Nile 4


Charlotte MacAlister, hydrologist at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and team leader for the Nile BDC project on ‘Assessing and anticipating the consequences of innovation in rainwater management systems‘ left Ethiopia in late January. She will start working for Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

In this interview she shares some views on her involvement in the Nile BDC , her perspective on relative successes and challenges for her work in NBDC and some advice for the final year of the project.

What range of activities have you been involved in?

I joined IWMI in Ethiopia in 2010 and started in the week of the NBDC inception meeting.

I have been involved in the program management of the ‘Nile 4’ project and generally in basin scale water resource and hydrological impact modelling. More specifically, I have been working on training and capacity building (both internally and externally), spatial analysis and modelling, the development of water resource management tools and the generation of a data archive for the Nile Basin.

What has been successful / what are you most proud of?

Quite a few things worked well:

  • Some innovations in the application of global climate data sets.
  • The distribution of free climate data for any user (not restricted to the NBDC), i.e. with open access data sets available on the web.
  • The development of high quality, robust hydrological models of the Blue Nile using real data.
  • We have built strong linkages with local research partners (e.g. the Universities of Bahir Dar, Ambo, Arba Minch) and with governmental agencies (Abay basin authorities, Tana river basin organization, Beles river basin organization, the Ministry of Water and Energy).
  • The training and support of master students who graduated. Over the course of my involvement, we had six MSc students graduate, supported by the program.
  • Initiating the spatial analysis and modeling (SAM) topic working group for cross-basin learning.

What has been most challenging, why?

The technical challenges of modelling large and mostly ungauged basins (no rain /flow or sediment gauge) meant that building the model was difficult: How can you assess impact without data?

After we set up our models, we faced another challenge: the general lack of understanding about different interventions. We have estimates and guesses about what intervention might work where but we don’t really have any measure of impact and we cannot easily use modelling effectively for that reason. What we actually need is experimenting on catchment with different practices to find out what the physical impact of interventions will be – before and after. There is no way to get around that.

As a result of the above, another challenge was the lack of any direct impact by which we could monitor change. We are expected to assess impact without implementing any intervention. If I were to do this by myself I would start with engaging on the one hand a community that wants to make changes and on the other hand another one that does not want to make changes. Over five years I would then have time to see changes and assess impact. When your job is to quantify impact, it is difficult to work in these conditions and qualitative approaches are not enough. People in the Ministry of Water and Energy want real evidence of impact, at least within a range, to see if a practice can be scaled up.

Finally, what was also challenging was the way the project was structured: Splitting the NBDC across scales rather than themes (e.g. hydrology, economics etc.) made the project organization somewhat cumbersome.

What lessons learned will you use or build upon in your next job?

First and foremost, in a project, engaging with key partners in communities and among governmental agencies from the design of the project and at the stage of defining project outcomes is key to success.

Another lesson is that we are not that much closer to appreciating and valuing each others’ perspective between social scientists and biophysical scientists.

However, I want to continue using and promoting the tools we developed; I would like to keep some relation with the SAM group. A lot of people are working on similar issues around the world. Why not share learning across them and across communities? Our lessons don’t have to be  restricted to the different Basin Development Challenges, they can also benefit communities.

Where are you headed? Will you keep working (in some capacity) with the NBDC?

I’m going to be working as senior program officer at the water and climate change division of IDRC. I will be working on water and climate change projects in Southern Africa and South Asia. It is unlikely that I will continue collaboration with the NBDC.

Any advice to the NBDC for the final year?

Focus on what is working now and on the productive relationships that have been developed. Do not be afraid to drop activities.

One of the objectives of the Nile Basin Development Challenge – registered as one of the outcomes that the program hopes to achieves – is to develop the capacities of various actors, including of future generations of decision-makers, planners and implementers of land and water management policies and interventions.

Over the past, the Nile BDC has hosted the work of various students to develop their theses. Here is a tour of some of these:

Most recently,

Other theses comprise:

For the final year of the Nile BDC, a few more theses and pieces of work can be expected.

Planning NBDC activities for researchers (Photo credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)The Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) is entering its final year. By December 2013, all activities funded through the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) need to be complete.

A planning exercise on 15 and 16 November brought the core partners together to re-arrange priorities around specific outcomes and target groups that NBDC intends to influence.

About 25 participants representing the remaining four NBDC projects (the stock-taking project ‘Learning about rainwater management systems‘ ended earlier on) took part to the meeting.

