Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs

Livelihoods improve when water becomes more accessible. At a basic level, more water can mean improved agricultural irrigation, leading to increased income generated from smallholdings. Having access to clean water can also result in less time spent travelling to pumps and wells, and more time spent in education or work. Much of IWMI’s work aims at poverty reduction, whether that’s helping to reduce floods and thus damage to crops and property or increasing accessibility to sustainable aquifers.

Job creation through fecal sludge management

In 2020, IWMI published a report titled Business Models for Fecal Sludge Management in India, which outlines how communities across the country can turn the management of fecal matter into a business opportunity. The publication is an output of the Resource Recovery and Reuse (RRR) subprogram of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

A joint report published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 found that only 11% of Indian households had sewer connections. The 100 million toilets built by the Indian government between 2014 and 2019 rely heavily on on-site sanitation systems (OSS), often pit latrines that need to be emptied regularly. However, in India, the provision of sanitation services is patchy, and overflowing tanks can lead to disease and water contamination.

The business models documented by IWMI address specific challenges. For example, one of the proposed solutions is to support the development of private businesses that dispense of fecal sludge. This could lead to private operators becoming formally recognized, thus reducing stigma and harassment. By destigmatizing an essential practice, it becomes a more viable workstream, helping to improve livelihoods and jobs. Another IWMI recommendation is to make desludging a non-negotiable part of household taxes. This means more people are employed to desludge tanks. Wider deployment of desludging also reduces the potential for water contamination.

By encouraging private actors to engage in improved fecal sludge management, livelihoods can grow and develop, while also supporting better water management, and improving community sanitation and access to clean water.

Using solar energy to increase the resilience of farmers’ livelihoods

Solar energy can be used to deliver inclusive and environmentally sustainable irrigation, increasing water availability and food production and reducing carbon emissions. In 2020, IWMI launched the first phase of its Solar Irrigation for Agricultural Resilience (SoLAR) project.

The aim of the project is to contribute to supporting sustainable, resilient livelihoods in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. The project tries to answer questions such as: how can we make access to solar irrigation more equitable? and how do we ensure that solar irrigation pumps do not lead to the overexploitation of groundwater resources?

IWMI is working with governments and renewable energy agencies on three main fronts. First, to evaluate the impact of solar irrigation pumps on farmers and provide policy relevant suggestions for improvements in solar irrigation programs. Second, piloting options for solar pumps connected to the electricity grid and designing incentives to reduce groundwater use in areas of overexploitation. Third, organizing trainings and workshops for solar technicians and mid- to high-level officials in water, energy and food ministries.

The SoLAR project also supports an innovation fund. This provides financial support to new practices that can influence policy and be implemented across regions. In 2020, five grants were awarded to projects which promoted climate-resilient livelihoods for smallholder and marginal farmers.

Irrigation using the sun’s energy to power a water pump is not new, but the technical and scientific development is not always enough to ensure it is adapted and implemented by farmers and organizations. For solar irrigation to work, stakeholders, from politicians to institutions, must all have buy-in, in order to coordinate and negotiate a variety of different objectives to work out the best approach that could be taken.

Hydropower and its impact on livelihoods in Laos

An IWMI project is underway to help develop our understanding of people’s livelihoods, and the decisions made during the process of hydropower redevelopment.

As Laos’ economy enters a period of growth, resource exploitation is a significant problem. In the journal article titled Aspirations undone: Hydropower and the (re) shaping of livelihood pathways in Northern Laos, IWMI sets out to better understand the impact hydropower has on the farming community. IWMI conducted case studies in two villages (Khamkong and Thongngam) along the Mekong River, both of which were impacted by the planned Pak Beng hydropower dam. It was found that the forums villagers have for discussing their concerns about the dam were often impeded. IWMI research identified that local needs were not being prioritized, and local livelihoods were often ignored in favor of boosting national economic growth.

In the journal article, IWMI argues that a top-down approach in hydropower planning, or a prioritization of decisions being made by dam builders and developers, can be damaging. Such an approach can result in failure to compensate villagers who have been impacted by dams.

IWMI’s research concluded that ‘the futures—and the aspirations—of our respondents have been undone by the mechanisms put in place ostensibly to secure their futures’. These projects lay the groundwork for future research and political action in the region. It will enable experts and stakeholders to make informed decisions around recommendations for future dam developments.

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