Water Journalist Africa, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

2022 was a year of intensifying water risks worldwide; rivers and reservoirs reached historic lows, flooding devastated regions, and droughts caused significant impacts on agriculture.

2023 is already seeing similar warning signs. As the summer months go on, water risks are becoming increasingly prevalent. Several regions across the globe are already experiencing severe heat waves and droughts, and many more are likely to follow in the coming months. These water risks can affect multiple sectors, including agriculture, energy, and public health.

To help journalists stay on top of the latest stories, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and its partners have developed tools that can aid journalists in telling water stories, from predicting where major stories will play out to providing data to help readers understand the impacts. By combining the two tools – the Water Risk Filter highlighting global context and Global Water Watch providing more up-to-date and local information, journalists can identify the countries and regions where water issues occur and access the important data needed to tell these important stories.

Below, we’ve outlined two of these tools.

WWF Water Risk Filter

Overview: WWF’s Water Risk Filter tool is a free, online water risk mapping tool. The tool uses the best available global datasets to enable users to explore and analyze a range of water risks worldwide, including water scarcity, pollution, governance, and socio-economic conditions.

In addition to assessing current water risks, the tool also contains climate and socio-economic pathway-based scenarios to explore how water risks may evolve by 2030 and 2050.

The WWF Water Risk Filter was primarily designed to be used by companies and investors to help them better assess and respond to water-related risks across their operations, supply chain, and investments. Undertaking a robust assessment of the water risks is a critical first step in order to identify priority risks and take strategic actions and investment decisions to address these risks.

The Water Risk Filter has become a leading and trusted tool used by a range of sectors – including development bank British International Investment, Textile Company H&M Group, retailers EDEKA and Migros, food and beverage companies Alpro and Carlsberg, pharmaceutical AstraZeneca, biotechnology company Novozymes, and many more.

While the WWF Water Risk Filter tool is primarily designed to be used by companies and investors, it provides a range of water risk maps and data that can be used to raise awareness and generate powerful insights on various water-related topics. For example, the tool was used:

  • In a study concluding the 100 cities that are expected to suffer the greatest rise in water risk by 2050 are home to at least 350 million people as well as nationally and globally important economies. The study also found that globally, the population from areas of high-water risk could rise from 17% in 2020 to 51% by 2050.
  • In a study to screen existing and projected hydropower projects for a variety of risks at a global scale, focusing on biodiversity risks, hydrological risks (water scarcity and flooding), and how those hydrological risks may shift with climate change, based on three scenarios. The study found that approximately 26% of existing hydropower dams and 23% of projected dams are within river basins that currently have medium to very high risk of water scarcity; 32% and 20% of the existing and projected dams, respectively, are projected to have increased risk by 2050 due to climate change.

Harnessing the tool for journalists

Journalists can use the tool in a variety of ways:

  • Identifying water risks: The Water Risk Filter provides a variety of water risk maps to help understand current and future water risks worldwide, Journalists can use the tool to identify areas facing significant water risks such as water scarcity, pollution, or inadequate governance. This information can serve as a starting point for investigating the causes and impacts of these risks and generating stories that highlight the challenges faced by communities, industries, or ecosystems.
  • Maps of Current Water Risk: Journalists can explore and zoom into interactive maps of current water risks across the world;
  • Maps of Future Water Risk Scenarios: The Water Risk Filter provides a variety of scenarios for 2030 and 2050 so journalists can explore and zoom into interactive maps of how water risks may evolve.
  • Map Gallery: Journalists can download higher-resolution images of water risk maps to include in their articles.

Sector-specific analysis: By leveraging the Water Risk Filter’s risk data along with sector-specific asset-level data, WWF has conducted bespoke analysis on how different sectors are exposed to water risks. Journalists can make use of the findings from these WWF studies and investigate deeper to understand how specific industries are impacted by water-related risks and investigate their practices, vulnerabilities, or resilience measures. Otherwise, journalists can also conduct new bespoke sector-specific analysis.

  • Textile sector analysis – see WWF report here
  • Hydropower sector analysis – see WWF publication here
  • Information and Communications Technology sector analysis – see WWF report here
  • Agriculture sector analysis – see WWF report here
  • Mining sector analysis– see WWF report here

Question companies: Journalists can ask companies why they are not assessing their water risks when there is a free, trusted, user-friendly tool available – and water risks are worsening.

The Water Risk Filter means that companies have no excuses. They can – and should be – assessing their water risks (particularly in high-risk basins), so if they’re not, why not?

Global Water Watch

Overview: A second and brand new tool which WWF has helped to build is Global Water Watch (GWW). Supported by Google and the Water, Peace, and Security Partnership, GWW is a data platform of free, globally accessible near-real-time information on water. Developed between Deltares, World Resources Institute (WRI), and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it houses information on over 70,000 global reservoirs and major river systems, derived using satellite data, machine learning, and cloud computing, helping democratize water data and enable decision-makers to respond to extreme weather events and manage the growing risks of climate change.

The potential applications of this information are manifold. First, Global Water Watch will help national and subnational governments manage water resources more sustainably, efficiently, and equitably. Second, because the information is in the public domain, it will hold governments accountable for proper stewardship of precious water resources and shine a light on water resource conditions in upstream states and nations who may be reluctant to share data with downstream neighbors. Third, the high-resolution and near-real-time data within this new tool will help decision-makers respond quickly and effectively to extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, which are occurring with greater frequency and intensity due to climate change.

