international movers and shakers? It’s only at the High Level Session on Water and Food Security at the sixth World Water Forum. Food security is defined by FAO as “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Target 1.C of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is to halve, by 2015, the number of people who suffer from hunger. We were, arguably, making some progress toward reaching that goal until the financial crisis of 2008 led to a spike in hunger in 2009, in both developing and developed countries. The theme for the sixth World Water Forum is “Time for Solutions”, and what better time than now to brainstorm ways to get back on track with the food security MDG. These high level sessions bring together representatives from the agricultural, governmental, and financial sectors, along with heads of international NGOs, to redefine objectives for worldwide mobilization.
If we continue to use water at the today’s rate, 2/3 of the global population will live in water stressed areas by 2025. The regional, national, and international implications of this could be devastating because water is a trans-boundary resource; upstream activities affect downstream populations and watersheds span counties, regions and country lines. Increasing water scarcity from climate change, population and consumption growth causes competition for water among users such as industry, communities and governments. This competition and conflict can already be seen in certain areas around the world. How can we begin to solve this issue of water scarcity? On Monday, I attended the introductory session for Promoting Water Efficiency: Pressure and Footprints sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme. Representatives from Water Footprint Network, Stockholm International Water Institute, PepsiCo, and World Resources Institute were on hand to discuss water efficiency and management practices. Here are some highlights from the introductory session.
What is your water footprint for the day? You might be able to give a pretty accurate guess of the amount of direct water you have used today through drinking or showering, but what about the amount of indirect water? Are you aware of how much water was used to produce that can of soda you had with lunch, raise the cow that became the burger you ate, produce your jeans, sneakers, or t-shirt? You might be surprised to learn that the production of a pair of cotton jeans consumes 1,800 gallons of water. And that burger…producing half a pound of beef requires approximately 850 gallons of water. Everything we consume and produce contains both direct and indirect water, and as consumers in a world facing increased water scarcity, we need to be aware of our water footprint. But how can academics communicate this information to the public and raise awareness without our eyes glazing over? Fortunately the spread of the internet and the abundance of smart phones has encouraged the creation of a number of apps and programs to help us calculate our water footprint and influence our spending choices. Below is a list of some of the popular calculators, apps and games. Have you tried one of the programs below or other footprint tools?