WISE-UP to Climate

Water Infrastructure Solutions for the Volta Basin

WISE-UP - 'Water Infrastructure Solutions from Ecosystem Services Underpinning Climate Resilient Policies and Programmes' - aims to demonstrate natural infrastructure as a 'nature-based solution' for climate change adaptation and sustainable development in the Volta and Tana Basins. The WISE-UP project is implemented by IUCN with partners IWMI, BC3, ODI, ACCESS in Kenya, University of Manchester, and CSIR in Ghana, with the support of the Volta Basin Authority. It is funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).

"WISE-UP's strength is the interdisciplinary research that opens up new avenues for dialogue on water resources management in the context of future uncertainty and climate change. It enables us to shed light on unaccounted-for natural benefits that often do not feature in assessment plans for engineered infrastructure, but once lost, may cripple social economies and livelihoods." James Dalton, a.i. IUCN Director Global Water Programme

WISE-UP partners consult with local communities to gauge what benefits are derived from natural infrastructure so comprehensive solutions for adaptive water planning can be proposed

©IWMI/Marloes Mul

Conducting field research to produce new scientific knowledge 

In the Volta Basin in Ghana, IWMI and BC3 have been working together, to map and quantify the benefits from natural infrastructure services.  These services include flooding at different times of the year which allows people to fish from seasonally flooded ponds, flood recession farming, and cattle grazing on the floodplains.

Developing evidence-based knowledge around the role of this natural infrastructure enables the services it provides to be considered alongside built infrastructure, such as dams and reservoirs.

Because of the strong link between natural infrastructure and local livelihoods, local impacts need to be better recognized and included in decision-making around built infrastructure.

The IUCN Red List  identified 23 species of plants and 34 species of animals as endangered or critically endangered in Ghana ©IWMI/Marloes Mul

Much of WISE-UP's work has focused on the proposed Pwalugu multipurpose dam site on the White Volta river in Northern Ghana, close to the Burkina Faso border. 

Although knowledge is available on current and proposed built infrastructure, such as the Pwalugu dam, less information is available on the services already delivered by natural infrastructure. These natural services support local livelihoods and provide services to built infrastructure that often go unrecognised. Too much sediment entering into reservoirs, for example, is often a result of poor land use practices upstream.

Inadequate information on these services provided by nature stems from the complexity in recognising the functions of natural infrastructure, and then collecting and understanding the data. Building interdisciplinary teams to work on these issues helps to bring multiple skills and perspectives together in the search for solutions:

"Persistent undervaluation of ecosystems has hindered sustainable, equitable and efficient decision making in water resource management, including adaptation to climate change. It will continue to do so without improved knowledge. WISE -UP is the opportunity to increase the adaptive capacity of river basins through recognition and inclusion of ecosystem services provided by natural infrastructure, in synergy with built infrastructure" Anil Markandya

Up to their thighs in water, scientists collect data on seasonal flooding ©IWMI/Marloes Mul

To better understand the multiple social and environmental benefits from flooding for example, IWMI mapped the monthly extent of the area that flooded, and BC3 valued the different livelihood activities which were dependent on the river flow and the extent of different floods. Communities in the White Volta region rely on these constantly changing river flows for flood recession farming, floodplain cattle grazing, and fish catch, which translate into valuable incomes and food security for villages close to the river – and for trade beyond the river.

Compiling and interpreting this information allows WISE-UP researchers to determine how much dollar value communities earn directly from river flow and at what time of the year. These findings help to understand what income and services would be affected if the proposed Pwalugu dam is built and operated that could restrict downstream river flow and reduce the different flood events

This helps to better understand how the proposed Pwalugu dam could be constructed and operated that would retain or compensate the services lost through additional investments and compensation schemes. (further info: Local benefits highlight role of natural infrastructure in adaptive basin planning and Measuring livelihood dependency on river flow: an interdisciplinary approach)

Integrating data to generate trade-off analyses to help decision-making

Quantifying and valuing the different benefits from natural infrastructure has helped WISE-UP to develop an overall basin wide White Volta model that combines natural and built infrastructure data with hydrological data. Using this approach has helped to identify the different trade-offs between natural and built infrastructure, and the services they provide. For example, prioritising energy production over flood recession farming. 

