“The battle for water” – GRoW researchers in a TV interview with presenter Gert Scobel

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GRoW researchers Prof. Dr. Claudia Pahl-Wostl (Institute for Environmental Systems Research at University of Osnabrück) and Prof. Dr. Harald Kunstmann (Institute for Regional Climate and Hydrology at University of Augsburg), together with Kersten Reich (educationalist and cultural theorist), formed the expert panel in the 3sat programme “scobel” on 26 August 2021. Framed under the theme “the battle for water”, host Gert Scobel asked them about current and future challenges in dealing with water as a resource in the face of intensifying extreme weather events.

The fact that both drought and flood events are increasing and occurring in sequences is not surprising for Claudia Pahl-Wostl, coordinator of the GRoW project STEER, because both events are an expression of the same problem: man-made climate change. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research even predicts that in the next 25 years, seven times as many citizens in Germany will be affected by flooding as today. We must therefore prepare for weather extremes and rethink our water management, says Pahl-Wostl.

Besides the increased frequency of extreme weather events, there are other pressing challenges in the water sector. Most of them are caused by mismanagement. These include the pollution of water resources by industrial wastewater, the contamination of groundwater by pesticides and fertilisers, water-intensive agriculture in water-scarce regions, as well as increasing urbanisation and the associated sealing of land.

What needs to change? Within the frame of his research on the African continent, Harald Kunstmann, coordinator of the GRoW project SaWaM, focuses on closing data gaps. Especially with regard to the spatial and temporal distribution of precipitation, there is a great deal of data uncertainty in many regions of Africa, says the GRoW researcher. Kunstmann sees a further need for action in transboundary water management, especially in conflict-prone border regions. What is needed here is better communication between actors from different countries and sectors, in which (German) science could provide support and reduce tensions as a neutral actor.

Pahl-Wostl also identifies a need for better communication and cooperation in Germany, both between states and between sectors. Her proposal is an integrated landscape management, which sets goals for German landscapes, and offers cooperative, flexible administrative structures to achieve these goals. In this respect, the national water strategy of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) could offer a first holistic, cross-sectoral framework. However, a strong political will is needed to implement this strategy, says Pahl-Wostl. Kunstmann adds that research might proof to be helpful here, too: results from water research should be communicated better and more regularly to the public. This way, in addition to the growing climate awareness, a growing water awareness can be created, putting pressure on decision makers to anchor water more firmly on the political agenda.

The full TV show (in German only) is available here until 26.08.2026.