Over the two days, participants:

  • reviewed the outcome logic model (the planning/monitoring framework) informing their activities to assess its validity in the current context,
  • took stock of important assets that the NBDC should capitalize on, in terms of outputs produced, networks strengthened and capacities developed,
  • discussed the integration of these assets and activities to support five key stakeholder groups: farmers and farming associations, researchers, planners, policy-makers and the internal NBDC team,
  • developed action plans to align these activities,
  • identified activities for cross-cutting issues such as gender, monitoring and evaluation, the sunrise strategy that is expected to ease the dawn of the program and a final session to plan the external stakeholder meeting in February 2013,
  • filled out a timeline of the project that tracked back important events, outputs, changes in the network or in the attitudes and skills of stakeholders. Participants were energized by the large numbers of outputs already produced as well as the extent of the capacity and network building efforts.

The workshop was a strong exercise in integrating across all the teams; it brought all the ‘N-project’ teams together around cross-cutting outcomes by stakeholder groups.

The next step in this planning is a full stakeholder meeting in February 203. Thereafter, the countdown for the NBDC will really tick with a renewed sense of urgency.

Read notes from the meeting here.

See some pictures from the meeting here.

On 12 November 2012, 26 participants attended a  ‘symposium on modeling in the Blue Nile / Abay Basin‘. It was organized by one of the projects of the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) – the so-called N4 project on ‘Assessing and anticipating the consequences of innovation in rainwater management systems‘.

Adanech Yared (Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources) introducing her work (Credit: ILRI / Le Borgne)

Adanech Yared (Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources) introducing her work (Credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

Building upon recent results of this project, the team invited representatives from Nile Basin Authorities, the Ministry of Water and Energy and the Nile Basin Initiative Decision Support System Office to map out existing modeling work and to identify priorities for water resource and agricultural water management modeling in the Blue Nile Basin.

Past and current experiences

The presentations from the Nile Basin (Tana and Beles sub-basin) Authorities, from the Ministry of Water and Energy, from Bahir Dar University and from the Ethiopian Institute of Water Resources highlighted a wide spectrum of experiences. These presentations were later completed by additional presentations from NBDC scientists to form a collection of experiences spanning climate modeling, hydrological modeling, crop productivity modeling, economic modeling tools. The final presentation emphasized the need to integrate biophysical and socioeconomic model outputs and kick-started the discussion among participants.

The different presentations emphasized a number of crucial common challenges preventing modeling from being more fully exploited or useful in agricultural water management and water resource modeling initiatives: the diversity of modeling tools and their inconsistent use, the lack of good quality data, the insufficient capacity to use existing modeling tools, the lack of integration of modeling outcomes in planning and implementation strategies.

Ways forward

Later in the afternoon, participants discussed the key priorities for agriculture-water and water resource modeling in the Basin, related to either:

  • Scaling issues (integrating small scale practices and large scale impacts in planning and management)
  • Data needs
  • Uptake and acceptance of model outputs
Randall Ritzema (IWMI) Introduces the project of integrating modeling approaches (Credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

Randall Ritzema (IWMI) Introduces the project of integrating modeling approaches (Credit: ILRI/Le Borgne)

In terms of scaling, the selection of scales depends on different variables (hydrology / erosion, population, greenhouse gas emissions, economic process, spatial variability). In turn, what is to scale varies with the scale: spatial variability, system dynamics variation within t, factors such as runoff capacity. Small scale modeling works better for better characterization of an area and at any rate there is always uncertainty in modeling for planning and management.

As regards data needs, all agreed that the main challenge was how to access data. All of the group were familiar with the bottleneck in getting met data, and the generally low resolution of soil and landcover data. The group also agreed on the need to update a range of data sets including hydro data and land cover-land use. The group also discussed the problem of numerous ungauged basins in terms of met and flow data. Some potential opportunities to use remote sensed data to fill these gaps were discussed and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) team distributed a MET data set for Ethiopia derived from the US-NCEP CFSR (Climate Forecast System of Reanaysis) global weather data set, prepared by IWMI staff and Cornell researchers to make it useable in Ethiopia.

Finally, in terms of ensuring acceptance and uptake of modeling, a number of factors play out. The first and foremost is to think about the relevance of modeling data for the target audience, but issues of data quality, modeling complexity (and its potential to be communicated clearly) also affect the acceptance. Models should not be trusted – rather their outputs should be verified before their outputs are communicated to intended end users. In order to improve uptake of modeling outputs, the participants highlighted various strategies: tailor modeling output messages to different target audiences, develop capacities (both of modelers to communicate their outputs and of end users to use them), use various communication outputs (policy briefs, face-to-face sensitization etc.) and to engage with intended audiences throughout the process.

This symposium was the first of its kind and perhaps layed the first stone on the way to a water-agriculture modeling community of practice.

