Human activities are exerting pressure on the environment with consequences such as global climate change, disruption of the hydrological cycle and impacts on water catchments. In addition, demand for energy and food – water intensive activities – is increasing with population growth. An improved knowledge of water resources and related risks is essential in order to optimize the allocation of water for various uses.
Towards this objective, the French Development Agency has been working closely with transboundary basin bodies on the management of hydrological information for years. Programmes of the WMO Hydrological Cycle Observing System (HYCOS) have benefited from this close cooperation, namely in the basins of Niger (with the Niger Basin Authority - NBA), Congo (with the international Congo – Oubangui – Sangha Commission – CICOS) and Mékong (with the Mekong River Commission).
The use of water for the production of hydroelectric power still has great potential in many equatorial rivers, including the Congo River. There is similar potential for agricultural production, for instance, in the Senegal and Niger basins. However, investments in crucial infrastructure and equipment to meet these needs fall short if they are not based on reliable hydrological information and on models, the quality of which depend on data series accumulated over time. Knowledge of hydrological regimes is a linchpin of integrated water resources management and the foundation of any climate adaptation policy.
For donors like the French Development Agency such information is essential for the design and adequate implementation of any water-related project, whether it concerns irrigation, drinking-water supply, sanitation, hydroelectric power, or flood control. Knowledge of hydrological regimes is thus essential for any project to meet the Agency’s climate adaptation criterion – one of the Agency’s objectives is that 100% of its contributions are compliant with the Paris climate agreement. Such knowledge also ensures the sustainable use of water resources, and that environmental reserve flows are maintained.
Unfortunately, hydrometric stations in many river basins worldwide are in a state of neglect as the authorities responsible for their exploitation and maintenance lack resources. Activities within the framework of the HYCOS programmes have to overcome considerable obstacles. Some pertain to having stations scattered over vast territories, others to the increasing scarcity of the required skills to set up stream gauging, which is not done frequently enough, and still others to the need to optimize tools to provide reliable measurements of water height and the regular transmission of this data.
Further, the division of tasks and the allocation of financial and human resources between transboundary institutions and national hydrological services need to be improved. This is necessary to optimize data collection, transmission, processing and integration in models for the statistical description of regimes, forecasting, design and management of infrastructure for regulating and sharing water resources.
Outlook for implementing technological innovation
The last session of the WMO Commission for Hydrology placed its World Hydrological Cycle Observing System (WHYCOS) within the framework of the Global Hydrometry Support Facility (HydroHub), while the WHYCOS International Advisory Group became part of the HydroHub Advisory Council. These developments within WMO have a technological innovation component that should allow WHYCOS to assist hydrological services in the field with simple but robust technologies. Such technologies should be complemented by information provided by satellite observation systems, including detailed altimetry measurements. Applications of these data, tested in the projects supported by the Agency in the Congo River basin, are very promising.
“People manage well only what they know well.” This saying implies that long-term commitment and adequate means and competencies are essential. These can be strengthened through public-private partnerships and by providing access to recognized experts and utilities familiar with the management of measuring networks and modelling tools. The challenge is to wholly manage technical requirements and innovations, and to ensure the accuracy of hydrological information systems for applications that can assure their sustainability by the collection of fees for services provided.
Technical and institutional solutions already exist and must be adapted to each context. The joint efforts of WMO and its partners within HydroHub will contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that we are all committed to achieve, particularly those concerning integrated water resources management at all levels, including transboundary (SDG 6.5), and a rational use of water resources (SDG 6.4).
 Outcome of the 21 Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)