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Anik Bhaduri is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Water Future Programme (SWFP) and Associate Professor at Australian River Institute, Griffith University. Previously, he has served as Executive Officer of Global Water System Project (GWSP). With a background in environment and natural resource economics, he has specialized in water resource management. He has worked on several topics and projects, ranging from trans-boundary water sharing to adaptive water management under climate change. He also serves as a senior fellow at Centre of Development Research, University of Bonn. In this interview, Anik speaks about Water Future, a global environmental program renowned for its expertise and innovation in water research, policy, security, and sustainability.

By Australian Water Partnership (AWP)

Q. Tell us about yourself and how the global platform called ‘Water Future’ came to be set up.
Anik: I’m a mathematical economist working on environment and resource economics problems. My Ph.D. was on the transboundary water, working out different game theoretic strategies that could be used by transboundary countries that share rivers, and how to mitigate conflict between them so they can share benefits among themselves. After that, I joined the Global Water System Project in Bonn, as an Executive Director.

The Global Water System Project, on which Water Future builds, addresses how human impacts are affecting the world’s water systems, and what linkages and interlinkages there are between the human component, the physical hydrological component, and the biological component. Those determine not only water availability but also water quality and the nutrient cycle.

Before that, water had always been talked about as a local problem and the solutions attempted were always local. But water problem is not always local, it’s a global problem as water, as a key component of the Earth system (global hydrological cycle) and not only a local good. GWSP was one of the core projects of the Global Environmental Change Programmes. There were four Global Environmental Change Programmes, starting in the 1970s: they were the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP); the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP); the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP); and one on biodiversity, called DIVERSITAS. Each program focused on particular aspects of global change and climate change. The programmes were also instrumental in forming IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and IPBES. Those global change programs asked: What are the feedback elements for the ways in which climate change and global change are taking shape? Water Programme is a core part of these global change programmes as hydrological variability plays a very significant role in global change and climate change, considering 80% of climate change effects come from hydrological variability, which is connected to the water cycle and considering regulations in the terrestrial ecosystem (including land use).

Around 2013, all the global change programs merged into one international science collaboration platform, which is called ‘Future Earth’. This is a science and technological alliance for global sustainability. The Global Water System Project evolved into the ‘Sustainable Water Future Programme’, and that short name in use is ‘Water Future’ to get rid of acronyms.

Q. What is Water Future doing? What is its mandate?
Anik: Water Future’s mandate now is not just to find the problems that exist at a global level; we also are applying advanced scientific knowledge to implement action. We focus on conducting innovative research and knowledge synthesis, and on the comprehensive analysis of the world’s water systems, and on building capacity for the next generation of scientists and practitioners.

The structure of Water Future has been adjusted so we can become more action orientated. It has several working groups formed from international communities: currently there are 12 groups and two more are joining soon-Water and Health, as well as Mountains and Climate Change. They work on topics ranging from groundwater to environmental flows to water ethics to water governance.

Our objective is to harvest the knowledge that exists in different parts of the world and then synthesize that knowledge and feed it to different initiatives that can properly serve different countries, different regions and address the global agenda set by the UN and others. We also aim to embed this thinking into a global and original perspective.

Water Future’s connection with Australia is very strong, with the International Secretariat moving here, to Brisbane, from Germany in early 2016. From Australia, we can focus on Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific, whereas previously we were focusing mainly on Africa and other places where there is also severe water scarcity.

Various initiatives are emerging as outcomes of our synthesizing exercise. The initiatives are cross-governed by different teams, aiming to address the global agenda. They are innovative combinations of ‘state-of-the-art’ science and information technology. They are very much design-orientated, working on a good design with practitioners and the different stakeholders. And they focus also on implementation – so they have a regional focus.

One of the initiatives is a comprehensive assessment, called ‘Compass’. Other initiatives are the Water Solutions Labs we are developing in various regions, and water governance initiatives, and capacity development which we are working on with the United Nations University.

