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  December 1999    

UNU/INWEH targets continued network and project development
The UNU's Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU/INWEH) has projects now underway or planned in the Middle East, Latin America/Mexico, Africa and Asia. The projects reflect a deliberate balance between national- and community-level engagement, global- and basin-scale issues, freshwater and marine ecosystems, and water quantity and quality concerns.

Projects in the Middle East

UNU/INWEH recently initiated several projects in the Middle East, where freshwater is inequitably distributed, deteriorating in quality and in dangerously short supply.

  • In November 1999, UNU/INWEH was chosen to review the structure and management regime for the newly consolidated Ministry of Environment Affairs (MEnA) in Palestine. Under an agreement reached with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Palestinian authorities, a UNU/INWEH project team led by Elizabeth Dowdeswell, former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, will recommend a modern and appropriate structure for MEnA. This will include mandates and functions for directorates and departments, procedures for coordination and cooperation with related institutions (e.g., the Palestinian Water Authority), and performance evaluation, human resources development, strategic planning and decision-support systems. Funding for the effort will come from a UNDP Trust Fund for Palestinian development and from UNU/INWEH.

  • UNU/INWEH's first completed Middle East project was an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of a proposed municipal well in Rafah Municipality, Gaza Strip. Water shortages are acute in Rafah, where roughly 60 per cent of a population of 120,000 live in refugee camps. Groundwater is the only freshwater source, and consumption per capita is well below WHO-recommended levels. With funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the project was done in partnership with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). The FCM and local authorities have now asked UNU/INWEH to oversee the well's design and construction, and to undertake two related projects in 2000: the design and implementation of a computerized information system for the municipality, and environmental training for Rafah municipal staff on EIA procedures and assessment of groundwater quality.

  • Planning, team selection and fund-raising are also underway for several other Mid-East water project initiatives. These include, a long-term, integrated marine coastal-zone management plan for Abu Dhabi; drylands "water harvesting" in the Palestinian territories; wastewater reuse in Lebanon; and pesticide impacts on water resources and water treatment in Morocco. In response to interest shown throughout the Middle East (and elsewhere) for adult training in environmental informatics, UNU/INWEH has also developed a curriculum for regional training workshops on environmental information systems and data management.

To facilitate the surge in UNU/INWEH's work in the Middle East, a regional office has been opened in Amman, Jordan. Host Country and Contribution Agreements were signed in late 1999.

Projects in Latin America, Mexico

UNU/INWEH efforts to help find solutions to water problems are spreading from Mexico to other countries in Latin and South America. For most projects (selected with a view to their replication elsewhere), UNU/INWEH network members provide scientific and technical assistance and serve in an "executive management" role to coordinate and integrate activities. Initial projects have included UNU/INWEH's first marine-related research and capacity-building project in the Caribbean Rim, recently completed. With funding from the World Bank, monitoring and environmental information systems (EIS) components were designed for a five-year, US$10 million World Bank project on Sustainable Management of the Meso-American Caribbean Barrier Reef System (located off the coasts of Belize, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras).

Reliable data for decision-making is key to improving water management in Latin America, yet certified analytical laboratories are widely lacking. UNU/INWEH therefore is working to provide laboratory certification, accreditation, training and management services, through its Environmental Laboratory Certification Consortium (UNU/ELACC). The first certification project will build capacity for the Physical-Chemical Lab of the National Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) in Bogot*, Colombia. This is being funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), through the Canadian Energy Research Institute. In hundreds of developing world cities, inadequate sewage and wastewater management seriously impacts human health and the environment. One element of this problem is management of biosolids, a byproduct of sewage treatment. In 1998, UNU/INWEH initiated a capacity-building project in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on the Rio Grande opposite El Paso, Texas. The project's goal is an integrated, self-sustaining, locally managed system to collect, store, monitor, transport and apply sewage biosolids as an agricultural fertilizer - the first sustainable biosolids management program in Latin America. Phase I of the project, completed in 1999, included community stakeholder consultations, implementation planning, training, institutional capacity building and pilot-scale application of biosolids on agricultural land near Juarez. Phases II and III (for implementation in 2000-01) involve training, institutional capacity building (including laboratory upgrading), creation of the regulatory framework for land application, technology demonstration and research, and development of a public-private sector partnership model for biosolids management. Agreements have also been finalized for UNU/INWEH to design biosolids storage facilities at the two Juarez wastewater treatment plants, develop an environmental monitoring system and train facility operators.

The Four Pillars of Sustainable Water Management

To provide a conceptual framework for its activities, UNU/INWEH has developed a model dubbed the "Four Pillars" framework. Each pillar represents one of four interdependent capacities needed for sustainable water management. The model is used to identify gaps at the community, state and national levels, and to organize coherent, costed and integrated implementation plans.

