Friday, 21 August 2009


By Julia Day

Delegates arrived today slightly weary from a week of networking (or last evening's Royal Banquet festivities with Sweden's Orlando Bloom-alike Prince). Nonetheless it is a good turnout for the closing plenary, which is attempting to sum up the key messages emerging from World Water Week.

Managing water across borders was one of the key themes this week. The politcal and economic trade-offs involved in transboundary water management and the difficulties in sahring the benfits 'beyond the river' were discussed in several sessions.

Water flows 'uphill' ,towards the power-brokers, therefore tranfer 'downhill'is needed, the increased reach of legal conventions may help, some sessions concluded, meanwhile negotiation needed to be separated from cooperation.

Some opportunities for progress in this areas were pinpointed, including leveraging the interest in climate change ro promote water issues, and consider the interaction of hyro and carbon cycles.

The potential of thrid parties to gather data and mediate was expresssed, while virtual water and food trade was mooted as a partial solution for water resource management. The use of technology was stressed, for instance,the ability of improved treatment technolgies for making unvconventional water resources more readily available.

Howver the obstacles to progress in this area are numerous, according to the what was discussed in session this week. Limited access to data, the gap between theory and practice, inadequate basin-wide processes, unfair distribution of water costs, power asymmetry, gaps in institutional infrastructure were just some among the challenegs presented.

But innovative and grounded approaches can be trialled, it was concluded. Alternative financial sources within basins could be saught; the role of techonolgy in conflict resolution could be investigated, such as desalination in the Middle East.Bottom-up appraoches were advocated as was investment in training and capacity-building and not giving up on proven methods.
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Thursday, 20 August 2009


By Julia Day

It is the turn of the big-hitters this afternoon, with a panel made up of water Ministers from around the world. They were tasked with revealing how they plan to bring water and climate change together to advocate for stronger global action at the forthcoming climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, COP-15. With time running out before COP-15 – just three months to go – rousing language and calls to action were the order of the day. (Photo: Gunilla Carlsson / Julia Day).

Usually the water and climate change communities operate in their own silos, which many believe will hamper potential outcomes at COP-15. But with the crunch creeping ever-closer, can the two areas of interest work together for mutual benefits?

To kick us off, Henk van Schaik, of the Cooperative Programme on Water and Climate (CPWC) offered us and the Ministers some reflections on the week’s key issues so far.

Mr van Schaik, said the relationship between climate change and water management has been a key area of discussion throughout the week: “We should not wait for a silver bullet on climate information, but make use of credible climate scenarios such as coastal protection, agriculture, hydro power and drinking water supply, and response measures should be designed accordingly.”

The financing of projects, capacity-building to establish climate information centres and networks in the public domain, making use of local traditions, as well as local, country and regional ‘no regret’, best practice, actions were all hot topics, according to Mr van Schaik.

Heading towards COP15, it needs to be recognised that water is more than a sector, it is a medium, he said. The Nairobi Statement on Climate Change Adaptation for Land and Water Management has already stressed the links between land and water and climate in relation to the development agenda and development resources.

“The water community stands ready to cooperate with the climate community on planning processes, actions and capacity,” said Mr van Schaik. “For the (upcoming) World Climate Conference, we call for service-oriented climate information, for climate information to be seen as a public good, and for the development of regional climate centres and networks,” he concluded.

Reflections from Karin Lexen, of event organiser the Stockholm International Water Institute, said she though the key message from this week was one of support and appreciation for the hard work going in to reaching a strong and fair agreement on climate change and that water is key medium through which climate change impact will be felt. As such, water as a medium for climate adaptation should be properly addressed.

Ms Lexen said managing water resources effectively is central to successful adaptation planning. Adaptation measure needs integrated with other development goals - including the MDGs - as well as with land and forest management and ecosystem protection.

She was one of many this afternoon calling for the sharing of information between water and climate change communities at all levels. Vulnerability assessment was also critical, she said, but both new and additional investments were needed to fund the necessary work.

Tineke Huizinga, Vice Minister for Transport, Public Works and Water Management of The Netherlands said that with COP-15 only three months away, she was glad the role of water management in adaptation has become common ground.

“Adaptation will be one of four blocks of negotiation at COP15. Water management deserves due attention and can’t be missed in adaptation strategies of any country therefore water cannot be missed in the COP statement,” said Ms Huizinga, adding that water does not respect boundaries, and that climate adaptation needs to be placed in context of water basins and river courses.

