Vote for the best Water ChangeMaker in Africa

African countries are in the front lines of climate change. African organisations and communities are developing ideas on how to protect themselves from water-related hazards, such as floods and droughts. At the Climate Adaptation Summit three of the brightest ideas are competing for the Water ChangeMaker Award. Which project will win? It’s your time to have a say!

The Water ChangeMaker Awards are an initiative of the Global Water Partnership. Their aim is to  showcase the way water solutions have built climate resilience worldwide. Solutions to questions like, how to best use and safeguard water? How to protect ourselves from water-related hazards like floods and droughts?

In the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, rich countries pledged to help the countries most vulnerable to climate change in building resilience. The Netherlands wants to accelerate adaptation actions, which is why it’s hosting the Climate Adaptation Summit.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is hosting a side event on Africa. The ministry has teamed up with the Global Water Partnership to give an award for the best project from Sub-Saharan Africa. Its aim is to celebrate and make visible the teams and organisations behind water solutions that build climate resilience in Africa. Now that three Water ChangeMakers have gone through several stages of judging, it’s your turn to have a say! 

1. Zambia: water points turn hopeless crop fields into green gardens

Agriculture – especially the cultivation of maize – is a major source of food security, income, employment and livelihoods in Zambia’s Kafue sub-basin. But droughts and floods are frequent in this river basin, and so is crop failure. Peasant farmers who depend on rain-fed crops are vulnerable. Households don’t have tap water in their neighbourhood.

‘Women have to walk a long way to fetch water for cooking and cleaning. Sometimes children don’t go to school because they have to walk for hours to take livestock to drinking water. The situation is made worse by deforestation for charcoal burning, which is one of the drivers of climate change,’ explains Indie Dinala, a project manager at the Zambian Ministry of National Development Planning.

‘We enable vulnerable communities to transform dry, hopeless fields into fertile green gardens where inhabitants grow different kind of crops, sell their products and earn an income outside the rainy season. Livelihood options increase and nutrition becomes more varied,’ says Dinala. ‘By providing water points, we injected life back in the villages. Water is everything, water is life.’

‘We asked communities what climate changes they had seen in the past years and what interventions were needed. Providing water points in the communities multiplied alternative sources of income. Now people have other ways to make a living besides felling trees to make charcoal. This makes other sources of income possible, like horticulture, fish farming or goat rearing. And women no longer have to walk so far to get water, so they can use their time to earn an income to send their children to school.’

2. Malawi: simple solutions to prevent a valley from floods

Around a million inhabitants of the Lower Shire Valley in Malawi have to live with a highly variable climate. ‘Regular floods – almost annual in many villages – alternate with droughts, trapping locals in poverty and food insecurity. Inadequate resources at all levels limit solutions,’ says Martin Kleynhans, project engineer with South Africa’s Zutari water resources group, explaining the challenges in this rural area.

‘We decided not to invest in infrastructure to guard against exceedingly rare events, but rather to design protection for smaller, more frequent events. And provide safety infrastructure that includes warning systems for any limited flooding that might still occur,’ says Kleynhans. Solutions have been adapted to the local situation: public education campaigns are being conducted, and appropriate community flood early warning systems alert downstream villages of rising water levels. There are also WhatsApp groups, loud hailers and sirens in the village.

‘Our flood risk management approach opts for simple labour-intensive solutions, making use of local materials and injecting cash into the community,’ adds his colleague Rebecca Ilunga. This project made use of local knowledge together with state-of-the-art hydrodynamic modelling to optimise flood protection measures.

‘Overall approaches to flood risk management must recognise that the climate isn’t the only thing that will change. Demographic shifts and economic growth will also affect the flood impacts felt by the rural poor,’ says Gavin Quibell, team leader from BRL  Ingénierie. The project team incorporated their lessons learned in customised Malawian community-based flood risk management guidelines.

3. South Africa, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi: incorporate ecological values

Improving water quality, providing a more reliable water supply, combating deforestation – because it causes sediment flows – protecting villages from floods, developing a strategy for sustainable water management, supporting investment in ecological infrastructure: ‘a lot of African countries face these challenges’, says Zutari technical director James Cullis. Culis has years of experience in climate change adaptation.

‘For the city of Cape Town, we determined how clearing invasive alien plants improves water security. In a number of countries across Africa, most recently in Kenya, we adopted rules for dams to improve environmental flows and develop water resources development plans.’

Zutari also provided engineering support for the Working for Wetlands programme in South Africa. ‘We embraced innovative approaches to the co-discovery of solutions with stakeholders,’ says Cullis. ‘In this way we not only identify sustainable water resources development projects, but also recognise the importance of environmental flows and ecosystem services.’

‘We’ve integrated ecological values and ecological infrastructure into a traditional engineering approach,’ says Cullis. ‘This will result in long-term sustainable solutions in support of climate change adaptation in Africa.’