“When we start talking about water in the context of security, we’re immediately drawn to a conversation about conflict. And that’s often framed in terms of scarcity of water and a real zero-sum game around water, where scarcity begets grievances, which beget instability and conflict,” says Ken Conca, Professor at American University’s School of International Service, in this week’s Water Stories podcast. Of the world’s 276 transboundary water basins, fewer than half are governed by an agreement or accord that allocates use of the shared water between countries—and less than a quarter of these accords include all the riparian states in a basin.
“But when we step back, I think the larger frame is really one of uncertainty and of managing risks, and in that context, I think the good news is that there are a lot of cooperative opportunities,” says Conca.
Today, “we have a very weakly developed and patchwork body of international law. When you look at the content of that international law, we find that most of those agreements are actually fairly static, inflexible water-sharing agreements,” he says.
Conca points to some potential models for cooperation and collaboration: For example, the 1997 United Nations Watercourses Convention codifies several key principles that basin agreements should include to be equitable and effective: environmental protection, information sharing, and notice of infrastructure development, among others. “On one level it provides a very good framework,” he says, but “it doesn’t deal with a lot of the challenges of adaptation and resilience we face. So the challenge in international water law is really to create more flexible accords first.”
“We need to start doing the kinds of climate vulnerability assessments that the Paris Accords envisioned at the basin level,” he says, pointing out that national-level adaptation assessments don’t address shared water courses or dynamic flows across borders. “It’s critically important we start doing that sort of analysis.”
“We need to think less about allocating a fixed pie of water and more about expanding that pie through sensible and cooperative management,” says Conca.
“You cannot separate water and health,” says Doris Kaberia in this week’s Water Stories podcast. “People need safe drinking water for them to be healthy.” Kaberia works with Millennium Water Alliance, a coalition of international NGOs working on water sanitation and hygiene around the world, where she manages a Kenyan water program.
RAPID (Resilient Arid Lands Partnership for Integrated Development) “brings public-private sector partners…and governments together to manage water resources, particularly in the northern part of Kenya where water is really scarce.”
“There has to be calculation of water demand,” she says. “You match resource and the water demand. Otherwise there is always competition for water.” This holistic view is helping Kenya manage water resources for its more than 40 million citizens.
“We not only addressed the water-related shocks, but it was really integrated with health,” she says. RAPID improved water sanitation and hygiene conditions in northern Kenya, enabling health facilities to operate by ensuring they had clean water.
Public-private partnerships have proven valuable in Kaberia’s work. She says, however, that building partnerships was difficult, because “the way the development practitioners think, and the way private sector thinks, and the way governments think is totally different.” But if “you look at companies and industries, you will realize that most of the industries also need water for their manufacturing, for cooling of machines,” so you can connect with them on the shared needs. Kenya RAPID works with Coca-Cola, IBM, and Davis & Shirtliff, among others, to improve the sustainability of their interventions as they pursue their water development goals.
This interview was originally recorded in October 2016.
We realized “there was a need for a toolkit on water,” says Sandra Ruckstuhl in this week’s Water Stories podcast, “with a focus of conflict and conflict mitigation, but also peacebuilding.” Ruckstuhl, a consultant for the World Bank who has researched water programs in Yemen and the Middle East, helped the Wilson Center produce USAID’s Water and Conflict toolkit, which documents examples of successful development interventions focused on water and peacebuilding.
“We have lots of assumed peaceful outcomes from projects, but very little of it has been measured and documented,” says Ruckstuhl. “We would do a real service to the field if we really started documenting and measuring this kind of information so we can inform better and better practice in this area.”
Ruskstuhl and her team worked to ensure that the toolkit could be used by practitioners without professional training or formal education in conflict studies. “When we are talking about peacebuilding,” Ruckstuhl says, “we are boiling it down to collaborative governance—and that also is transferrable to different sectors.”
“When we are designing and implementing some development investment, we’re injecting ourselves into a system,” in which water management, health, food, and other public services are interconnected. Ruckstuhl calls for more incentives that would push practitioners to foster cross-sector connections, which would allow different sectors to work together more collaboratively.