“In the context of development challenges, water can be a driving force behind development and reduction of poverty…Good water management is essential in reaching seven of the MDGs,” she said, adding.

She too, joined the calls for water community to come together with other ‘sectors’ ahead of COP-15: “We have a lot in common with the development community therefore we should join forces.” And she added her voice to those calling for the sharing of knowledge and best practices across sectors, countries and regions.

“It is now time to act on adaptation, we must prepare ourselves,” said Ms Huizinga, “This would be an amazing opportunity to link development and water to reach the MDGs.”

Tanzania’s Minister for Water and Irrigation, Mark Mwandosoya, told the audience that climate change scenarios in Tanzania suggest temperature increases of between 1-3 degrees centigrade over next 100 years. Floods and droughts are going to become even more frequent, said Mr Mwandosoya, and in a country where agriculture jobs account for 80 per cent of the work force, water is crucial: “Water is life. It is a key resource as it affects all other sectors of the economy.”

Gunilla Carlsson, Minister for International Development Cooperation, Sweden, made some strongly-worded statements about her government’s stance ahead of COP-15.

“All countries need to take action to provide sustainable development. Climate change is felt everywhere, we can already see it is happening, but it is affecting the poorest first and worst,” Ms Carlsson said.

She went to some lengths to stress what she called the ‘human dimension’ underlying climate change – that individuals and communities are already adapting to climate change, so the capacity for people to continue adapting needs to be built, she believes: “There is a huge need for adaptation measures – but it is equally important to build adaptation capacity so humans can deal with the changes - so we need further invest in education and health and social safety nets.”

And the issue of gender equality is key, according to the Swedish Minister: ““For the majority of woman a better life depends on safe, fresh water…they have a crucial role in all water activities.”

And she concluded with a commitment that “Sweden is putting adaptation to climate change on the agenda to COP 15 – and we are deeply committed to an ambitious outcome”

Syed Ashraful Islam, Minister of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives, Bangladesh bluntly stated what he – coming from the most densely-populated nation on Earth - sees as the basic problem: “We have a limited amount of water on this planet but the users of water are increasing…the world’s population is now 6.5 billion but by 2050 it will be 9.2 billion.”

But his main issue was that of transboundary water management, which he does not believe has been discussed enough: “Bangladesh alone has 57 common rivers with other countries…We have found that it is often difficult to come to a consensus for sharing water of the rivers and we are lacking international mechanisms and understanding in UN on how to share common rivers.

“Today we must find a better mechanism for sharing of the water of common rivers and if we fail to do so countries will face increasing problems,” and he called for the World Water Week statement to agree on some common ground on this issue ahead of COP15.

“We must adopt a resolution in Copenhagen for all UN states to share common rivers and water bodies in a better way and we must correlate water management with land and forest management,” said the Bangladeshi Minister. “If we don’t, water management [alone]will not give us enough benefit.”

And he concluded on a very dramatic note: “We need the planet for our survival but it does not need us. Before we were here the dinosaurs ruled the planet - they are no longer here but the planet is. The way we are behaving, we will go the same way as the dinosaurs.”
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Have a look at some of our photos from World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden. Read more


By Julia Day

Despite being organised to within an inch of its life here at the Stockholmsmassan conference centre, World Water Week's morning sessions are already running behind. Has there ever been a conference that runs on time? Answers on a postcard, please. Anyway, I am sitting in on a session entitled ‘From Theory to Reality: Sustainable Water Management in an uncertain Climate’. (Photo: Duncan Pollard / Julia Day).

First up, Duncan Pollard of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who says we need to treat water management as a journey which embraces uncertainty as he outlines some of the organisation's work on freshwater adaptation.

“Uncertainty is no excuse for inaction – we need to start now and act fast. There needs to be a willingness in terms of managing in terms of uncertainty and need to develop water management institutions and processes that operate with uncertainty," said Mr Pollard.

Francesca Bernardini, UNECE, believes that transboundary cooperation in adaptation reduces uncertainty and costs.

But few countries have developed strategies on water and adaptation to climate change. There are no strategies at transboundary levels, she said, despite the Convention of the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes.

