Alumni Profile

Alumni profile: Anjali Lohani, S.B. ’08

Helping developing nations improve their water management

Growing up in Nepal, Anjali Lohani experienced firsthand the importance of proper water management. Nepal has a “vast amount of water resources,” she said, but still experienced shortages of drinking water and hydro-powered electricity. Because of political unrest in Nepal in the early 2000s, Lohani chose to come to the United States to pursue a college degree.

Anjali Lohani (Credit: Anjali Lohani)

At Harvard, she made water management her academic focus. Lohani, S.B. ’08,  studied environmental science and engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Her senior thesis examined the effects of urban development on water quality in the Piracicaba River basin in Brazil, and soon after she took on her first job as an environmental engineer with the Gradient Corporation in Boston.

“Gradient is an environmental and risk sciences company that, among other services, conducts data analysis of groundwater pollutants to design its remediation, or provide evidence for expert witnesses in environmental litigation cases,” she said. “It provided a fantastic opportunity to apply the S.B. engineering coursework in a consolidated manner.”

Water is still Lohani’s life work, although her focus has shifted to supporting the least developed countries in the world. She’s put her education to use in parts of Africa and South Asia through her work as a water management specialist at the World Bank from 2013-17. In 2017, she joined the Global Water Partnership (GWP), headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden and covering over 70 countries, where she currently works as a senior water and climate resilience specialist.

After 14 years, Lohani has concluded that there can be no universal water management strategies.

“The solutions that are needed in Rwanda might be very different from those needed in Uganda, even though they are in the same basin,” she said. “Water challenges are local. Often, it’s not the technical issue that’s the constraint. It’s usually there not being enough political will to enact the best technical solution, or that such a solution may not be an optimal one from a perspective of equity. People in certain areas might solve a water-management problem so it only benefits the rich and powerful who are making decisions, and not necessarily the poorer and more vulnerable people. In seeking water management solutions, we need to balance three important elements – technical correctness,  political supportability, and administrative feasibility – to implement solutions that are practical and sustainable.”

Lohani’s early years in Nepal drove her thirst to understand this trifecta of water management decision-making. She pursued a Master in Public Administration in International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), getting her graduate degree in 2012 while working as a water resources policy analyst for the Asian Development Bank and then as a transboundary waters research fellow for the Harvard Water Security Initiative.

Lohani’s current work specifically targets nations trying to improve their water management to mitigate potential effects of climate change. With the onset of more frequent and more severe floods and droughts, communities might need additional water storage capacity, improved short- and medium-term hydrological forecasting capabilities,or better scenario-based decision support systems. 

The 2015 Paris Agreement established financing to help developing nations address climate change adaptation challenges like these, and Lohani helps governments access that funding.

A dire United Nations climate change report issued earlier this month warned of the increasing dangers of unchecked carbon emissions, and the need for immediate action to avoid the worst effects of climate change, including heatwaves, water shortages and damaging storms.

“Countries understand that their populations, economies, and ecosystems experience climate change impacts via water – changing rainfall patterns, more extreme flood and drought, rising sea levels, for example,” she said. “Developing countries explicitly prioritize working on water when it comes to adapting to climate change, and over 80 percent of them request international support in terms of finance, technology transfer, and capacity strengthening. Yet less than 10 percent of these countries have concrete strategies, plans, or projects for doing so, which makes it impossible for them to articulate and access the specific support they need. My job at the Global Water Partnership provides me the opportunity to work with governments, communities, and individuals to better understand the water and climate resilience intersections, and support accessing required international climate finance. I learn so much every day; it is extremely rewarding to serve in this way.” 

Alongside her passion for figuring out water management and climate resilience solutions, Lohani enjoys raising and learning from her two kids – Jaya, 7 years, and Jeewan Sattva, 3 months.

“When weighing job opportunities and potential career pathways during my undergraduate and graduate years, both my advisors at SEAS, Peter Rogers and John Briscoe, raised the importance of family and work-life balance,” Lohani said. “I feel grateful and privileged to have been guided by professors that took a holistic view of life and work.” 

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