Planning for sustainable water futures in sub-Saharan Africa in the context of the SDGs

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Award Year: 
Principal Investigator: 
Charles Vorosmarty, The City College of New York
David Hole, Conservation International
Associated Program: 


By 2030, average global water requirements are expected to exceed current supply by 40%, necessitating massive investment to fill this ‘gap’. Historically, such investments have focused on often costly and unsustainable ‘grey’ or ‘built’ infrastructure. Hence, interest is rapidly increasing in pathways that optimize the use of ‘natural’ or ‘green’ infrastructure (freshwater ecosystems and the services they provide), or that capitalize on synergies with grey infrastructure in ‘blended’ approaches. But how do we decide which pathways are most appropriate to implement and where? The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for addressing such development challenges. Yet there is little information on integrating freshwate recosystem services (FWES) into practical application of the SDGs, nor on potential trade-offs between conserving freshwater ecosystems and development actions enshrined in the SDG’s 169 Targets. This tension is particularly evident in sub-Saharan Africa, where anabundance of relatively intact freshwater ecosystems is threatened by rapid infrastructure development.

The goal of this proposed Pursuit is to aid planning for sustainable water futures in sub-Saharan Africa built around provision of FWES from healthy freshwater ecosystems, in support of achieving the SDGs. The team will synthesize existing knowledge and data across sub-Saharan Africa on FWES and the distribution and role of grey infrastructure. They will then explore decision criteria for defining optimal mixes of green, grey and blended solutions in support ofsustainable water futures. Crucially, the team will explore practical application through case-studies in two African countries, providing an immediate opportunity to influence on-the-ground policy and decision making.


Ian Harrison, Conservation International
Pamela Green, City University New York
Robin Abell, Conservation International
Krista Kempinnen, Arizona State University
Rebecca Welling, IUCN Water
Kim Reuter, Gaborone Declaration For Sustainability in Africa
Mark Mulligan, Kings College, London
Casey Brown, University of Massachusetts Amherst
LeRoy Poff, Colorado State University
Rob McDonald, The Nature Conservancy
Rose Osinde Alabaster, WaterLex International Secretariat
Faith Mitheu, SERVIR
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