Resilient Water Management to meet Climate and Development Goals in Bolivia

Author :

Dr. Miriam Seemann

Dr Miriam Seemann has over 20 years experience in climate-resilient water management. She is proud to support Global Best Practice Group (GBPG) as one of its Advisory Board members. She is currently coordinating the project “Water as a connector for resilient landscapes”, co-funded by the European Union and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by the German Agency for International Cooperation  (GIZ) in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Dr Miriam Seemann has worked for one of the leading European consulting firms active in the development cooperation sector based in Hamburg, Germany, where she was responsible for the technical, financial, and administrative project management for projects financed by the GIZ, the European Union and the Swiss Development Cooperation (COSUDE). She has extensive knowledge of the Latin American region, courtesy of her professional experiences in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, and Guatemala. She has worked on multiple important issues such as good governance, natural resources management, water security, and the water-food-energy nexus. She holds a PhD from the University of Hamburg, Germany, in Andean water rights. Miriam is an associate member of the Water Justice Alliance and the author of several journal publications related to water politics.

Bolivia is one of the ten countries most affected by climate change on the planet. One-third of the labour force in the country is working in the agricultural sector. It makes this breath-taking land of massive salt flats even more vulnerable to global climate change. The effects of climate change are most acutely felt through impacts on the water cycle and water-related extreme events.

The 2016 disastrous drought affected over 400.000 people in the capital city alone and triggered severe social conflicts over water quality and quantity. In 2019, the national burned area reached 5.3 million hectares, about 1.5 the size of Switzerland. Furthermore, the overall temperature increase, coupled with a higher frequency of the El Niño phenomenon, is expected to lead to the disappearance of 80 % of the small glaciers in the Andean mountain range in the coming 20 years. It will automatically result in detrimental consequences on water availability and the hydrological ecosystems.

Climatic variability and lengthening dry season have also been observed in the Bolivian Amazon basin. Precipitation reductions were predominantly found in the southern and south-eastern Amazon, in the Santa Cruz valleys of Bolivia, where there is alarming loss of vegetation and severe forest fires in response to water stress of the prolonged dry season.

In order to fight these challenges, decision-makers must adopt a new paradigm for resilient water management that will directly target climate risks and vulnerability perspectives with a complete crackdown approach. These policies must include local stakeholders, who mainly live in data-poor regions.

Officials should take concrete measures for implementing resilient water policies by the force of national, regional, and local instruments (e.g. watershed management plans). We must promote local governance mechanisms (multi-stakeholder platforms, watershed committees). The need of the hour is to develop capacity-building measures among local vital actors and decision-makers and combine grey and nature-based infrastructure. Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) can offer multiple benefits and co-benefits that ensure water security (SDG 6) and promote human well-being (SDG 3) through increasing water availability and enhancing water quality. The EbA also helps reduce water-related risks and strengthens water policies with water governance processes.

Bolivia

Furthermore, the immediate measures include developing a context-specific local monitoring system and encouraging local stakeholders to register and monitor relevant data – such as river flows, water wells, water quality, forest fires, levels of deforestation, restoration, and conservation areas. It will significantly assist decision-makers in implementing and monitoring watershed management plans. Last but not least, local and regional financial mechanisms are needed for long-term changes.

The main objective of resilient water management is to identify and implement context-specific approaches that combine, on the one hand, robustness to extreme weather events and, on the other hand, support local communities to adapt, respond, and recover from climate-related water stress.

 

In a nutshell, resilient water management approaches are essential as a life pulse to achieving Bolivia’s ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Sustainable Development Goals. Since climate change related extreme events do not only drastically affect the quantity and quality of water, but also the human health and well-being, as well as ecosystems and biodiversity in a variety of ways, climate-resilient water management is the demand of time and has multi-sectoral importance.

 

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