She outlines some key recommendations – flexible legal agreements, entrusting joint institutions with adaptation and the development of information exchange using the same models to allow comparison. There should be vulnerability assessment for the whole basin while measures should be agreed on common no/low regret actions and goals.

“Although this seems like common sense, this is not happening,” said Ms Bernardini. "So we need partners," she concludes and invites the audience to join forces for pilto projects in transboundary basins and to share knowledge and experience.

The World Bank’s Dr Rafik Hirji runs through some of the Bank’s facts and figures and states the party line: “Climate change must not come at the cost of development” – essentially, addressing both issues together. For water and climate change there is a two-pronged attack of adaptation and mitigation designed to support Bank operations and client countries in making water investment decisions.

And he outlines the Bank’s dilemma: “Essentially we know much less than we should but must make investment and financing decisions nonetheless…we cannot wait for the science,” said Dr Hirji. “Uncertainties are a given and we just have to deal with it.”

He adds: “Managing risk and uncertainty is not new in the water sector – there is just more now. The past record cannot be used for future designs.” There is that word again – uncertainty. It could well be word of the day.

Dr Hirji said the Bank has both top-down and bottom-up strategies that work in tandem across its 212 projects – sprinkling the words ‘no regrets’, ‘good practice’ and ‘sustainable’ around while talking about these projects.

The Bank has formulated a seven point decision framework to make decisions on water and climate change adaptation investments and is just starting to test this framework in its project cycle. This framework is intended to support the identification, preparation and implementation of operations, he added.

The STEPS Centre’s pathways approach focuses on working with uncertainty in a highly complex world of dynamic social, technological and ecological processes where conflicting priorities exist amongst different people.

Conventional analysis and policy approaches are well-attuned to handling risk, but are inadequate where these other kinds of incertitude prevail.

But dynamic systems and contexts involve various forms of incertitude, whether it be risk (where probabilities amongst possible outcomes are known), uncertainty (where probabilities cannot be assigned), ambiguity (where there are different, incommensurable views of outcomes) or ignorance (where we don’t know what we don’t know). We need options that are flexible and adaptable enough to work in this changing environment.

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Wednesday, 19 August 2009


By Julia Day

Here in the Swedish capital of Stockholm the 19th annual World Water Week is in full swing. Having only arrived this evening, there is a lot to catch up on ahead of the STEPS Centre session on Liquid Dynamics on Friday.

Nearly 2,500 scientists, policymakers, business leaders, NGOs and media from 136 countries have gathered here, in a city built on and around water, to discuss and exchange learning about the world's most pressing water and sanitation issues.

Running over three years is the event's "niche" of 'Responding to global changes: Accessing water for the common good'. Within that niche, the special focus for 2009 is on transboundary waters.

The organiser of World Water Week, the Stockholm International Water Institute believes transboundary water systems represent a particularly complex management and policy challenges. Of all the world's accessible freshwater, 96 per cent is located in aquifers, many of which cross national boundaries, according to the SIWI.

"If not properly managed, transboundary waters can become a source of conflict. However, through the joint dependencies of the users, those waters can also be a source of collaboration and spur regional development. Solutions need to emerge through new thinking that transcends traditional concerns about competitive access," the event programme states.

It is new thinking that this whole event is aiming to draw out. And with more than one billion people lacking access to safe, clean drinking water, 2.6 billion lacking access to adequate sanitation and 6,000 babies dying every day from waterbourne diseases, new thinking is desperately needed.

But there remains a big disconnect between the gloabl rhetoric and the everyday realities of poor and marginalised people who have to live with the devastation wrought by lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation.

One of the targets of Millennium Development Goal seven is to halve the proportion of people living without access to water and sanitation by 2015. But the target on sanitation is way off-track. In sub-Saharan Africa, at the current rate of progress, it will not be met until 2076 - 61 years late, according to charity WaterAid.

Earlier this week the International Water Management Institute and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have warned that Asia must reform its water use to feed 1.5 billion extra people by 2050. A sobering thought.
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Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Ian Scoones, co-director of the ESRC STEPS Centre and Dominic Glover of the Technology and Agrarian Development Group at Wageningen University have written an article in this week's Nature magazine (August 13) which explores the fallout of a new book on agricultural biotechnology in Africa.