Q. Can you tell us more about the Water Solutions Lab?
Anik: There is an apparent disconnection between the knowledge generators and knowledge implementers, as the water problems and solutions are often identified in silos. Many solutions in its design don’t consider the problems themselves, and instead, they take an overview of the problems and design different solutions. However, even at a policy level many of the solutions that have been designed are not addressing the root causes of the problems.

During the Global Water System Project, we found that while examining the freshwater or sediment management problems at the catchment level, the intended solutions do not address the root causes of the problems, and solutions are targeted in the areas where they have only marginal beneficial effects to reduce the problems of the overall catchment.

Here, the Water Solutions Lab aims to act as a matchmaker. The Water Solutions Lab team identifies a rational solution strategy and does a simultaneous or indicative problem assessment, in multiple dimensions and from the perspectives of multiple stakeholders.

When we are doing an integrated problem assessment, we consider the socio-economic, ecological, hydrological, and biological as well as governance aspects and we bring all these components together in the problem assessment, together with the multiple stakeholder perspectives.

Then, when it comes to applying solutions, again we do a multi-criteria solution assessment because a solution can have different perspectives and criteria. There will be economic criteria. There may be timing or longevity criteria – for instance, some solutions will have deficiencies that make them ineffective after a few years.

The Water Solutions Labs rates the various criteria and the various solutions, from the perspective of stakeholders, the people on the ground. And if there are any deficiencies, the Water Solutions Lab will try to resolve them.

How can we address those gaps in the solutions? By looking at the root causes of the problems. Therefore, the end-result is not simply one solution for several problems but different solutions for different problems and different regions. By examining the root causes of some problems we hope to solve other problems as well. In short, the Water Solutions Lab takes a holistic look at both problems and solutions.

The Lab is implementing knowledge. We are harvesting and synthesizing knowledge that has been produced and that exists in many areas and applying it in a way that is needed by society. I would say the Water Solutions Lab is a very demand-orientated initiative. Its structure, approach, and focus depend on the end-user.

An example:

In response to interest from the Indian Government, we are establishing a Water Solutions Lab in India to address the water scarcity problems in the city of Bangalore. Bangalore has 10 million people and there are predictions that the city will run out of water in 5-10 years’ time. So, with multiple stakeholders and multiple partners, we are setting up a solutions lab there. The Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and many other partners are all involved. The products will be digital information repository solutions, strategy reports, water solution strategy reports, capacity development, and a very local level water state index. These will engage the different stakeholders and different dialogues and policy dialogues at that local level, helping them identify what they need to do if a water crisis starts emerging in that city. These knowledge products will be accessible by the public; the digital information reports will be in the public domain.

Currently, this water solution lab is at the stage of extensive stakeholder dialogue to produce a vision document that will set out the way for the lab to be designed to meet the needs in Bangalore.

Q. Tell us about the tool ‘Compass’, which ‘detects, evaluates and reports on existing, imminent, and emerging water resource challenges’.
Anik: There have been many advances and global and regional assessments made by the scientific community globally, but we think that there are continuous interactions between global change and local change, and many feedbacks and interlinkages. Therefore, we think data that are, say, five years old assessment data cannot necessarily be relied on in policy-making, because things are changing very fast.

Compass aims to capture a real-time analysis of what’s going on. It’s a systems assessment and it includes the ecological perspective, the hydrological perspective, the governance perspective…they are all embedded together, and Compass captures that. It has several products which are designed with a dynamic approach, given this kind of demands, to make a continuous assessment rather than single-time snapshots.

Compass is tailored to the demands of society and different users: such as for infrastructure planning, identifying business opportunities, how we can assess a city’s progress, and so on. You can think of it as tracking our systems in terms of water so that it can help and guide implementations of suitable actions. It is a near-real-time index of the global water resource expressed in a standardized form, like a Dow Jones Index made for water.

We intend Compass to produce a six-month water outlook. It will combine the weather forecast with the prediction of water use and current and forecasted economic activities. It will also do scenario analysis for the medium-term and the long-term for infrastructure planning at a very fine resolution, and we can tune in and, knowing the GDP distribution, see how many people are vulnerable to water stress at a grid scale of, say, 5 km resolution, or even less.