Read notes from the event.

See presentations from the event.

See some pictures of the event.

The topic working group on ‘spatial analysis and modelling’ (SAM) from the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) has agreed on a partnership between the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Cornell University and Texas A&M University on a product dealing with global climate reanalysis data.

This partnership and announced its intentions at the recent Soil and Water Technology (SWAT) 2012 conference. The product (available at this address: http://tamu-cornell.drfuka.org/) will be hosted by Texas A&M University for now.

As an upcoming paper highlights, “Obtaining representative or near real-time meteorological data to force watershed models can be difficult and time consuming. Land based stations are often too far from the point of interest to adequately represent the weather, and many have  gaps in the data series.” The Climate Forecast System Reanalysis (CFSR) global meteorological data set has the advantage of using precipitation and temperature data, which generally provide better predictions of watershed discharge than land based stations at distances greater than 10 km from the watershed center.

This data set is useful for the SAM team for hydrological modeling, in the absence of gauge data. However, the data can also be used for any other application. It requires MET parameters – a lot of other parameters were not included (see full details at: http://rda.ucar.edu/pub/cfsr.html). Daniel Fuka, PhD student from Cornell University is leading this work.

NBDC Reflection and Roadmap workshop, 21-22 May 2012, ILRI Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet).

NBDC Reflection and Roadmap workshop, 21-22 May 2012, ILRI Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet).

On 21 and 22 May 2012, the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) team held a reflection and road map meeting with 24 participants from the four projects that make up the NBDC as well as from the Management Team of the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF).

Participants reported on progress (see a report from the ‘Nile 4’ project), assessed whether NBDC is on the right track, identified the NBDC’s comparative advantages, crucial gaps and potential adjustments and, finally, developed an action plan that integrates monitoring and impact assessment and folds into a ‘sunrise strategy’ as the NBDC (and its parent CPWF) is scheduled to end in 2013.

The keywords for this important meeting have been: alignment, integration and indeed sunrise.

Aligment

The pressure to deliver science and show results is mounting in the CPWF generally. For the NBDC this means the component projects should emphasize and deepen collaboration and synergies with one another.

Integration

Beyond internal alignment of the different projects, a major challenge is to ensure the NBDC is integrated with other research and development initiatives – as both outlets to disseminate its research results and to engage audiences around the research insights gathered so far and the tools and approaches developed by the various NBDC teams.

The Africa RISING program and initiatives by e.g. the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations or the United Nations’ Environment Program were some of the initiatives mentioned that could help pave the way for the sunrise strategy.

Sunrise

Although the program comes to an end in late 2013, the team wants to see this not so much as a sunset but rather as a sunrise, the start of a new and exciting period. During the meeting, the team started brainstorming a vision for 2014 and beyond, which builds upon the different innovation platforms – which should also be further integrated.

The way to the sun?

The comparative advantage of the NBDC was seen to lie in the combination of research outputs and development outcomes, the integrated approach at multiple scales and the program’s reputation for its knowledge brokerage function. Mobilizing these assets through a ‘sunrise strategy’ will stimulate integration and alignment in the best possible way.

The meeting was documented through notes on the wiki and some photos  from the meeting.

The so-called ‘Nile 4’ project aims at quantifying the consequences of improved rainwater management, measuring downstream, cross-scale consequences of successful innovation in the Ethiopian highlands.  On 23 May 2012, this project team organized a coordination meeting with the team of another Nile project (‘Targeting and scaling out of rainwater management systems‘, or ‘Nile 3’ project) to integrate targeting, impact assessment and priority setting between the two teams, as the pressure to integrate Nile Basin Development Challenge work streams is mounting.

Rainfall, one of the many factors the Nile Basin Development Challenge teams are interested in (credits: IWMI/Charlotte McAlister)

The coordination meeting gave a good occasion to review progress so far and identify the building blocks that the two project teams should capitalize on. For the year 2011, the N4 project team has been working on a number of important developments that should benefit the wider Nile Basin Development Challenge program and beyond.