Scoones and Glover take a look at the Robert Paarlberg's book Starved for Science: how biotechnology is being kept out of Africa

"A dogmatic and unscientific stance on GM crops – whether pro or anti – helps no one, and least of all African farmers. Paarlberg‟s book has stirred up the debate again, but in ways that do not move it forward," write Scoones and Glover.

"A less combative, more evidence-based and balanced approach is needed, one that should foster a diversity of development pathways for agriculture16. All of these should be underpinned by high-quality scientific research and attuned to particular circumstances.

"As the World Bank‟s World Development Report on Agriculture and the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) both indicate, biotechnology options of many kinds will surely be part of the mix, but they will not be the only solution; and, for Africa, not necessarily the major one either," they add.

An full-lenth version of the Nature article is avilable on the Biotechnology Research Archive pages of the STEPS website - GM Crops in Africa: polarising the debate.

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By Julia Day, STEPS Centre member

The STEPS Centre is launching a new pilot project, Beyond Biosafety, aimed at opening up debates about biosafety. The project focusses on Kenya and the Philippines, as two countries that have been seen, at different times, as regional ‘test cases’ for biotechnology and biosafety regulatory development.

Debates about transgenic crops have become highly polarised across the globe. In the process, civil society organisations and movements have emerged as key actors, alongside governmental and ‘expert’ science institutions, in the contested field of agricultural biotechnology.

In developing countries, biosafety and its regulation has become the lightening rod for these debates. This is in the context of international efforts towards global harmonisation of national biosafety systems through the transfer of regulatory frameworks developed in and for OECD countries.

This focus on biosafety has tended to narrow national biotechnology debates to ‘downstream’ (rather than more strategic ‘upstream’) actors and decisions; and to the control and management of risks, rather than broader ethical concerns about investment in and deployment of technologies.

These dynamics at the national level reflect global efforts to harmonise national frameworks around an OECD ‘ideal’, seen as the benchmark for programmes of capacity building. But is a uniform pattern of closure based on frameworks developed in such different circumstances a realistic or even desirable goal? Particularly given the reality of diverse systems, perspectives and capacities across developing countries - and a far from uniform interpretation even among OECD countries themselves.

What would it take to ‘open up’ debates about and beyond biosafety? This pilot project will focus, initially, on Kenya and the Philippines, as two countries that have been seen, at different times, as regional ‘test cases’ for biotechnology and biosafety regulatory development. The aim will be to connect civil society actors in the two countries for an exchange of ideas and lessons about how, when and where opportunities exist (or might be created) to open up these debates in new ways.

The project convenor is Sally Brooks, who will be working with Hannington Odame, executive director of Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship, Nairobi, Kenya (CABE) as well as STEPS member Erik Millstone and Paddy Van Zwanenberg.

See the STEPS Biotechnology Research Archive for 10 years of research on GM in one place.
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Monday, 10 August 2009


By Julia Day

The UK government has today called for an "radical rethink" of food production in the country. And unsurprisingly, genetically modified crops are at the centre of the plans.

Hilary Benn, the UK environment minister, suggested GM farming could help to increase Britain's crop production as he set out plans to make the country more self-sufficient in food.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, he said investigations in to new techniques in order to discover the "facts" about them, are needed: "If GM can make a contribution then we have a choice as a society and as a world about whether to make use of that technology, and an increasing number of countries are growing GM products," Mr Benn said.

"And the truth is we will need to think about the way in which we produce our food, the way in which we use water and fertiliser, we will need science, we will need more people to come into farming because it has a bright future.

"Because one thing is certain - with a growing population, the world is going to need a lot of farmers and a lot of agricultural production in the years ahead."

The government's food strategy for the future will be published later in the year, drawing on responses to the consultation launched today, said the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. But today's consultation does not go far enough, according to The Guardian's Feleicty Lawrence.

We have various resources at the STEPS Centre that take a look at this topic. Our recently launched Biotechnology Research Archive gives access to ten years of research in to genetically-modified crops, development and the global food crisis

Our latest Working Paper, Undying Promise: Agricultural Biotechnology’s Pro-poor Narrative,
Ten Years on
, by Dominic Glover is available to download for free online, and the paper's bite-sized briefing - for a quick overview - can be seen here.

Ian Scoones, STEPS co-director, has written a backgrounder entitled GM Crops; 10 Years On, plus there is a iD21 viewpoint and an Eldis biotechnology Key Issues Guide.

