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Water and Biodiversity Resources for Integrating Water and Biodiversity Conservation

Biodiversity Provides Ecosystem Goods and Services That Support Water Sector Programming

Natural ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, and wetlands harvest water, remove chemical and biological contaminants, and store and deliver this water for human use. USAID investments in biodiversity conservation can thus complement and protect investments in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) by increasing the reliability and quality of water flows to human populations. Indeed, recent research has found linkages between higher forest cover and decreased diarrheal disease among children in rural communities. Similarly, by improving the treatment of wastewater and increasing water use efficiency, USAID water programming can reduce pollution of aquatic ecosystems and decrease the amount of water taken from rivers or lakes so as to help maintain aquatic biodiversity. The Water and Sanitation Reference Sheet is an introduction for those interested in biodiversity integration with water and sanitation at USAID.

  • Forests and wetlands provide essential ecosystem services that provide clean water to households and support farms. Kenya depends on five major forest watersheds or “water towers” – Aberdares, Cherangani Hills, Mau Complex, Mt. Elgon, and Mt. Kenya – for most of its water, energy and habitat. These high-elevation forests are the source of water supply to several urban centers and support the livelihoods of millions of people living in the rural areas. The water towers provide an estimated 75 percent of the country’s water resources.
  • In a study of linkages between watershed conditions and diarrheal disease among children in rural areas, researchers found that higher upstream tree cover was associated with lower probability of diarrheal disease among children from rural households living in downstream communities (Herrera, D., Ellis, A., Fisher, B. et al, 2017).
  • Coordinated management of transboundary water resources can support water availability for biodiversity and human health. Kenya and Tanzania developed a historic memorandum of understanding to jointly manage the water resources of the Mara River Basin. The Mara supports a world-famous ecosystem depended on by some 1.2 million people for drinking and irrigation and is of significant economic importance to the region. The river basin is losing water due to factors such as population growth, deforestation, and climate change and variability. The long-term goal of the memorandum is to develop a harmonized water allocation plan to guide the joint management of this transboundary resource in an effort to safeguard water for people and ecosystems.

Increased Water Security

Changes in climate bring variations in the timing and quantity of rain, resulting in water shocks ranging from drought to flooding. Due to their ability to capture and store water, natural ecosystems can balance water delivery and thus increase the resilience of water supply systems.

USAID/Southern Africa’s Resilience in the Limpopo Basin (RESILIM) program reduced the vulnerability of people and ecosystems in South Africa and Mozambique through improved transboundary governance and management of natural resources. The program was grounded in a grassroots approach to understanding the systemic causes of vulnerability, including climate vulnerability, and promoted new ways of thinking and acting to promote integrated water and biodiversity management.

A local fisher in Rakam, Middle Karnali Watershed uses traditional methods to fish in the Karnali River. The USAID/Nepal Paani program has worked with local governments and communities in the river basin to conserve fish and keep aquatic biodiversity intact. Photo by: Sudin Bajracharya for USAID.
Natural ecosystems are a critical source of drinking water supplies, as they can capture, store, and filter rainwater for delivery to human populations.

Resources for USAID Missions, Washington, and Partners

Increased Sustainable Access and Use of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)

Natural ecosystems serve to purify water of both biological and chemical contaminants, and thus reduce water treatment costs and improve water availability for use.

Reports and Evidence

Case Examples

  • The USAID/Dominican Republic’s Climate Adaptation: Climate Risk Reduction activity invested in both developing green buffers to reduce vulnerability to extreme weather as well as small-scale water delivery and treatment systems to reduce communities’ vulnerability to changes in water availability (e.g. drought and flood) and water quality.
  • The Health of People and the Environment in the Lake Victoria Basin (HoPE-LVB) activity worked to address the complex connections between humans, their health, and their environment with integrated activities that improved access to health services and WASH while also helping communities manage natural resources and conserve critical ecosystems.
  • USAID’s Africa Biodiversity Collaborative Group examines the linkages between biodiversity conservation and health, including WASH interventions. In Uganda, a pilot project improved watershed health and increased access to WASH services in 10 villages in the Budongo-Bugoma Forest Corridor. The project’s conservation activities focused on tree planting in riverine forest in coordination with ongoing work to protect chimpanzee habitat.