The power of this approach is that it allows you to combine different options together, such as maintaining some natural river flow for flooding and building irrigation systems. This allows stakeholders to determine what is the best available blend of options, depending on their needs.These tools can help identify where possible 'tipping points' exist, where the increases in one benefit relative to another are too extreme. For example, where energy generation may severely impact fish catch. Decision-makers can then negotiate what they are willing to accept, based on different social, environmental, economic, and political priorities.

Preliminary trade-off analysis results for the proposed Pwalugu dam site

While benefits from river basins are generated by both built and natural infrastructure, decisions to endorse these benefits are often conflicting. These are complex trade-offs and decisions, often made in the absence of the full range of data and stakeholder voices needed. WISE-UP is working to untangle this complexity, but at the same time retain the integrity of the results and the details needed by decision-makers at different levels. (further info: Balancing complexity and simplicity: the challenge of (re)packaging science for decision-making and policy relevance)

"The discussions [of WISE-UP] at this point are critical since it is possible to pioneer the ideas generated for other river basins in the African Sub-region." Charles Biney

Findings from field research are collated and discussed at regional meetings with decision makers and stakeholders.

Accra, Ghana ©Gabriel Appiah

Contextualising WISE-UP in the Political Economy

To complement the work on trade-offs surrounding built and natural infrastructure choices, WISE-UP also works on the political-economy of decision making. This research looks at decision making processes, how these are influenced, and the (often) political drivers behind them. The aim is to better understand why and how river basin stakeholders make the investments decisions they do. WISE-UP uses an iterative learning approach to identify how stakeholders can improve planning processes and dialogue to both implement and improve policies on river basin planning. This will help to provide more equitable, sustainable and climate-compatible solutions:

· Climate change: Existing climate change initiatives can facilitate the introduction of innovation to policy, including new opportunities to access funding from International Adaptation Funds. Investments in natural infrastructure can be an attractive proposal to access these funds.

· National Politics: Given the pervasiveness of politics in Ghana, party manifestos become important documents in framing the development agenda of the country. As such building awareness and improving climate change capacity of political parties is a key step in ensuring climate change mainstreaming in Ghana.

· Partnership Collaboration: Development partners have access to international knowledge and technology, as well as funding. They can support the piloting, but more importantly the scaling-up of local-level adaptation approaches to create larger and faster responses to climate change. This helps to incorporate adaptation approaches into official government planning and processes, and helps build local skill-sets. 

· Capitalise on decentralisation: The devolution of roles and responsibilities to local authorities needs to be accompanied by an adequate transfer of financial and human resources to ensure mandates can be fulfilled. This way, decisions can have a more immediate impact on local communities, small towns, and new economic growth corridors.

(More info: Adapting to climate change through 'action learning' and Inclusive Water Development: experiences from the WISE-UP project)

Learning from Basin Stakeholders and Key Decision-Makers

Discussions with decision makers to identify and agree trade-offs leads to conversations on more equitable and effective adaptation and development solutions that suit all stakeholders. But to get the most out of these conversations, and to learn from the experience in the room, you need the right tools and information. Bringing multi-disciplinary evidence and data together, and linking this with local and national level experience is key to build the adaptive capacity needed to integrate natural infrastructure into future river basin planning and investment choices.

WISE-UP operates right at the limit of current climate data in the Volta basin. Both built and natural infrastructure benefits will be sub-optimal unless climate impacts are included in river basin planning.The project engages basin stakeholders directly, allowing them to steer and actively guide the research based on their experience, needs, and understanding. Iterative learning and capacity building are critical to better understand how to make information and innovative tools practical, useful and trusted – taking science into policy circles and decision making processes. It helps us shape the future stages of WISE-UP research to continually evaluate the relevance of its work.

Participants at workshop on economic valuation of ecosystem services, November 2016 , Accra, Ghana ©Sylvia Amponsah
So far I have been impressed by how WISE-UP's innovative approaches and ideas are shaping the thinking and actions around ecosystem protection and climate change adaptation by key regional and national organizations such as the Volta Basin Authority, Ghana Environmental Protection Agency, Ghana National Development Planning Commission, Ghana Irrigation Development Authority, River basin management authorities and NGOs in-country" Emmanuel Obuobie
ODI's Regional Researcher Dr. Ronald Adamtey interviewing women's group at Arigu, Upper East Region, Ghana ©Kwabena Kankam-Yeboah
For more information on WISE-UP to Climate, visit www.waterandnature.org/wiseup or use #WISE2Climate hashtag via social media