The main research highlights for 2011, which will extend into 2012, include:

  • Modifying the open source Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to better represent hydrophysical conditions in the Blue Nile Basin (for use at a whole basin and at the catchment scale of the project). The team has done so by incorporating the concept of ‘topographic index’ into the model routine to account for saturation excess flow and landscape run-off processes, more realistically representing how and where run-off and sediment generation occur within the defined catchment.
  • Developing a first version of the Water Evaluation And Planning (WEAP) model to assess water resource optimization in the Blue Nile. Further plans include the coupling of the WEAP and SWAT models and to run a number of climate change scenarios to gauge possible impacts.
  • Developing a new method for acquiring a 30-year weather data set for anywhere in the world. Currently, most African weather data sets do not feature adequate temporal or spatial resolution, length of recording period and reliable quality of data. This endeavour aims at re-dimensioning the existing Climate Forecast System of Reanalysis (CFSR) dataset as a temporal series of grid points to avoid having to download terabytes of data to access a single point. Cornell University is assisting the project team.
  • Applying and adapting the economic benefits-optimization model ‘ECOSAUT’ in the Blue Nile Basin. This model was originally developed by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). The project team also compiled a literature/data source data of economic benefits in Ethiopia (and East Africa) to help scale up this work in the longer run.

The N4 project further documents progress on the overall program wiki and on the CPWF Spatial Analysis and Modelling topic working group wiki.

Spatial Analysis and Modelling group, one of the six Nile BDC topic working groups

Spatial Analysis and Modelling group, one of the topic working groups involving NBDC

From 6 to 9 February, the secretariat of the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) organized a meeting in Montpellier, bringing together the six Basin leaders and six topic working group leaders.

This was the first meeting where these two groups of people were together to discuss progress. As the program is scheduled to end in December 2013, there is much reflection going on about the outputs generated by the program and the outcomes that they are leading to. One of the key issues debated during the Montpellier meeting indeed was: “where is the science?

After two years in its second phase, the program is in full swing and a number of research outputs have already been highlighted on the CPWF website. After the first phase of the program, a whole series of outputs have been generated through intensive repackaging of the research results from the first phase (2002-2007).

The key question highlighted comes at a crucial moment: the World Water Week’s annual theme is on ‘water and food security’, giving impetus for CPWF to show some results; the CGIAR research program (CRP) ‘Water, Land and Ecosystems’, a strongly related program, is just about to be launched and should build upon the CPWF; but more generally the current reform of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is urging all CGIAR centers to reconsider how the research they provide can better tackle poverty and contribute to wider development in a more integrated manner.

CPWF is a modest program in this wider agenda, nonetheless it has something to contribute in this sense too and the urgency to show the impact of the science is felt too. The Montpellier meeting meant to address this question in some ways:

  • By urging more interaction between basin leaders, topic working group leaders and CPWF management;
  • By participating more in global events (to show and discuss the results) and stimulating more cross-basin learning and sharing;
  • By developing more research outputs from phase one and from the current phase, including a book and some policy briefs, furthering the repackaging work recently carried out by the global CPWF communication team.

What does this mean for the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) team? Tilahun Amede (Nile Basin leader) and An Notenbaert (involved in Topic Working Group on spatial analysis and modeling) represented the Nile team in Montpellier. The discussions in which they participated brought some coherence and cohesion in the overall CPWF approach to deal with the above hard question which lies ahead. At the same time, the Nile team will have to deal with specific implications:

  • In terms of cross-basin interactions, Tilahun Amede has been working with other African basin leaders since the third International Forum for Water and Food to develop a sharing network and perhaps develop a book that captures experiences from the Limpopo, Volta and Nile Basin.
  • Topic working groups might be modified to suit changing needs in the program. The exact composition and representation from the NBDC may also be affected by this change but it is unclear yet how this will pan out.
  • Tilahun Amede is leading on one of the chapters planned for the end of program book and he should also provide support to another article directed by Larry Harrington.
  • Communications, engagement and dissemination of scientific results are on the menu, more than ever. A recent NBDC meeting on communication – held on 24 February – partly addressed this need and came up with a series of recommendations to join up the different Nile project teams and to repackage existing research results with a keen eye for the information needs of specific audiences such as policy-makers, communities and other scientists involved in similar initiatives.

With an upcoming team meeting – planned around the end of March – there will be more chances to join up the dots, locate and source the famous and sought after ‘science’ from CPWF.

Less than two years of program remain, a seemingly distant date, but there is much work on the NBDC agenda and the whole team – scientists or not – are hard pressed to find the formula that guarantees strong scientific results without compromising the engagement and embedding process undertaken by the NBDC for the past two years.

Between 7 and 13 May, 2011, the Project ‘4’ of the Nile Basin Development Challenge (NBDC) will organise a week-long workshop on modeling in the Program. The aim is to bring together the project modeling teams to discuss emerging issues and work together on current technical challenges and cross-cutting issues.

Particular issues include scales of model applications; linking productivity and economies; linking productivity and hydrology; populating the ECOSAUT model with scarce data; and specific model technicalities such as how to incorporate RMS and how to couple SWAT and WEAP.

The workshop starts with a one day field trip to Jeldu on Saturday 7th May.

« Previous Page