At the World Water Forum in March 2018, we showcased some of the prototype products, like the near-real-time water state index, and we showed the results of an index covering from 2009 to February 2018. We also displayed prototypes showing how we can predict hotspots for water conflict and involuntary population disbursement in real time. And we showed prototypes for investment opportunities, threats to rivers, climate variability, and negative inverse impacts of the investment to natural capital. That demonstrated where we bring in investment, where we can do reinvestments, and which are the areas where there are good returns and so on.

Currently, we are developing Compass further, with prototypes that can assess the population under water stress, and the coping capacity of the population, and a water pollution index, and the investment opportunities in green infrastructures, and the state of water for the environment in terms of environmental flow alteration.

In about one year’s time, we hope to be running pilot projects in different regions: Latin America, in India, in Brazil, and so on. These projects will work with international agencies to check for ground truth and many other things, and they will involve extensive regional consultations, with the objective of customizing Compass to suit the needs of its potential users.

The data used in Compass will be global, and continuous, and near-real-time (one-month latency).

Q. Have you any observations or comments about gender equality and social inclusion?
Anik: Gender issues are particularly relevant to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Goals 6.1 and 6.2. That is clear if you look at who are the users of water. In many households, women are the main users of water. In agriculture too, women are stepping into the roles of smallholder and farm laborer because men are leaving agriculture and migrating to the cities, leaving the agricultural land to women.

Water is strongly connected to gender issues. Women and men have different needs for water; they have different hygiene needs and so on. And the problem is that many of the indicators we have for the SDGs do not reflect that difference in water needs. There needs to be more emphasis on gender in policy-making at the national level.

Currently, the pace of progress in SDG implementation in most countries, particularly Africa is not enough to achieve universal basic water services and sanitation by 2030. Of the 10 countries where at least 20 percent of the national population uses limited services (with water collection times exceeding 30 minutes), eight are in sub-Saharan Africa. Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 8 out of 10 households with water off premises. Therefore, reducing the vulnerability of the population to water security risks (from climate change and also local changes) will have a strong gender impact.

Tools being built by Water Future are intended to capture data to support gender equality and social inclusion.

One of our new initiatives is on water governance and management systems. It’s still in the design phase. We are doing a state-of-the-art diagnosis to assess current functional performance and resilience in governance and management systems, and to identify the governance gaps that exist at a very local level. That is an area where the gender issues are important.

Water Future will gather the gender disaggregated data, incorporate it, and see the functional performance of the governance systems to address the gaps. This is being done at a local level, by the solutions labs, but all these initiatives are connected to one another. They all work ‘hand in hand’ with each other.

Q. Do you have any messages for young water professionals who want to join this dynamic and growing industry?
Anik: We learn a lot from young researchers. There’s a need for capacity development, and for better connections to enable knowledge to flow from science to practice and practice to science. It involves mentoring of the next generation of water scientists and practitioners, who will focus together on key planning challenges, adopting and capitalizing on the best state-of-the-art science, technology, and water assessment tools and promoting an expanded use of integrated and ecosystem-based approaches for the design of future water security systems. Water Future is developing a capacity development program for young researchers along with United Nations University. It is called ‘2030WaterSecure’. 2030WaterSecure is an innovative vision to develop capacity by combining state-of-the-art water knowledge with modern, personalized communication tools in order to tackle the 21st-century water challenges and facilitate effective implementation of the 2030 Water Agenda. Water Security has several components, including drinking water, ecosystems, natural hazards, transboundary water, urban water. The underpinning concept to understand this water security is through the lens of water risk.

Our capacity-building initiative will look into the understanding of water risk: how we assess water risk, and how we implement different institutional technological solutions to any particular water risk.

It brings science, policy, and practice together so that young practitioners can train in some component of this to learn what’s going on the UN, and how it is relevant, as well as practical aspects.

The Australian Water Partnership (AWP) is an Australian Government development initiative enhancing the sustainable management of water across the Indo-Pacific.

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