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Making Serious Water Security Issues More Fun: Developing an ECO Game for Cambodia’s Stung Chinit Basin

The Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP) is excited to launch the ECO Game: Water Security. Part of Winrock International’s ECO Game Suite, this game is a hands-on water security education and planning tool that helps stakeholders examine the intersections of natural resource management, community development, and uncertainty. It is tailored to Cambodia’s Stung Chinit Basin, which faces climate change, rapid changes in land use, and the unsustainable management of water resources, leading to declining water quality and availability.

Imagine you are a rural farmer, trying to make ends meet while also facing the threats of climate change, water pollution, and ever-increasing water scarcity. You must make decisions, both short and long-term, that affect the health of your family, your community, and your environment. Although something may appear to be a good choice now, down the line it could be devastating, making you more vulnerable to a flood, a disease outbreak, a financial crisis, or so much more. This is exactly what the ECO Game: Water Security asks players to do: use the information at hand and experience to make various community-level decisions that will improve the community’s water security now and in the future.

The ECO Game: Water Security is part of Winrock International’s ECO Game Suite, building on the Northern Ghana and Ghana Deforestation-Free Cocoa ECO Games developed in 2018 and 2019. The ECO Games are a set of “serious games” that provide a unique and hands-on learning experience, allowing participants to have fun while also learning about challenging feedback loops and interactive processes. “Serious games” intend to promote learning and behavioral change alongside entertainment. In ECO Games, players improve their decision-making skills and deepen their understanding of how natural resource management connects to resilience, health, and livelihoods. The target audience is broad, allowing anyone to be a player regardless of their background knowledge on the subject. These games aim to improve long-term community well-being by facilitating stakeholder participation in decision-making and increasing environmental and climate literacy.

Figure 1: Stung Chinit Basin, Cambodia

In 2017, SWP began working with local communities in the Stung Chinit basin in Cambodia (Figure 1) to build resilience to water-related risks through improved planning and implementation of sustainable water practices. The Stung Chinit Basin is currently experiencing rapid population growth, deforestation, industrial and agricultural pollution, and high vulnerability to climate change. Agriculture is the dominant source of income for the basin’s population, especially rice, which accounts for around 80 percent of agriculture in the area. The ECO Game: Water Security is tailored to water security risks and needs in the Stung Chinit Basin, simulating experiences that these rural farming communities might face in ways they can quickly understand and relate to.

Players organize into teams, each representing a local community, and are assigned their location in the watershed, upstream or downstream. The goal for each team is to maximize their income through natural resource management decisions while maintaining robust water security. Players must balance investments in different agriculture or forestry land uses (Figure 2) alongside water security improvement activities such as sanitation, water storage, community water points, green infrastructure, or flood protection (Figure 3). Meanwhile, each round the teams are subject to both basin-wide and location specific (upstream/downstream) water security risks, all of which were directly taken from experiences in the Stung Chinit Basin. Over several rounds, players grapple with the impacts of natural disasters and other stressors, such as a global pandemic, water contamination from livestock, an upstream dam changing water flow, or a government policy impacting irrigation norms.

Figure 2: Examples of ECO Game: Water Security land use cards. During the game, players have the option to change any of their community’s four plots of land for a unique one-time cost (paid in cash tokens) per plot. Each round, the player earns cash tokens (annual income) from the yields of the plots, based on land use. Land uses also positively or negatively impact water tokens, depending on the type and its location with respect to the river on the game board.

Figure 3: Examples of ECO Game: Water Security water security activity cards. Each generates water token benefits which players receive the round of purchase and in following rounds and give players resilience points(in categories of flood, drought, and water-borne disease) to protect players against disasters. Water security activity cards also are associated with a one-time cost in cash tokens.

The game is a valuable resource that can be used to build capacity of decision makers, such as Commune Councils or the River Basin Management Committees. These tools help players understand the crucial need to balance ecosystem needs with health and livelihoods, all through something as simple as a game.

ECO Game: Water Security Resources:

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Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP)

The Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP) is a five-year, Leader with Associates cooperative agreement that supported U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) thought leadership, innovation and action in global water security. SWP was implemented by Winrock International and its partners Tetra Tech, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Resources […]