Climate change, urban sprawl, population growth and water quality degradation mean that the planet is facing new challenges that require lasting and resilient solutions. UNESCO's Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme in Latin America and the Caribbean (IHP-LAC) contributes to research, education and capacity building related to water resources management and works on key aspects of water security in Ibero-America, promoting and supporting hydrological research and supporting the Member States in research and capacity building.
To learn about the landscape of nature-based solutions and ecohydrology in Latin America and the Caribbean, we spoke with John Bowleg, a Professional Engineer and Senior Hydrologist with more than twenty-five years of engineering and environmental experience in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Bowleg has also been involved in a variety of water resources and environmental projects related to groundwater harvesting, reverse osmosis processes, wastewater effluent disposal, drainage, coastal zone management, wetlands and related issues. He is currently engaged in Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), with the aim of utilising groundwater resources as a renewable energy source. He has extensive international experience related to water and sanitation with the Organisation of American States (OAS); the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO); the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO); the International Water Association (IWA); the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; and the Global Water Partnership (GWP).
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we have faced is climate change and its effects. How can nature-based solutions help mitigate its effects?
Faced with increasing climate instability, there is an urgent need to reverse the degradation of water resources and to stop further decline in biodiversity. Biodiversity (like wetlands) and the water resources are inherently linked, and the nature based (ecology) solutions assist to mitigate climate effects. ecohydrology is the sub-discipline of hydrology which focuses on the ecological aspects of the hydrological cycle.
Groundwater also plays an important role in the hydrological field. How do groundwaters contribute to the global hydrological cycle and what impacts do they have on the mitigation and adaptation of human activities on the ecosystem?
Ecohydrology assists the natural hydrological cycle by controlling evapotranspiration, retention, run-off, and bio-filtration. These are merely a few specific areas with climate benefits. The importance of groundwater in the field of hydrology is its natural storage capacity. Groundwater mitigation and adaptation of human activities to the ecosystems are seen in their ability to hydrologically balance the stored groundwater and the water levels within the ecosystem, by the transfer of water between areas, when required.
As coordinator of the IHP-LAC Working Group on Ecohydrology, how does this interdiscipline help the processes of the hydrological cycle?
Ecohydrology is the ‘unification topic’ for the water resources, biodiversity, wetlands, and the coastal zone; in the context of the protection of water and the environment.
A key aspect to achieve water security is by ensuring that the water resources are managed in a holistic manner
Concerning Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), what are the key aspects to achieving water security in the region in relation to climate change? How does this water security relate to nature-based solutions in the region?
In relation to LAC, a key aspect to achieve water security is by ensuring that the water resources are managed in a holistic manner, per IWRM practices. Integrated water resources management (IWRM) promotes the coordinated development of water, land, and all related resources. Water security and nature-based solutions are linked; natural or modified ecosystems both simultaneously provide human well-being and benefits to biodiversity. Water security by definition is achieved by addressing sustainable livelihoods, human well-being, and socioeconomic development.
How do you see the future of water in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)? What challenges do the region face?
The future of water in LAC is severely challenged by climate variation due to the expected changes in weather patterns, precipitation, evapotranspiration, sea level rise, and more frequent and intense storms. Extreme heat and extreme cold conditions are also effects of climate change, that affect the hydrological conditions within the region.
Women also play a critical role in protecting and managing water in many communities. How is this female role integrated into ecohydrology?
Gender mainstreaming in both Ecohydrology and the water sector has numerous benefits and is considered from the design stage through the implementation of all water policies and practices. Benefits of the role of females is seen in improved economic sustainability, economic efficiency, and is required for social equity and the balanced way of water governance. IWRM Policy ensures that the water and the related resources are managed in a fair and balanced method. Water and the ecological resources are definitely affected by all and should be influenced/managed by all.
Finally, after the COVID-19 pandemic, priorities at the global level have been transformed. What do you think are the main challenges in the international water and climate panorama?
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, the main challenge in the international water and climate panorama is to ensure that Countries remain focused and committed to achieving the individual Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many economies have been adversely affected, and the keen focus on the reestablishment of economic conditions must not adversely affect the sustainable management of the environment.