According to the model, sound water management requires the capacity to:

  1. educate and train, including community, adult and formal education;
  2. measure and understand aquatic systems, through monitoring, research and technology development;
  3. legislate, regulate and achieve compliance, through effective governmental and NGO institutions and through efficient enforcement and community acceptance; and
  4. provide appropriate, affordable water infrastructure, services and products, through sustained investment and management by both private enterprises and public agencies.

This easily understood framework has proved an effective tool for building consensus, organizing truly integrated plans of action and improving equity in the assignment of roles, responsibilities and costs among stakeholders. The model has broad applicability across a wide range of issues, and its use forms the basis for UNU/INWEH's institutional "niche."

Preliminary planning has been started by UNU/INWEH for similar biosolids projects in the cities of Puebla, Queretaro and Saltillo - part of a National Biosolids Management Program proposed by the National Water Commission of Mexico (CNA).

Preparation of a National Capacity-Building Framework for the Urban Water Sector in Mexico continues with the goal of producing a strategy and implementation framework to address national water management deficiencies. Despite infrastructure improvements, urban water problems persist, particularly in Mexico City. Deficient water supply and sanitation coverage has seriously impacted human health, and watershed degradation continues. In partnership with the CNA, UNU/INWEH completed Phase 1 of the project in 1999. Stakeholder groups have assessed existing and required water sector capacities in three cities characterized by very different climatic, cultural and socio-economic conditions: Ciudad Juarez (northern desert), Atizapan de Zaragosa (central, high-altitude mega-city region) and Merida (southern tropics). In Phase II, now underway, ways of addressing the identified deficiencies will be planned.

Meanwhile, planning has also begun for a project on pretreatment of industrial pollution and the agricultural use of biosolids as part of a sanitation mega-project for Mexico City and the Valley of Mexico.

New University Chair to lead UNU/INWEH efforts in Africa

East Africa's Rift Valley nations have major water management needs, exacerbated by serious underlying economic, environmental and social problems. UNU/INWEH's initial priority is to contribute directly to improved management of Lakes Malawi and Victoria through research and targeted capacity building.

Inaugurated at Waterloo University, Canada, in autumn 1999, the UNU Chair on African Great Lakes and Rivers will serve as UNU/INWEH's focal point for programs to strengthen the capacity of Africa's Great Lakes nations to understand, monitor and manage shared aquatic resources. Chairholder Dr. Robert Hecky is a renowned limnologist with a distinguished record of research and capacity development in East Africa.

The Chair is a four-year, cost- and work-sharing partnership with the University of Waterloo and Environment Canada's National Water Research Institute (NWRI). Its goals include university capacity development in aquatic sciences, research, and scientific advice and information dissemination. Through the Chair, planning with local partners has continued on development of two regional water education and training centers in East Africa: Senga Bay, Malawi; and Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. UNU/INWEH's first major project in East Africa, and its first research initiative, began in October 1999 with a Predictive Model of Physical, Chemical and Water Quality Processes in Lake Malawi/Nyasa. Lake Malawi has exceptional water quality, but increasing nutrient loadings threaten to create rapid eutrophication, as occurred in Lake Victoria. To avoid this problem, the consequences of changing land-use and water-resource demands in the catchment need evaluation.

The UNU/INWEH model will predict nutrient and sediment inputs, pollutant dispersal, phytoplankton growth and future rates of eutrophication. Training will be provided to the staff of national organizations in each of the three riparian countries, where versions of the model will be installed. Much of the training will be provided to graduate students, who will return to their home agencies, both to use the model and to train others.

UNU's International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU/INWEH) was created by the UN University Governing Council in 1996, with core funding provided by the Government of Canada, to strengthen water management capacity (particularly of developing countries) and provide on-the-ground project support. UNU/INWEH is headquartered at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

For more information about UNU/INWEH's mission and projects, see the Website at

UNU/INWEH begins work in Asia

Arsenic contamination of groundwater has reached crisis levels in Bangladesh and parts of India. The World Bank has provided large-scale remediation funding, while the UN is developing a system-wide Plan of Action to assist. As UNU's contribution, UNU/INWEH joined with the UNU Center in Tokyo to initiate an on-site research and development project in Bangladesh on both in-situ and pumped-water arsenic treatment technologies. Funding is being provided to the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), which will contribute in-kind expertise and facilities.

A joint effort has also been initiated by UNU/INWEH and the UNU Center with the National Water Research Institute of Canada on impacts of endocrine-disrupting toxic chemicals in East Asian marine ecosystems.

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