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Integrating water with climate change adaptation plans

This policy brief, published by the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, argues that water resource management should not be overlooked in plans for climate change adaptation in Africa.

Africa is vulnerable to climate change impacts which are, in large part, connected by water. Rainfall is uneven and unpredictable across different parts of the continent and varies dramatically by season. These variations can bring about floods and severe droughts that can last for years.

The impacts of these weather events on economic development are serious. Severe floods affect millions of people and damage infrastructure; and too little rain means that farmers are unable to store water, which lowers food production and leads to hunger and financial loss.

Global warming has raised average annual temperatures, and climate models predict that the level and variability of rainfall in Africa will be affected. Even small changes in rainfall can have a large effect on the availability of water resources.

Water resources are the foundation for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and must be protected, say the authors. But this requires investment in transboundary water management programmes and commitment to the principles of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), which include recognising that water and land management need coordination.

Climate change adaptation initiatives can become part of these established water-resource management frameworks. Measures to adapting water management could include 'soft' solutions, such as collecting more data to monitor water resources and understanding rainfall patterns to improve early warning systems, and 'hard' solutions such as building dams, reservoirs or other engineering structures to help with water storage.

But climate change should be one of several considerations in water management — population growth, urbanisation, agricultural growth and industrialisation are set to increase the pressure on water resources in Africa.

Pledges for adaptation funds are falling short of the targets agreed at the 2010 UN Conference of the Parties (COP 16) held in Cancun, Mexico. Water management initiatives are key components of climate change adaptation, and experts agree that they should receive the financial support they need.

Link to full policy brief from UK Houses of Parliament

This policy brief was written by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology at the UK Houses of Parliament.