Project designers must consider all the stakeholders involved, including governance institutions, which in many circumstances are dominated by men. “The constructive role women can play in the household, in these governance institutions, in the decision-making for things like water allocation…that knowledge and that capacity of women can be missed,” says Ruckstuhl. Integrating gender concerns more effectively would contribute to more equitable water management, so she proposes educating communities on the value of including women in projects focused on water and conflict.
“Countries—even countries that don’t like each other much—have, and continue to have, conversations over water resources, even when they won’t about other issues,” says Aaron Wolf, Director of Water Conflict Management and Transformation at Oregon State University, in this week’s Water Stories podcast.
Wolf’s research shows that water stress—instead of spurring wars between countries—can actually bring them to the negotiating table. “Water creates horrible suffering, human destruction, ecosystem degradation, and very, very little political violence,” says Wolf.
Tensions can rise, however, when an upstream country wants to build infrastructure (such as a hydroelectric dam) that would impact the people downstream. “It is not that the dam itself that causes the problem; it is the dam in the absence of an agreement about how to mitigate the impacts of the dam,” says Wolf.
Many treaties do not account for greater variability in flow arising from droughts or floods—both of which will be exacerbated by climate change. In the Middle East, “there are droughts that were so bad that the Israel-Jordan water agreement had nothing in text to deal with that. Fortunately, their relationship was solid enough that they could adapt based on their personal relations,” says Wolf.
To identify these gaps, Wolf and his team developed the Basin at Risk project, which provides a quantitative, global-scale exploration of the relationship between freshwater resources and conflict, as well as indicators to measure cross border tension. “With those verified indicators, we were able to look at basins in the next three to five years. Fortunately, most of those are no longer at risk precisely because the global community did what it does best—they help with the institutions, they help build the river basin organizations, and the treaties, and so on,” says Wolf.
“We need to mainstream young people into the decision-making process,” said Senator Nikoli Edwards, age 25, of Trinidad and Tobago at a recent Wilson Center event on engaging youth to protect their sexual and reproductive health and rights. “Where it’s not a matter of, ‘let’s bring a young person into the room as an afterthought,’ but it should be written that a young person has to be a part of the discussion or has to be contributing in a significant way.”
As a young person, “your expectations have been heightened, you have been encouraged to do all of this great work, but where are the institutions, where are the support mechanisms, where are the opportunities?” asked Edwards. The panelists unanimously agreed that high expectations for young people to serve and agitate for change have not been met with endless opportunities to engage.
Although many organizations have celebrated young peoples’ input, they still need to be more intentional about how they engage youth, said Cate Lane, Senior Technical Adviser at Pathfinder. Oftentimes, “we engage young people, we solicit their input, we ask them to tell us what they need and what they want,” she said. “We rev them up. They’re excited, and then we’re like, ‘thanks so much for your input,’ now we’re going to go implement our project.”
“When we are talking about youth participation, we should think about the diversity of young people,” said Dr. Ilya Zhukov, Global Focal Point for Comprehensive Sexuality Education at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Bringing key populations of young people, including LGBTQ+, HIV positive, and disabled youth, to name a few, together with decision-makers can ensure that health programming is informed by those it is meant to serve.
“When your opinion and your thoughts are influencing real documents that will then influence your education—that is a real thing,” said Lada Nuzhna, Youth Representative at Teenergizer!. Exchanges between young people and organizations working to promote adolescent health and rights should be a two-way street. “We need to see this not as a one-way street of us soliciting information from them, but as an opportunity for them to develop skills, networks, to gain access to things that they wouldn’t normally gain access to,” said Lane.
Adolescence is a dynamic period in life that can pose challenges to the longevity of youth project engagement. “If we engage young people, we can’t expect that they are going to be with us for the next five years because they are in school, they’re working, getting married,” said Lane. However, mechanisms such as youth advisory boards and councils could enable organizations to consult periodically with young people to ensure programs are responsive to their needs.
Experts agreed that a system to bring youth into the conversation on a regular basis is necessary to cultivate meaningful youth engagement, in addition to allocating resources—financial and human—to ensure that adolescent sexual and reproductive health programming is effective and responsive. “We should bring young people to the table and involve them not only in discussion but in the development and implementation of programs,” said Zhukov.
