Describe how your professional (and/or personal) experience relate to water and if space technologies play a role in your work?
My interest in water – water diplomacy as well as water conflict and cooperation – came from a long interest in water and the environment that I developed already as a teenager, mainly from loving to be outdoors, close to rivers and in the mountains. It took me some time to figure out that one could turn this into a job, but now I’m happy to have found a job that allows me to combine my passion for the environment with analytical work that aims at identifying potential challenges around shared water resources – from the local to the international level – and develop adequate and effective responses to those, e.g. through proper legal frameworks and institutions. And every time I go to a certain basin – be it the impressive Okavango Delta with its incredible flora and fauna, the mighty Nile with its cultural richness or the Mekong, a basin particularly close to my heart – I am more and more convinced that it requires urgent action to protect those basins and to protect and maintain the livelihoods of those living in the basins and depending on them. I also believe that this requires an interdisciplinary approach where we all work together – hydrologist, lawyers, earth observation experts, ecologists, engineers, anthropologists and many more. And this is also what fascinates me so much about the topic of water governance and management – cooperation is not a choice but a must. Cooperation between communities, countries but also scientists.
For the work I do specifically with the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership, space technology is crucial. In the global tool of WPS, we use a lot of data that is only available because of space technology and this allows us to identify hotspots of potential water-related conflicts early on and to raise political awareness with policy-makers. This is especially important as water challenges tend to drop of the political agenda, which is typically – not only in times of COVID-19 – filled with seemingly more urgent topics. In the local tools that WPS develops specifically for countries facing water-related challenges, space technology is equally important. And we have currently embarked into additional work on identifying how earth observation methods and data can strengthen the analytical capacity governments, societies and companies need to prepare for future water-related challenges, especially under a changing climate.
Could you tell us about your current work, your latest project or your proudest professional moment?
Currently, the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership works on a number of different interesting endeavours: we are working on further improving our global tool, aiming at incorporating more indicators that capture the linkages between water and conflict, but we are also expanding our regional work to new regions that face challenges through water-related conflicts.
One of the proud moments for the WPS partnership in the past was certainly being awarded the Luxembourg Peace Prize in 2020 – an acknowledgement of our work on water and peace and our aim to identify water-related conflicts early enough to take preventive or mitigating action.
What do you need to innovate? What do you need, to make a difference with the work you do?
At the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) partnership we believe that there is a lot of talk about water-related conflict – but too little action. On the one hand, this is partly true, due to a lack of understanding of what actually links water-related risks, such as floods or droughts, to conflict. On the other hand, there is a lack of awareness among policy makers of the preventive action that those conflicts require and a lack of capacity to act accordingly. The situation requires innovative approaches that help understand water-related conflict risks, which also enable policy makers at different governance level (from the global UN level all the way to the very local community leader level) to act.
How do you believe space technologies add value to water security, and the governance and management of water bodies?
In order to manage our increasingly challenged water resources effectively and sustainably, we need information about their state, their development and the challenges they face. And we need to monitor how they change as a consequence of certain interventions. Space technology can be an important contribution to this end and provide water managers with information they need to take wise decisions. This is particularly true for countries that otherwise lack sufficient financial or technical capacity and thus do not have locally collected information at hand. Moreover, I think that space technology and the open data can play a key role in levelling the playing field between countries – especially if they have different financial capacity or political power – by ensuring that all have access to the same data and information, can develop a joint understanding of their shared basin and its resources and based on this maybe more easily agree to cooperative management approaches. Especially thanks to space technology, we can certainly say already now that the age of secrecy in water-related data is over.
Where in the world do you see the highest water stress or risk for water stress in the coming 10 years, what do these regions have in common and what can we do to improve the status quo?
The WPS early warning tool identifies a number of areas with elevated risk of water-related conflict. Some are well recognized internationally and locally, such as many regions in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and Southern and Western Africa. Others have not been as high on the agenda of water practitioners and policy-makers, such as areas in South Asia, large parts of the Sahel or Latin America. In many – yet not in all cases – water scarcity (increasingly coupled with the consequences of global climate change) is a key driver of water stress and related risks, often in combination with weak water management and governance capacity. However, other factors, such as sudden changes in water availability e.g. due to the establishment of water infrastructure schemes, have also been identified to play a key role in creating water stress and related conflicts.
Which data do you consider most important to research water security of a specific area, or the potential of conflict due to water insecurity? Is required data usually available? What limits access to data? What leverages access to local/or in-situ data?
A lot of data is required to assess the potential of water leading to conflict – simply because the link between water and conflict is highly complex, not straightforward at all and determined by numerous intervening variables. Data thus needs to cover not only hydrological and environmental parameters, but also socioeconomic dimensions, governance, etc. Not in all contexts and for all areas around the world is such data available. However, this shouldn’t make us shy away from using the data we have to analyse the conflict potential of water and develop policy recommendations and interventions to prevent or mitigate such conflicts. Decision-making under uncertainty will always be required in a field as complex as water management.
What do you see as the main conflicts among those who research water, those who work with water (and space technologies) and those whose work relates to water governance and policy making?
The main challenge – and I wouldn’t call it conflict – is probably simply to talk to each other and to bridge disciplinary divides. This includes the acknowledgement that everyone has something different to bring to the table and that only in working together we can achieve a water-safe and sustainable world.
What is the best context to address water issues and water policy and law to positively impact the way water is managed? Do you believe the contexts in which water governance and management issues are addressed are appropriate?
Water governance and water law specifically set the framework within which water is allocated, shared between communities or even countries, protected against negative impacts… and much more. This does require a certain level of good governance or governance capacity and a functioning legal system. This is not a given in many places around the world, which makes it difficult to ensure a water-safe world for all.
What is your favourite aggregate state of water?
Ice and snow. I love being in the mountains, skiing and touring and nothing beats a true winter wonder land in the mountains. Something we, unfortunately haven’t had in Europe beyond the Alps in a long time.