Harnessing the tool for journalists:

For journalists, the tool can be useful in a variety of ways:

  • Data-driven reporting: Global Water Watch provides real-time data that journalists can utilize to support their reporting on water-related events such as droughts or floods and provide accurate and up-to-date information to their audience. Available data includes:
  • Real-time reservoirs levels around the world;
  • Up-to-date mapping of reservoir level anomalies;
  • Long-term timelines and trends of reservoir levels;
  • Comparative satellite images.
  • Investigative reporting: Journalists can use Global Water Watch to investigate and analyze long-term trends and real-time anomalies in water availability. They can identify patterns, which can lead to in-depth investigative reports that shed light on water management practices, policies, or environmental and human impacts.
  • Contextualizing local stories: Global Water Watch covers a wide range of river basins worldwide. Journalists can use the tool to contextualize local stories by comparing water availability in their region with that of other basins. This can help provide a broader perspective on the issue at hand, draw parallels, or identify unique challenges faced by a particular area. It can facilitate cross-border reporting by examining shared water resources or transboundary water management issues.
  • Early warning and disaster reporting: Global Water Watch’s real-time data and monitoring capabilities can assist journalists in reporting on potential water-related disasters or emergencies. By closely monitoring changes in water levels, journalists can highlight preparedness measures or report on the impacts of such events on ecosystems, infrastructure, or livelihoods.

Overall, Global Water Watch offers journalists a valuable tool to access reliable, up-to-date data on water availability. By incorporating this information into their reporting, journalists can provide accurate, evidence-based stories that increase public awareness, drive policy discussions, and promote sustainable water management practices.

As an example, for journalists interested in reservoir levels in Spain and Portugal heading into the summer, the tool can identify reservoirs (and regions of reservoirs) that are experiencing anomalous levels. The surface level over time can be seen (with full datasets available for download), and the historical highs and lows can be identified. Looking at specific reservoirs, you can see that the current level is equal to the typical level seen in the autumn when it should currently be at its peak.

Additionally, using the tool, you can see that the main reservoir for the capital of Uruguay, Canelon Grande reservoir near Montevideo, is experiencing dramatic lows – an event that would have far-reaching social, economic, political, and environmental consequences. The tool can provide you with comparative satellite images as well as a timeline of reservoir levels since 1986 in order to tell data-driven stories.

Why are water stories important right now?

Water issues aren’t going away. The frequency of water scarcity issues and severe droughts is increasing in many parts of the world, and raising awareness and support for water conservation and sustainable management is more important than ever. The intersection of climate change and water stress demands urgent reporting to convey the need for climate mitigation and adaptation, as well as resilient water infrastructure and nature-based solutions.

Water issues also have significant implications for industrial sectors, especially agriculture and energy. Water scarcity and pollution can directly affect agricultural production by reducing the availability of irrigation water and compromising crop yields. Droughts and reduced water availability can lead to crop failures, increased vulnerability of livestock, and diminished agricultural productivity. In the energy sector, water scarcity can have implications for hydropower generation, which relies on sufficient water flow for turbines. Additionally, thermoelectric power plants, which require large amounts of water for cooling purposes, may face operational challenges during periods of water scarcity. This emphasizes the need for integrated water management approaches that consider the competing demands of these sectors and strive for sustainable solutions to ensure food security and reliable energy supply.

It’s also important to understand the ecological impacts of water issues, such as habitat loss and biodiversity decline, which will have significant effects on not only ecosystems but also the communities and industries that rely on them. Ecosystems that rely on ample healthy water sources, such as rivers, wetlands, and lakes, can experience degradation or complete collapse. This loss of biodiversity can disrupt food chains, diminish ecosystem resilience, and ultimately result in the loss of important species and ecological functions. Reduced water flow can also disrupt the natural sediment transport in rivers, leading to erosion and disruptions in fish migration.

These impacts not only pose threats to the health and functioning of ecosystems themselves but also have implications for human well-being. Reporting on water issues can shed light on public health concerns, including access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, and the disproportionate impact on marginalized communities.

Journalists play a vital role in informing the public, inspiring action, and advocating for sustainable water practices and policies that prioritize conserving water resources and habitats for both people and nature.

How do multimedia journalists feel about these tools?

“It is an interesting time to be a journalist. People out there are innovating daily to develop tools to ease access to information, analysis, and information presentation for journalists,” observes Cliff Abenaitwe, a Ugandan multimedia journalist, commenting on the new Water Risk Filter tool and the Global Water Watch tool. 

He observes that the tools are easy to use, with much information presented in an easy, simple-to-understand format. 

Journalists play a vital role in informing the public, inspiring action, and advocating for sustainable water practice.

Fred Turyakira, a journalist with Uganda’s New Vision newspaper, opines that for journalism to thrive in the current fast-paced, global village, such tools are a must-use by members of the fourth estate to provide accurate, evidence-based, contextualized information that impacts society. 

“This is the way to go for every journalist. Journalists must develop at the same rate as technology or be faster than it does,” notes Turyakira. 

George Mhango, a senior Malawian multimedia journalist, says the tools give vital information on various but closely related areas. 

“This is the way to go. There is no option. These tools are making data more accessible. We are now able to make complex data easier to understand to inform our audiences,”

Aijuka Andrew, a Videographer and manager at InfoNile, says these tools will enable him to contextualize local stories better and do better early warning and disaster reporting.” 

With such tools, Shoks Mnisi Mzolo, a South African freelance journalist, believes journalists “no longer have any excuse for not giving their audiences the best content,” notes Shoks.

Water Journalists Africa

Water Journalists Africa (WJA) is the largest network of journalists reporting on water in the African continent. It brings together some 700 journalists from 50 African countries. It was established in...

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