Meanwhile Erik Millstone, the STEPS Centre's food /agriculture co-convenor, and Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex, in SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research has been researching into the causes, consequences and regulation of technological change in the food and chemical industries since 1974.

Professor Millstone has published extensively on issues concerning food safety policy-making and the evolution of food policy institutions and his books include The Atlas of Food: who eats what, where and why, University of California Press and Earthscan 2008.

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Friday, 7 August 2009


By Julia Day

After a simmering row between the US and Kenya at the start of the 8th African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) trade conference in Nairobi this week, the event has ended with a call for African governments to develop regional trade while taking advantage of assistance from the US.

Earlier this week, Mike Pflanz in The Telegraph, reported that the US ambassador in Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, had angered the country's prime minister Raila Odinga by criticising Kenya's lack of "seriousness" in setting up local mechanisms to try suspects from the December 2007 riots.

"Failure by Kenya to take ownership of the process of accountability at all levels will call into serious question whether the political will exists to carry out fundamental reforms," said Mr Ranneberger.

Mr Odinga retorted: "We don't need lectures on how to govern ourselves. Lecturing us on issues that deal with governance and transparency is in bad taste."

But by the time the AGOA talks were wrapped up last night, relations appeared to have thawed somewhat, with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declaring: "More and more, the world will look to Africa to be its breadbasket, and I hope that when the world looks ... it is Africans and African farmers who will profit from becoming the world's breadbasket."

Secretary Clinton made the comments, reported by Charles W Corey, after touring the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) outside Nairobi, remarking: "For the global community, agricultural development could help address some of the most urgent challenges we face -chronic hunger, which afflicts nearly 1 billion people worldwide, including one in three Africans, many of whom are children."

She added that agriculture will the engine of future growth for Africa.

At the closing of the AGOA conference, according to the Kenya Broadcasting Company, Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka stressed the onus of developing Africa rested with the Africans. He said that increasing intra-state trade, strengthening of regional economic blocs, to tap on the ready market, enhance competition as well as diversify and add value to goods and services, was essential.

"Indeed the need for paradigm shift towards intra-Africa trade cannot be overemphasized considering that trade among Africans remain pitifully dismal despite the huge market. This should prick our collective conscience as governments, policy makers and private sector" Mr. Musyoka said.

"The US has itself recognized this challenge, and is providing crucial assistance to regional blocs for building their capacities for trade. This crucial support should be extended as it is essential for strengthening AGOA as well as Africa's integration into the global economy" the Vice President added.

However The US Working Group on the Food Crisis used Senator Clinton and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's visit to KARI to raise the question of whether US dollars for food-related aid to Africa are being spent wisely, Kristie Heim writes in the Seattle Times.

"The USAID's policies toward agriculture in Kenya, stated here, include a public-private partnership with KARI, the Donald Danforth Plant Center and Monsanto to develop genetically engineered sweet potatoes resistant to virus and promote public awareness about the technology in Kenya.

"The coalition called such policies "misguided" and at odds with a report on the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Scienceand Technology for Development (IAASTD)," writes Heim.

STEPS co-director Ian Scoones has written a paper on the IAASTD process, entitled Global Engagements with Global Assessments: The Case of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD).
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Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Have a look at a short clip of Padmashree Gehl Sampath's STEPS Centre Manifesto seminar on 'Promoting Knowledge Generation through Intellectual property in Late Development' as part of the Innovation, Sustainability, Development: A New Manifesto project.

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Monday, 3 August 2009


The STEPS Centre is holding an event at World Water Week in Stockholm this month, entitled Liquid Dynamics: Rethinking Sustainability in Water and Action.

Our side event examines the concept of 'liquid dynamics' – often neglected patterns of complexity and interaction between the social, technological and ecological dimensions of water and sanitation.

Presentations and discussions with Lyla Mehta and other members of the STEPS water team will draw on research in peri-urban areas and community-led total sanitation to address how alternative pathways can lead to pro-poor sustainability and social justice in relation to water and sanitation.

If you're in Stockholm for WWW we would love to see you. The event runs from 13.15-14.15 on Friday 21 August - just after the closing plenary - in room K24.

And if you can't be with us in Sweden, then do keep an eye here on The Crossing where we'll be blogging from the event.
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