As the era of the Anthropocene unfolds, and climate/environmental change (CEC) becomes more of a concern, there is also a large and persistent gap between what is known about the future of the planet’s health and what the global health community is presently doing about it. Water insecurity is a central driver of many food security and health inequities related to CEC. Not only does CEC affect the availability of fresh and clean water (e.g. through droughts or floods leading to chemical waste runoff from industrial agriculture), it also exacerbates existing political tensions and power struggles around water security (e.g. due to irrigation schemes moving water away from poorer to richer farmers, or the activities of transnational corporations, or the fracking industry). In fact, unlike food systems which are extremely complex and impacted by several heterogeneous factors, water can be more clearly linked to power as the central issue affecting availability and access. Therefore, we hypothesize that water sovereignty can provide a means of achieving water sustainability and security, through the strengthening of local rights and control over the supply and use of water, while protecting biodiversity, and local economies. To explore this hypothesis, we are conducting a review to determine the state of knowledge with respect to water sovereignty and its demonstrated or perceived potential for promoting water security and sustainability; and thus improved health equity across local and global scales and for future generations. Despite the perceived benefits of water sovereignty, there is a lack of knowledge or guidance in terms of how to achieve this within political systems that are dominated by globalized corporatist or macro-development interests.
Background: Global environmental change is projected to negatively impact food security and increase undernutrition. In the Mekong basin, the depletion of fish stocks, diversion of freshwater for energy production, and threats to biodiversity particularly jeopardize the livelihoods and food access of rural households dependent on integrated rice production and fishing. Community Fish Refuges represent an innovative strategy designed to increase fish production and support food access in the face of these environmental changes. Community Fish Refuges are community-managed natural areas that are enhanced to provide improved fish habitat and governed to monitor water use and prevent illegal fishing. Enmeshed in rice field fisheries, refuges provide a buffer against variable rainfall and Mekong water flow by contributing a new source of fish.
Methods: WorldFish Cambodia supported 40 Community Fish Refuges purposively selected in Siem Reap, Pursat, Battambang, and Kampong Thom provinces. The water quality, biodiversity and biomass of fish and other aquatic animals in each refuge were monitored every 3 months over 3 years. Management committee actions were recorded and quality was assessed annually. Using fixed-effect panel regression models we analyze the effects of inter-annual environmental change, community governance, and biophysical modifications on Community Fish Refuge fish biomass and biodiversity.
Findings: Preliminary results suggest seasonal and inter-annual effects of flooding have strong effects on fish biodiversity and biomass. Further, the characteristics of individual fish refuges substantially shape the quantity and types of fish.
Interpretation: Our results suggest that Community Fish Refuges are a promising strategy to increase the availability of fish amid a changing environment. Moreover, the biomass and biodiversity of fish provided by refuges will play an important role in shaping the income, fish consumption, and food security of local households (analyses in progress). In assessing a strategy to buffer the effects of environmental change on food security and nutrition, our research addresses a pressing need to combat and reverse the negative impacts of environmental changes on planetary health through improved resource governance.