The struggle for water: drought, water security and rural livelihoods

Calow, R.C.; MacDonald, A.M. ORCID:; Nicol, A.L.; Robins, N.S.; Kebede, S.. 2006 The struggle for water: drought, water security and rural livelihoods. British Geological Survey, 52pp. (CR/02/226N) (Unpublished)

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Drought is a recurring event in Africa. The recent drought, affecting large swathes of eastern and southern Africa, is not exceptional. For many, drought is associated with food insecurity: rains fail; crops wither; food supplies dwindle; entitlement to food declines and people go hungry. The response, on the part of government and donors, is typically food aid ‘to save lives’. Yet food insecurity is not the only concern during drought, and is not an isolated concern. One of the principal aims of this report – a synthesis of over four years’ research – is to show how livelihoods are affected by declining access to food and water, with access to both linked in a number of important ways. Implications for policy, to protect livelihoods before lives are threatened, are highlighted. The report begins with a description of the evolution and scope of the project ‘Groundwater drought early warning for vulnerable areas’, and the rationale for working in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia. Chapter 2 then reviews key lessons learned from the 1991 – 92 southern Africa drought and, in particular, discusses which measures and policies were effective in meeting the water needs of rural populations. The Ethiopia study is described in more detail in Chapter 3, in terms of the methodology used for site selection, mapping and fieldwork exercises. Background information on the physical and socioeconomic characteristics of the area is also presented. Chapter 4 then discusses key findings, focussing on the mapping approach to water reliability-availability differentiation, and the village-level survey approach to water security analysis. Policy implications for water supply development and drought planning in Ethiopia are also discussed. Chapter 5 then pulls together (a) findings from the Ethiopia study, with (b) lessons learned from the 1991 – 92 southern Africa drought, and (c) more recent work on water and sustainable livelihoods, to make recommendations on drought planning, early warning, and development programmes more generally available. KEY MESSAGED 1. The impact of drought and the nature of livelihood vulnerability Droughts affect livelihoods in a number of different ways, cutting across sector perspectives and disciplines. Yet in many countries drought management − or more typically relief − focuses almost exclusively on the question of food needs. Other dimensions of vulnerability receive much less attention despite evidence that factors such as access to secure water can be a major problem. This reflects the organisation and remit of government and donor bureaucracies, rather than livelihood realities. Fundamental to understanding water security is an analysis of water availability, access and use. 2. Interdependencies between food and water security: Food and water security are related. Food security, for example, is an outcome of a set of vulnerabilities, dependent on how people gain access to production and exchange opportunities. This, in turn, is influenced by the broad expenditure, in time, labour or money, invested by households in gaining access to water. In many rural environments, moreover, domestic water is a production input, in garden irrigation, livestock watering, brewing and brick-making. Water insecurity can, therefore, affect − directly and indirectly − wider household production and income earning opportunities, as well as the quality and quantity of water consumption. 3. The need to incorporate an understanding of drought preparedness and early warning Maps depicting groundwater availability under drought conditions provide useful awareness raising and planning tools. At a national scale, however, they cannot provide the kind of local-level information on water availability, access and use that is necessary to plan water supply projects, or identify vulnerable groups. Investment in regional mapping, combined with local water security assessment, would provide both. By widening the scope of existing local-level food and/or poverty assessments to include simple indicators of water security, a clearer picture of livelihood security, and the interventions needed to support it, could be gained at little extra cost. Water supply interventions – rehabilitation, repair, well deepening, help with water transport – coordinated with food security/ asset rebuilding efforts, could help sustain income, production and consumption in the early stages of drought, or in the aftermath of a bad year.

Item Type: Publication - Report
Programmes: BGS Programmes > Groundwater Management
Funders/Sponsors: Department for International Development (DfID)
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: This item has been internally reviewed but not externally peer-reviewed
Additional Keywords: Groundwater management, Africa, International development, Climate change, Drought, GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater
NORA Subject Terms: Earth Sciences
Date made live: 22 Apr 2013 12:42 +0 (UTC)

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