Governments, leaders of organizations and policymakers should continue to think about how to meaningfully engage with young people as partners. “I think it’s something we have to tackle,” said Lane. “There has to be this sense of partnership, where we meet each other in the middle.”
“Even in a weak system without a quality improvement structure, it is possible to support district managers and facility providers to measure and improve quality care,” said Eliane Razafimandimby, Chief of Party of USAID’s flagship Maternal and Child Survival Program (MCSP) in Madagascar, at a recent Wilson Center event on improving the quality of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child healthcare (RMNCH).
Madagascar is currently in the early stages of improving the quality of its RMNCH care. After failing to meet the maternal and newborn Millennium Development Goals by 2015, the government created a roadmap to achieving the maternal and newborn MDGs by 2019 and mandated MCSP to support the Ministry of Health in strengthening its health system to reduce maternal and newborn mortality.
In order to have an impact on quality, “we needed to engage with the health system at different levels,” said Razafimandimby. A systems approach required emphasis on policy at the national level, capacity-building and data usage at the district/regional level, and targeted service-delivery support and community engagement at the facility level.
The ambitious task of assessing quality of care and implementing change involved nearly two-thirds of the country, across 16 regions and 80 districts. Quality care indicators monitored at more than 600 facilities showed promising reductions in maternal and newborn mortality.
Health facilities implemented preventative measures to improve quality. Having a newborn station in the operating room after a C-section allowed midwives to care for the baby without having to carry him or her to the neonatal unit for care, which was often located in another building. This small change facilitated more immediate newborn care as well as greatly reduced the risk of infection. Other improved outcomes were linked to significant increases in antenatal screening for preeclampsia and the adoption of postpartum family planning methods before discharge from a facility. “These improved outcomes were not only seen at the primary facility level but also at district and regional hospitals,” said Razafimandimby.
Despite success at the facility, district, and regional levels, national progress is slow. “Development of a national quality strategy and structure remains a high priority for Madagascar,” said Razafimandimby. “To be able to sustain and continue improvement work, national level leadership is really essential.”
“A lot of the advocacy of family planning has been built around establishing a long list of the many ways in which family planning can be relevant” to other development goals, says Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue of Cornell University in our latest Friday Podcast. While comprehensive accounts of the ways family planning access benefits communities, these “laundry lists” are not “clear, synthetic, or integrative,” he says.
Instead, Eloundou-Enyegue proposes that development planners focus instead on four “bottom lines” to more clearly communicate the importance of family planning across all sectors.
The first bottom line is financial: “Take people through the savings that they are going to achieve with each dollar that is invested in family planning,” said Eloundou-Enyegue.
The second bottom line is equity, which appeals to stakeholders who seek to promote justice in communities. Inequalities in fertility, income, and family structure “translate into very large inequality among children that will lead to even wider, larger inequality in the next generation,” Eloundou-Enyegue says. “Family planning can play an important role in breaking this intergenerational cycle.”
The third bottom line Eloundou-Enyegue proposes is durability, which appeals to visionary leaders through the dividends that family planning offers over multiple generations. In addition to the immediate benefits, there is a second dividend, when the current working age population reaches retirement with greater savings, and then a third dividend comes from greater investment in the early childhood development of the next generation.
The final bottom line is demand, particularly from youth: “There is actually a very large demand for family planning among youth if we return to the full meaning of ‘family planning,’” says Eloundou-Enyegue, focusing not just on births but on the course of one’s entire life. “Planning families for youth, and African youth, today, who are very concerned about their futures, is to think about how to plan their transition into work,” including developing skills and leadership.
“There is room there to incorporate family planning in a large vision which is concerned about planning futures, planning families, naturally, and planning lives,” says Eloundou-Enyegue.
Healthy Women, Healthy Economies is a global initiative that aims to unleash the “economic power of women by bringing governments, private sector, and other civil sector actors together to improve women’s health,” says Jocelyn Ulrich of EMD Serono, the U.S. branch of Merck KGaA, Darmstad, Germany, in our Friday Podcast. Providing for women’s health needs enables them to “join, thrive, and rise” in the economy, “bringing prosperity home to their families and communities.”
This partnership was established in 2014 within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum by the 21 APEC economies, led by the United States and the Philippines, and members of the private sector. The project sought to address significant barriers to women’s full participation in the workforce, which include non-communicable diseases related to reproductive health and the dual responsibility of the workplace and caregiving for children and elderly parents.
