Sustainable Resources Management Requires Integrated Monitoring

  • 2015/10/28     Dresden, Germany

    United Nations Institute for Integrated Management of Material Fluxes and Resources (UNU-FLORES) and the Technische Universtität Dresden (TU Dresden) hosted the sixth joint lecture in the Nexus Seminar Series on 19 October 2015. UNU-FLORES welcomed students, faculty and members of the interested public, to the institute’s new conference facilities within the Dresden World Trade Centre. Dr Stephan Hülsmann, Academic Officer for Systems and Flux Analysis Considering Global Change Assessment of UNU-FLORES, gave a lecture entitled Sustainable Resources Management Requires Integrated Monitoring.

    Effective and sustainable management of environmental resources, such as water, soil and waste relies on reliable data about resources quantity and quality. Therefore, efficient and systematic monitoring strategies and systems providing reliable data form the base for successful resources management and for addressing vital research questions on the issue. Hülsmann’s presentation built on the last Nexus Seminar in July 2015, which emphasized the importance of modelling tools for integrated resources management. He highlighted the importance of data in each phase of the “modelling cycle” from model development to model application, particularly for parameterization, calibration, and validation of models. Whether or not involving models, visualization of monitoring data is essential to detect trends and patterns for answering research questions and triggering management interventions. The latter might be based on decision support tools that combine monitoring data with modelling and scenario analysis.

    UNU-FLORES Academic Officer Stephan Hülsmann giving a Nexus Seminar (Image: UNU-FLORES)

    UNU-FLORES Academic Officer Stephan Hülsmann giving a Nexus Seminar (Image: Claudia Matthias/UNU-FLORES)

    Dealing with interrelated resources implies that monitoring has to include many variables (meteorological, hydrological, soil- and land-use related, waste-related) which should be collected in a coherent and coordinated manner with respect to spatial coverage and resolution as well as temporal resolution. The required monitoring data rely largely upon on-the-ground measurements, complemented increasingly by remote sensing and modelling technologies. Increasingly, also opportunities of Citizen Science approaches and the use of crowdsourced data is being explored. These new opportunities do not, however, offset the need for ground-based data, but can only be fully exploited if developed complementarily (e.g., for ground truthing and model development).

    In fact, the availability of reliable data, provided by field and monitoring stations, is an issue of global concern, but differs strongly among regions. Hülsmann elaborated on the availability of data and its geographical variability for different types of data required. Various international programmes by WMO or the International Hydrological Programme of UNESCO as well as international projects exist providing water-related data. However, spatial coverage as well as the length and resolution of time series vary enormously between countries and regions. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular suffers from data scarcity while at the same time facing immense and increasing challenges in water supply, soil degradation and waste management. Besides the mere availability of data, reporting this data to international programmes may not take place due to limited capacities and resources or political resistance.

    Prof. Joseph Alcamo, ExecutiveDirector of the Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR), University of Kassel (Image: UNU-FLORES

    Prof. Joseph Alcamo, Executive Director of the
    Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR),
    University of Kassel

    (Image: Claudia Matthias/UNU-FLORES)

    While addressing data scarcity related to water quality, the floor was given to a special guest of the Seminar, Prof. Joseph Alcamo, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Systems Research (CESR), University of Kassel. Prof. Alcamo briefly explained key results of the World Water Quality Assessment (WWQA) study. CESR was one of the lead institutions on this project, which was the first global water quality assessment since the 1980ies. Results from this pre-study confirmed that the amount of wastewater is increasing. This is mainly taking place in developing countries due to a number of factors: increasing population, particularly in cities, and/or increasing coverage of water provisioning infrastructure, without simulteanous provision of wastewater infrastructure . This leads to increasing pollution in surface waters. Partly, contamination is so high that even the usage for washing, irrigation and many other things, which allow people to come into contact with water without drinking it, impose serious health risks. Also inland fisheries, an important source of income and food, are at risk because fish are contaminated or lakes and rivers may become even fully unsuitable for fish production. So far, results of WWQA largely rely on modelling results since data from monitoring programmes are hardly available – emphasizing the main message of Hülsmann’s seminar, the need for strengthening monitoring programmes.

    Taking up the points raised by Prof. Alcamo, Hülsmann stressed the relevance of monitoring of environmental resources for the implementation of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Several of the 17 SDGs are directly related to managing water (SDG 6), soil (SDG 2: food production, SDG 15: terrestrial ecosystems) and waste (SDG 11: resilient and sustainable cities, SDG 12: sustainable consumption). For each SDG several targets have been defined; some being already rather specific, others being more general. The current task is to work out the details of the required monitoring programmes to be able to quantify any advance in achieving single targets and SDGs. This is an important part of UNU-FLORES’s current work. Hülsmann briefly introduced several ongoing/starting projects and initiatives of UNU-FLORES addressing data scarcity. One of these, aiming to link data and knowledge from own research as well as from partner organizations and providing the overall framework for data management, analysis and consolidation is the Nexus Observatory, intended to act as a general platform for knowledge transfer and evidence-based decision making with respect to managing water, soil and waste.

    Image: UNU-FLORES

    Image: Claudia Matthias/UNU-FLORES

    The seventh lecture of the Nexus Seminar Series will take place on 16 November 2015 at 16:40 at TU Dresden Seminar Room CHE/183. Prof. Dr. Peter Krebs, Speaker of the Department of Hydrosciences at TU Dresden, will talk about From Sanitation to Urban Water Resource Management.