Sustainable Water Futures

Full Title

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


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 freshwater ecosystem 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 an abundance 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 of sustainable 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.

Project Type
Team Synthesis Project
Principal Investigators
Charles Vörösmarty, The City College of New York
Rose Osinde Alabaster, WaterLex International Secretariat
Peter Alele, Conservation International
Casey Brown, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Randall Brummett, World Bank
Pamela Collins, Conservation International
James Dalton, IUCN Water
Chris Dickens, IWMI
Lucy Emerton, Environmental Management Group
Marianela Fader, Institut Méditerranéen de Biodiversité et d'Ecologie Marine et Continentale (IMBE)
Pamela Green, City University New York
Ian Harrison, Conservation International
Simon Linke, Griffith University
Stanley Liphadzi, Southern African Water Research Commission
Abigail Lynch, USGS
Guillermo Mendoza, US Army Corps of Engineers
Faith Mitheu, SERVIR
Mark Mulligan, Kings College London
Jeanne Nel, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
LeRoy Poff, Colorado State University
Roger Sayre, USGS
Katherine Snyder, University of Arizona