The partnership engaged in a comprehensive literature review and created a toolkit for governments and private sector actors to address these hurdles, with specific recommendations:
• Improve access to sexual and productive health services
• Increase awareness of services for voluntary family planning
• Provide high-quality maternal, sexual, and reproductive health services
• Protect against discrimination
Since 2015, the project has convened workshops to track progress against the toolkit’s policy goals. One of the advantages to working under the auspices of APEC is engaging high-level ministers in women’s health.
The toolkit’s policy recommendations align with the Sustainable Development Goals. “Sustainable economic growth really can’t be achieved if we’re leaving half of the population behind,” says Ulrich.
Africare’s work has been built on a “strong belief that community mobilization and local capacity building and innovation are the cornerstones of successful development, and that, for us, includes resilience,” says Franklin Moore, Chief of Programs for Africare, in a podcast from a recent Wilson Center event. “Community engagement, capacity building, and looking at locally driven behavior and social change is what empowers communities.”
Africare organizes community committees to identify innovations and behavior changes to make themselves more prosperous and resilient, including climate-smart agricultural techniques and women’s empowerment.
In Niger, agro-pastoral communities rehabilitated land through the use of zai pits and half-moons, traditional farming techniques that retain rainwater for crops. Along with planting drought-resistant cowpea and forage sorghum, these steps enabled the communities Africare worked with to stockpile 57,000 tons of animal forage. During the 2011 drought, these communities were able to feed their livestock using the stored forage even when grazing land was degraded. Livestock death rates dropped 14 percent, and communities that might have otherwise had to sell off their livestock were able to keep them.
Engaging women is key. “In Niger, food security committees are required to have at least 30 percent of their members [be] women,” says Moore, and in Zimbabwe, women make up 80 percent of Africare’s food distribution committees, because in these communities, “food distribution is really something females know a whole lot more about than males.”
Child spacing also contributes women’s empowerment by improving women’s health and ability to participate in livelihood activities. Africare’s “husband schools” teach men about the importance of reproductive healthcare. “When we talk about child spacing, it is critically important that the men know as much or more about this as the women do,” Moore says.
Community-based capacity building programs can change lives. “The organization of the community affects what the community is doing, who the community is, and in fact the size of the community,” says Moore.
“This is a woman who did exactly what she was supposed to do; she did exactly what we encourage pregnant women to do,” said Amy Dempsey of the Population Council at a recent Wilson Center event on World Preeclampsia Day. The Ethiopian woman was suffering from preeclampsia—a preventable condition—but like many pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries, she did not receive the treatment needed to stop it. “Pregnancy was the first time she had ever stepped foot in a health facility,” said Dempsey.
Preeclampsia is characterized as the rise of blood pressure during pregnancy. Symptoms include (but are not limited to) headaches, nausea, abdominal pain, changes in vision, and shortness of breath. “She had constant headaches and blurry vision…At each visit, her providers measured her blood pressure but none of them told her that it was high or why they were measuring it,” said Dempsey. “She was told that what she was feeling was normal for a pregnant woman.”
Although magnesium sulfate is commonly used to prevent seizures (eclampsia) later on in pregnancy, the patient did not receive treatment for her preeclampsia symptoms. “After one contact point with the health system, she was sent home with paracetamol to treat her headaches,” said Dempsey.
In her eighth month of pregnancy, she collapsed. Her husband drove her to their church, where he hoped faith would heal her. “When her condition did not improve, he took her back to their local healthcare facility,” where she was referred to a hospital, treated with magnesium sulfate for her seizures, and given an emergency Caesarean section, said Dempsey.
Fortunately, the woman was able to deliver a healthy baby boy. But five months later, she still experiences the same symptoms of headaches and abdominal pain, and has not been back in contact with her health providers since her initial postpartum visits.
“She was never told that what she was experiencing were symptoms of preeclampsia,” said Dempsey. “What she went through is fairly common for women in low- and middle-income countries, where challenges that they encounter are quite different from the barriers that women in high-income countries deal with.”
Sources: Healthline, Population Council, Preeclampsia Foundation