Voicing water visions

The theme for World Water Day 2019 was ‘Leaving no one behind’. World Water Week, in August, was dedicated to ‘Water for society - Including all’. Bridging the two events, digital innovations played a central part in IWMI’s Voicing Water Visions project.

Four communities, directly affected by issues related to water governance and sustainability, were able to share their stories with the world beyond their experience, including policy-makers, whose decisions can have tremendous impacts on their lives.

People thrive on telling stories; digital innovations – such as smartphones – provide new opportunities to document and share our lived experiences. Through a variety of participatory activities designed to build confidence and capacity, we sought to support participants in telling their stories using their own images and words. The aim was to also connect their stories with appropriate audiences, from the Voicing Water Visions website to meetings with policy-makers.

In Western Nepal, construction of a dam on the Karnali River was approved in 2008. Although no work has begun yet, two people from each of the three villages closest to the dam site – Ramaghat, Daba and Asaraghat – shared their concerns. Just downstream of the dam, fishing is the only source of income for people who are members of the most disadvantaged caste in Nepal. Construction of the dam will put an end to fishing and have an impact on the livelihoods of these people. However, they have not been invited to any of the planning meetings, which could be because they do not have an official title to the land they live on. Villages upstream of the dam have additional concerns about losing land and displacement. In each case, participatory photos enabled them to put those concerns in front of policy-makers, media, practitioners and civil society representatives at IWMI’s Digo Jal Bikas project dissemination workshop.

In Ghana, two young men from the Upper East region shared some of their coping strategies during the dry season. One man lives in a village that has access to water for irrigation. He said that the dry-season harvests help all the families to survive. Vegetable sales pay for additional food for his family and school supplies for his younger siblings. His ambition is to attend agricultural college and return to help the community to improve the way they farm. The other man lives in a village without access to water for irrigation and explained how he wanted to get into dry-season farming to become more resilient, in addition to building up his own small herd of cows.

In South Africa, two communities – Ga-Moela and Tshakhuma – made videos about their experiences with the Multiple-Use water Services (MUS) project, designed to amplify community voices in efforts made by municipalities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to supply water to people. Ga-Moela’s tracked the stages of the participatory design and construction of new storage and piping, which brings water to the community. Tshakhuma’s videos showed how they constructed their own water supply system to include the entire community of 12,000 residents. As in Nepal, the videos were shown to government officials, international donors, researchers and NGOs in South Africa. They were able to see how the MUS process connects municipalities to their communities, holding the former accountable and backstopping the latter to facilitate good governance and sustainable water use.

Laos provides a final example, concentrating on the Laos-China railway that runs more than 400 kilometers through the heart of the country. Although it promises better transport and economic opportunities, construction of the railroad is taking land and polluting water supplies. Families in Nasang village used photos to explain how polluted water hurts their skin, poisons their poultry and reduces crop yields. When agricultural land is taken for the railroad, some families can no longer grow a surplus to sell. Also, the compensation they receive may not be able to guarantee their food security. However, their stories also convey hope for a better future, with opportunities for education and trade, access to electricity and, eventually, clean water.

Participatory media is just one of many opportunities – for research, storytelling, participation and collaboration – afforded by digital innovations.


Nepal’s Upper Karnali Hydropower Project was conducted through the Digo Jal Bikas project with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

IWMI’s research on Bhungroo Irrigation Technology in the Upper East region of Ghana was conducted in collaboration with the Conservation Alliance, with funding from USAID. It forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), and is supported by Funders contributing to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

The MUS project is being implemented by the Water Research Commission, with funding from the African Water Facility of the African Development Bank. Tsogang Water and Sanitation leads the project's facilitation, while IWMI is responsible for its research component.

IWMI’s research on compensation and agricultural land impacts from the Laos-China Railway in Chomphet district, Laos, forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), and is supported by Funders contributing to the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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