Photo by: Fundacion Grupo Jaragua for USAID/Dominican Republic.

Improved Water Resource Management and Resilience

Due to their ability to capture and store water, natural ecosystems can balance water delivery and thus increase the resilience of water supply systems.

Reports and Evidence

  • Ecosystem-based Adaptation and Water Security highlights ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approaches that can help people and communities address water insecurity by increasing water quantity, enhancing water quality, and minimizing impacts from extreme weather events.

Case Examples

  • Enhancing Watershed Management: Integrated Water Resources Management in Nepal describes the work of USAID/Nepal’s Program for Aquatic Natural Resources Improvement to enhance water resources management through an integrated approach in 12 priority watersheds.
  • Maintaining Water Security in Critical Water Catchments in Mongolia highlights activities using the EbA approach in a project funded by the United Nations Development Programme and Adaptation Fund. The project helped vulnerable communities in two areas of rural Mongolia adapt to climate change.
  • Biodiversity Integration in Practice: A Case Study of USAID in Western Honduras illustrates the approach and process used by USAID/Honduras to integrate its biodiversity, education, food security and nutrition, and governance sectors, using water and watersheds as a unifying theme.
  • Maintaining Water Security in Peru through Green Infrastructure highlights USAID/Peru’s focus on building local community and government capacity for improved environmental governance and implementing green infrastructure approaches to strengthen ecosystems and stabilize the provision of water.
  • To help conserve the natural environments from which Indonesia’s freshwater supply originates, USAID/Indonesia’s LESTARI program secured protection for more than 24,000 square kilometers of forest through improved natural resource management in Aceh, Central Kalimantan, and Papua Provinces thus improving the availability of water for consumption and sanitation.
  • In Indonesia, the USAID Environmental Services Program worked with stakeholders to improve the management of water resources and expand access to safe water; this includes strategies to strengthen upper watersheds through activities like forest conservation, critical land rehabilitation, and water resource protection.

Photo by: USAID SEA.

Cross-Cutting Resources

The Biodiversity Reference Sheet describes opportunities for integrating biodiversity with other development sectors that exist throughout the USAID portfolio, and can be realized by the coordination of existing programming, co-location of new activities, or planned co-funding. The full biodiversity integration reference sheet series includes resources for health, water and sanitation, food security, and democracy, human rights, and governance.

Integrating Ecosystem Values into Cost-Benefit Analysis: Recommendations for USAID and Practitioners provides recommendations for the incorporation of ecosystem service valuations into Agency cost-benefit analysis (CBA) across sectors, both for USAID staff that produce or use CBAs and for USAID as an institution.

Better Biodiversity Integration Through Geospatial Analysis describes the use of geospatial analysis for integrating biodiversity conservation with other development sectors at USAID.

Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) Sections 118/119 Tropical Forest and Biodiversity Analysis Best Practices Guide includes a scope of work template and an annotated analysis outline to help missions prepare for, manage, and conduct an FAA 118/119 analysis and understand how to use that report to support strategy development.

Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning for Integration. Coming Soon!

USAID Ecosystem-based Adaptation Series Synthesis describes a nature-based method for climate change adaptation that can reduce the vulnerability of people, natural systems, and economies to climate stressors. Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) provides flexible and cost-effective approaches that enhance resilience through the improved management and conservation of ecosystems. EbA can be an effective adaptation strategy alone or as an element of broader national, regional, and community adaptation plans. The synthesis summarizes a full series of EbA evidence summaries and case studies.

Better availability of water for home use is one of the benefits the village of Kailas in Nepal has seen as a result of conservation of the uphill forests. Photo by Jason Houston for USAID, 2017.