Prince Sultan Prize recognizes Prof. Wheater’s 25 years of hydrological endeavour
Integrated and sustainable management of water resources requires two main capabilities:
• appropriate scientific understanding of the hydrology that determines the availability of surface and groundwater resources; and
• use of appropriate modelling tools to support assessment of water resource sustainability and the development and evaluation of strategies for integrated management.
The ability to manage water resources effectively in arid and semi-arid areas has been severely limited by poor knowledge and understanding of the special hydrological characteristics of these areas, and the lack of modelling tools to represent these special characteristics adequately.
One man’s work to remedy these deficiencies has won him the Prince Sultan International Water Prize for 2004-6. Professor Howard Wheater is Professor of Hydrology at Imperial College in London, UK, and has been working for 25 years to improve the understanding of the hydrology of these areas.
Water resources modelling
Professor Wheater has sought to develop suitable modelling tools for management, to apply these in practice for improved water resources management, and to disseminate state-of-the-art information to students and practitioners. This has particular application in arid and semi-arid areas, which brought him particular favour with the Prince Sultan Prize, which rewards research to improve water resources in these regions (see panel).
His latest endeavour, in June 2007, was to organise an International Workshop on Groundwater Modelling for Arid and Semi-Arid Areas in Lanzhou, China. The Lanzhou workshop brings together the world’s leading experts and an invited set of participants from the world’s arid regions, to provide information on state-of-the-art groundwater methods and modelling tools, and to provide training material and case studies.
This is part of UNESCO’s international water programme G-WADI, co-chaired by Howard Wheater. The workshop material will
a) be made available through the web and a book,
b) provide the basis for regional training and workshops, and
c) provide the basis for a web-facility to promote the sharing of knowledge and experience.
G-Wadi is a global network for information on water and development for arid lands, the areas globally facing the greatest pressures to deliver and manage freshwater resources. It has been estimated that some 80 countries, constituting 40% of the world’s population were suffering from serious water shortages by the mid 1990s and that in less than 25 years two-thirds of the world’s people will be living in water-stressed countries, most of these in North Africa, the Middle East and West Asia.
Already several countries in the area show a deficit in water budgets, water tables are in decline and prolonged droughts currently affect many countries in semi-arid areas such as Southern Africa, northern China, India, the western coast of South America, and Australia. Other marginal areas such as southern Europe and the Great Plains of the USA also suffer from water stress, overabstraction of groundwater and desertification.
The strategic objective of G-WADI is to strengthen the global capacity to manage the water resources of arid and semi-arid areas. Its primary aim is to build an effective global community through integration of selected existing material from networks, centers, organizations, and individuals who would become members of G-WADI.
The network will promote international and regional cooperation in the arid and semi-arid areas through events such as the international conference on Water, Environment, Energy & Society (WEES) 2007 which will be held during 18-21, December 2007, in Roorkee, India. This follows a Mediterranean region meeting in September 2006 in Tunisia.
However, G-WADI is far from Prof. Wheater’s only interest. He recently returned from Sudan, where he was one of a panel of international experts invited to Khartoum by UNESCO, acting on a request by H.E. President Al Bashir, President of Sudan. His country is now fully using its known water resources, yet has an expanding economy and growing water demand. It also has an important regional role in the management of shared resources.
Sudan is one of 10 countries sharing the Nile’s resources, and shares groundwater resources with 3 countries. The panel worked with local experts to draw up a masterplan for strengthening and development of Sudan’s water infrastructure, information systems and expertise.
Research at Imperial College
At Imperial College, he has two research students, one looking at surface water resources in Oman and the other at issues to do with climate change in Iran.
Aisha Al-Qurashi, Director of Water Resources Assessment for the Sultanate of Sudan, is working for a PhD on rainfall-runoff modelling in arid areas for flood estimation, with a particular focus on data from wadi systems in Northern Oman.
Babak Mirshahi, from Iran, is working on the hydrology of the Binalood mountain range in north-east of Iran. He is using new rainfall modelling methods, developed at Imperial, to investigate climate variability and climate change, and hence to predict the effects on floods and water resources.
The Oman research, particularly, reflects back to some of the first work Prof. Wheater carried out. In 1981, Wheater undertook the first Flood Study of Northern Oman for the government of Oman, responding to a flood emergency. He collated the available data on rainfall and flows, and produced analyses of rainfall depth-duration-frequency relationships that were subsequently used as the basis of hydrological design for the following 15-20 years.
He also introduced, for the first time in the Arab region, the use of distributed, physically-based modelling of rainfall-runoff processes. As part of his work, he designed flood protection for various strategic installations in Oman, including the Royal Palace in Muscat. His paper, published in the Proceedings of the UK Institution of Civil Engineers, won national recognition and was awarded the ICE Overseas Premium.
Professor Wheater later returned to Oman to work on the sustainable and integrated management of water resources in Wadi Ghulaji. Here he developed a pioneering new modelling approach, which:
a) represented the complex spatial structure of rainfall using a specially designed rainfall simulator;
b) represented the spatial complexity of runoff generation using a spatially-distributed rainfall-runoff model; and
c) represented the spatially-distributed contributions to groundwater recharge from rainfall infiltration and the focussed recharge from infiltration of wadi flows.
The model was successfully used to explore the potential of recharge dams in a variety of locations, and the sustainability of yield from alternative climate sequences.
Work around the world
Prof. Wheater has also worked in Saudi Arabia, where he participated in the Five Wadis Representative Basins study in the late 1980s, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Arizona.
He was recently invited by the Government of Chile to assist in the development of a centre for Arid Zone water resources for Latin America and the Caribbean, and was invited by the Japanese government to give a keynote address on water scarcity to the 2003 Kyoto World Water conference. He is currently consultant to the State of Nevada concerning safety assessment for a proposed repository for high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain.
The Prince Sultan Prize
The Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water is intended to reward the efforts undertaken by innovative scholars and scientists as well as related organizations in the realm of water resources worldwide. It has been established to acknowledge the special achievements that have contributed to the development of scientific solutions to solve the problems associated with the provision as well as the preservation of adequate and sustainable water resources, particularly in arid regions.
The current round of the Prize, which will be awarded in 2008, is the third in the series initiated with the patronage of HRH Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz as a humanitarian contribution by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the world and as an initiative that deals with the issue of water considered as one of the basic life elements in human existence.
The awards under the Prize include a major new Creativity Prize worth 1 million Saudi Riyals (SR) or around US$266,000, and a smaller prize of SR 500,000 ($133,000 approx.) in each of four branches of water resources research.