Unlocking resilient benefits from African water resources

Lead Research Organisation: Rhodes University
Department Name: Institute for Water Research


Sustainable water resource development remains elusive because development has largely externalized costs to the environment and vulnerable people. There is a need for novel research theory, methodologies & practice in order to meet the UN SDGs and realise the Africa Water Vision 2025. We propose to launch an innovative research approach: the Adaptive Systemic Approach (ASA). Our aim is to apply transformative, transdisciplinary, community-engaged research, to shift water development outcomes towards achieving the SDGs. We focus on continental water development priorities: water supply and pollution.
This collaboration brings together the ARUA Water Centre of Excellence (CoE) and UK partner, the University of Sheffield (UoS). The 8 CoE nodes are: i) Addis Ababa U, Ethiopia; U Rwanda, Rwanda; U Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal; Dar es Salaam U, Tanzania, Makerere U, Uganda (DAC least developed); ii) U Lagos, Nigeria (DAC lower-middle income); and iii) U Cape Town, Rhodes U (CoE Hub), South Africa (DAC upper-middle income).
We propose a country-based Case Study structure to support local research development and pathways to local impact (Figure 1 in Case for Support). We use an SDG6 (water and sanitation) centred model, that links SDGs related to landscape water resources with SDGs related to water services. (This model underpins the successful UKRI:GCRF Capability Grant:"Water for African SDGs"). We raise three research questions (RQ) related to water development priorities. Three catchment-based Case Studies address RQ1: HOW IS WATER USED, TO WHOSE BENEFIT? (Rufigi R Tanzania, Senegal R Senegal, and Blue Nile R Ethiopia). Two Case Studies focus on urban water pollution (Kampala City Uganda and Lagos City Nigeria), addressing RQ2: WHAT ARE THE SOURCES, PATHWAYS AND IMPACT OF POLLUTION IN URBAN WATER SYSTEMS? A cross-cutting Case Study addresses water resource protection and biodiversity in all CSs, and a biodiversity site in Rwanda.
By the completion of the project we commit to leaving local people effectively linked with institutions making decisions about water that affect them. Therefore all Case Studies address the question RQ3: HOW CAN LOCAL CAPACITY TO ENGAGE IN PARTICIPATORY GOVERNANCE BE DEVELOPED FOR: I) EQUITABLE WATER SHARING, II) COMMUNITY POLLUTION RESILIENCE, AND III) ECOSYSTEM PROTECTION AND RESTORATION?
The novel Adaptive Systemic Approach (ASA) provides a coherent methodological framework that will support Case Study comparisons, changed water development practice, and will embed pathways to impact throughout the project. The ASA requires engaged research, and draws on three core theoretical concepts, with associated methods: Complex Social-Ecological Systems, Transdisciplinarity, and Transformative Social Learning (Elaborated in Case for Support).
These concepts underpin four ASA steps, followed in each Case Study: 1. BOUND: Researchers engage with a full range of stakeholders to identify a relevant, local, water-development issue, and scope the Case Study. 2. ADAPTIVE PLANNING PROCESS: Stakeholders co-create a contextually informed vision of the future state of their selected local issue, and co-develop an objectives hierarchy to move towards resolving the issue. 3. CONCURRENT ACTIVITIES 3.1 RESEARCH Each Case study team addresses the specific research questions, delivering data for resolving the problem. 3.2 PARTICIPATORY GOVERNANCE DEVELOPMENT Local people, formal, and traditional, water governance institutions together move towards local people being part of land and water decision-making. 3.3 STRATEGIC ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT (SAM) - stakeholders will be trained in a process for systemic, responsive, contextual, co-management. 4. PARTICIPATORY MONITORING AND EVALUATION OF REFLEXIVE LEARNING Researchers and stakeholders co-develop indicators, co-monitor, co-reflect on progress, co-learn and adapt, using SAM.
Following the ASA in the case studies embeds the theory of change, and the pathways to impact.

Planned Impact

In this project, ASSURED impacts are new, empowering knowledge shared among stakeholders, and relationships, co-governance and co-management tools that will outlive the project. Clearly defined pathways to developmental impact are built into the research methodology. Academic (publication, conference, active research networks) and policy impacts (practice and policy for a like AMCOW are detailed in Pathways to Impact). LIKELY impacts: economic benefit from fairer water access for local people; lower health risks because of better pollution management; and a demonstration of a new way of undertaking developmental research that supports greater equity and sustainability.

The Adaptive Systemic Approach (ASA) is the methodology that that underpins this project. Engaged research facilitates relationship-building among project researchers and STAKEHOLDERS, who are the BENEFICIARIES. Stakeholders include local residents and communities, non-governmental organisations, civil society, private enterprise, and formal water management institutions at all levels of government.

ASA steps ensure stakeholder benefit: Step 1. As each Case Study is BOUND, researchers team and stakeholders decide on the problem scope. This means stakeholders have clear, realistic expectations of project benefits, and reduces the risk of extractive research. Step 2. In the ADAPTIVE PLANNING PROCESS, stakeholders recognise they have a shared future, and collectively build a vision of resolving the selected water problem, and a pathway to reach that desired future. Thus, benefits of addressing the problem in a clear agreed manner, using research expertise, are formally agreed. Indicators of progress are agreed, embedding accountability. Step 3 involves concurrent processes: 3.1 The RESEARCH activities that will provide findings to address the problem. 3.2 PARTICPATORY GOVERNANCE DEVELOPMENT is the focussed process of linking local people facing the problem, with the people mandated to manage the problem. 3.3 STRATEGIC ADAPTIVE MANAGEMENT is an essential tool for stakeholders, because the context of complex problems changes through time, and there are multiple causal loops. This tool provides a mechanism for responsively moving towards the agreed desired future. Step 4. In PARTICIPATORY MONITORING AND EVALUATION FOR REFLEXIVE LEARNING, both researchers and stakeholders monitor the indicators selected in Step 2. At each project engagement, participants reflect on and learn from progress in terms of these indicators. When local people "own" the process of positive change the chances are local people will continue to collaborate accountably after the project.

In Senegal and Tanzania, local people specified in the project Case for Support, will have access to sound knowledge about who gets, and uses, what water, how and when. In Ethiopia, specified local people will benefit when landscape restoration outcomes are improved by a better understanding of surface-shallow ground water interactions. New data will support a water- resource management model, useful in negotiating contestations. Fair access to water is a primary driver of economic enterprise and benefit. Common livelihood options that will be supported include livestock production and vegetable and other crop-based agriculture. Effective water resource management contributes to food security. Hydro-power is a complicating factor in all three water supply Case Studies; benefits that accrue to local people compared with distant people, and inevitable power differentials.

In Kampala and Lagos city local people specified in the project Case for Support will benefit from improved pollution management, and from understanding how to become resilient in the face of pollution risks. There are evident health benefits from lower pollution exposure particularly to vulnerable groups like the elderly and children, and effective pollution management reduces water treatment costs and stimulates economies.


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