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USask water security exchange program aims to improve life for West African women

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A research team from the University of Saskatchewan has secured funding for a new water security and scholar exchange project that endeavours to help West African women and girls hit hardest by climate change.

Project leader Sabine Liebenehm, assistant professor in USask’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources, says that erratic rains, longer dry seasons, and  an ever-expanding Sahara desert have impacted water availability for domestic use and agriculture production for Ghana and Senegal, where women are mostly designated for such work.

Improving water security could help food security overall and diversify income opportunities for women by enabling them to sell excess vegetables and improve their bargaining power within the household, explained Liebenehm.

“When rural agriculture livelihoods are affected, it increases domestic tension and pressure, especially on young women, to migrate to the cities where they are often exposed to labour exploitation and violence,” Liebenehm said in a statement to media. “In this context, we want to improve the research capacity locally and globally related to water security and gender equity. If we can improve these interlinkages, we can contribute to sustainable water and wastewater management, improve water safety, sanitation and family health,” she added.

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The three-year exchange program is geared towards enhancing research capacity on the “nexus of hydrology, health and gender studies, and socioeconomics” through $289,000 in funding from the Queen Elizabeth Scholars Advanced Scholar program.

Of the scholars chosen, 60% of those under the exchange program will be women, and 30% will be francophone. The program will mentor and develop professional and research skills for PhD students, post-doctoral fellows and early career researchers.

Partner universities are the University for Development Studies, University of Ghana, and Université de Thiès in Senegal.

The exchange scholars will participate in community engagement activities and gain experience with non-academic policy and industry decision makers. Environment and Climate Change Canada, the North Saskatchewan River Basin Council, and Fertilizer Canada are collaborating, along with the West and Central African Council for Agriculture Research and Development.

Liebenehm’s USask team members are: Pat Lloyd-Smith, assistant professor in agricultural and resource economics; Corinne Schuster-Wallace, associate professor in geography and planning; and Andrew Ireson, member of the Global Institute for Water Security as well as an associate professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability, and in the College of Engineering.

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