Sustainability

 

Sustainability of a viable water management system that depends on eliminating activities that harm the ecological integrity of the region and the catchment area and the social fabric that allows the system to function, without compromising the historical and cultural values of the built environment.

Long-term continuity (sustainability) of the system also depends on the ability of the system to recover from occasional perturbations (resilience). Resilience, in turn, depends on the ability to monitor and anticipate harmful consequences of certain actions (e.g. falling water table) or otherwise unforeseen events -

(e.g., climate change or new marketing opportunities), the ability to innovate to eliminate harmful developments and improve performance (e.g., use of solar energy, change crops, water recycling).

One of the main themes of the SHADUF project is the exploration of how the study of traditional water management systems can contribute to sustainable development. Sustainability is defined in a variety of ways. We use the term in the SHADUF project to refer to the long-term maintenance of a viable water management system which depends on eliminating activities that harm the ecological integrity of the region and the catchment area and the social fabric that allows the system to function, without compromising the historical and cultural values of the built environment.

  • Long-term continuity (sustainability) of the system also depends on the ability of the system to recover from occasional perturbations (resilience).
  • A resilient system is robust and has built-in mechanisms to override or militate against occasional setbacks.
  • A great deal of resilience depends on the ability to monitor and anticipate harmful consequences of certain actions (e.g. lowering water table) or otherwise unforeseen events (e.g., climate change or new marketing opportunities), the ability to innovate to eliminate harmful developments and improve performance (e.g., use of solar energy, change crops, water recycling).

In addition, traditional water harvesting and management systems are rapidly vanishing due to market economics and shift of economic activities, emigration in response to falling revenues from traditional subsistence systems and developing opportunities for wage earnings elsewhere.

  • This has led to a dramatic disappearance of experts and expert knowledge.
  • The combination of socioeconomic changes and technological developments are thus rapidly undermining the sustainability of human populations in arid and semiarid regions.
  • Short-term benefits requiring high input from non-renewable energy sources, capital financial resources, advanced technology, and extra-local managerial control cannot be sustained indefinitely with the probable consequences of creating uninhabitable areas in many parts of the world.

In the course of the SHADUF Project, Fekri Hassan (CULTNAT), introduced a model based on the dynamic interaction of the ecological and cultural variables that influence water supply and demand. The dynamics of demand and supply depend on external ecological parameters that influence local availability of surface, near surface, and groundwater resources. The cultural variables of water management are considered in terms of (1) water harvesting techniques, (2) water lifting, transport and distribution, (3) water uses, (4) water elimination and drainage, and (4) water treatment.

Investigation of sustainability of using the Shaduf water lifting device in Algeria (Abdelkrim, Benammar, USTO) revealed that oases are declining. This is attributed mostly to a decline in trade as well as agricultural activity (which was in part related to the volume of trade). In addition the oases are threatened by sand invasion, a drop in water table, and salinization. Moreover, manual labor for lifting water from wells and irrigation was provided by a caste of slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa. Since slavery has been abolished it is no longer possible to find cheap labor. Furthermore, there is a loss of well digging ‘know-how’ because oral tradition is disappearing.

Joshka Wessels (SUD TIMMI, Algeria) with Robert Hoogeveen provide a navigation tool to consider some of the variables that influence the sustainability of qanats see also foggara, Khettara in Glossary) in the Mediterranean region (Indicators and strategies for sustainable qanat rehabilitation). The tool is based on her work in Syria, independent of the Shaduf Project (see Joshka Wessels, “Reviving Ancient Water Tunnels in the Desert — Digging for Gold?” Journal of Mountain Science Vol 2 No 4 (2005): 294~305).

On the basis of her fieldwork, prior to the SHADUF Project, with two communities, she concluded that Syrian groundwater shortage is evident from the various research data on water supply and demand. Irrigated agriculture uses most of the water resources in Syria. The introduction of diesel-operated pumps has contributed to the severe drop in groundwater levels. She investigated how traditional groundwater supply techniques and how these techniques can be rehabilitated using participatory approaches. Her study follows a Participatory Action Research approach in which the social and physical possibilities of renovating a qanat at community level are considered.

In her work she found a total of 91 qanats of which 30 were still in active use in 2001, most of them are located in southwest Syria. A pilot renovation was executed at Shallalah Saghirah, a site where the local community is solely dependant on the qanat water supply. Although her work was technically successful, the participatory approach did not succeed in resolving existing differences between community members. On the contrary, the initial emphasis on equality and democracy was counterproductive and created an untenable social situation for the village supervisor

At Qarah, a town where qanats play an important role in the social organization of the farmers’ community. The hierarchical structure of the traditional qanat organization in Qara contributed to the social success of the project. Wessels’ project received financial support from the Netherlands Development Assistance; the United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan; the Dutch, German and Swiss Embassies in Damascus, Syria; and the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Wessels has also produced, on the extensive collection of digital video footage, Joshka Wessels, a television documentary about the pilot qanat renovation for the BBC World Earth Report Series. Her 26-minute programme was broadcast in March 2003 and had a re-run on BBC News24 and BBC One in April 2004. More information can be obtained at www.tve.org/earthreport.

In Italy, Ipogea provides a case study based on the study of the measurements of cisterns to explore possibilities for restoration and sustainability (Sassi of Materia). USTO also provides an assessment of the sustainability of traditional water techniques in Algeria (Algeria-sustainability).