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Week for a Water Wise World

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri has developed the country’s first National Water Plan to protect Argentine clean water sources like this stream in Mendoza Province in the western central part of the country. (Photo courtesy Mendoza Government Press)

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri has developed the country’s first National Water Plan to protect Argentine clean water sources like this stream in Mendoza Province in the western central part of the country. (Photo courtesy Mendoza Government Press)

By Sunny Lewis

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, August 29, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – Cool, clear, delicious water – there’s no substitute for the one substance on which all life depends. Yet, often there is too little clean water, or too much. These problems, and their solutions, are in the spotlight right now at World Water Week in Stockholm.

Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the theme of this year’s week-long conference, August 27-September 1, is “water and waste: reduce and reuse.”

“World Water Week is a key meeting place for the water and development community; it is here that we come together and make sure that the very best ideas are brought forward,” said SIWI’s Executive Director, Torgny Holmgren.

More than 3,000 participants from 130 countries have come to Stockholm to learn about new research results, share experiences, discuss progress in the implementation of the Global Sustainable Development Goals, and together try to find new ways to meet the world’s growing water challenges.

In his welcoming speech Holmgren said it will be challenging but necessary to change large-scale water consumption patterns.

“The week’s theme, Water and waste: Reduce and reuse, really touches the very core of our daily lives,” said Holmgren. “To reduce, some drastic changes will be necessary – especially by the main water users, including industries, energy producers and the agriculture sector.”

Changes are also needed in how we think about reuse of water, he said. “Rather than presenting us with a problem, we can view waste as an asset also becoming a business opportunity.”

Sweden’s Minister for Environment, Karolina Skog told the audience that sustainable and efficient management of water and wastewater profoundly touches “all aspects of human life; economic growth, sustainable development, sustainable city planning, circular thinking in industry and in production, energy saving, good quality of our water and, last but not least, it is crucial for health and for a sustainable environment.”

This year, an astronaut is among the speakers at World Water Week. Physicist Christer Fuglesang, a Member of the Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science and a European Space Agency astronaut, was first launched aboard the STS-116 Space Shuttle mission on December 10, 2006, making him the first Swedish citizen in space. He has participated in two Space Shuttle missions and five spacewalks, giving him a unique perspective on planet Earth.

Fuglesang described the intricate water reuse systems that are essential to space missions. Water enables food to be grown on board space ships, ensures a drinking water supply for the crew, and helps to inform research into optimized water efficiency on Earth.

Stephen McCaffrey, 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate and a professor in water law, spoke of the need for water cooperation and water diplomacy.

He told World Water Week attendees that although the ingredients for potential water conflicts do exist, such as higher population pressure, climate change, and much of the world’s fresh water being shared by two or more countries, studies show that water sharing is much more likely to lead to cooperation than conflict.

H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, patron of the Stockholm Water Prize, will present the 2017 Prize, which includes a US150,000 award, to Distinguished Professor of Law Stephen McCaffrey, McGeorge School of Law, at the Royal Banquet in Stockholm City Hall on August 30.

Professor McCaffrey was named 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate “for his unparalleled contribution to the evolution and progressive realization of international water law,” the selection committee said. He is the only lawyer ever to receive the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize.

Since 1977, McCaffrey has served on the faculty of the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California. He was Special Rapporteur for the International Law Commission’s work on The Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, 1985-1991.

Professor McCaffrey has been acting as legal counsel to governments in several negotiations concerning international watercourses.

The cases include watercourses in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Although he has experienced first-hand the potential conflicts over freshwater resources, he remains an optimist, pointing to studies that have shown that shared fresh water is generally a catalyst for cooperation rather than conflict.

“I believe nobody who studies, researches or practices in the field of transboundary water management, water law or diplomacy could be unaware of Professor McCaffrey’s contribution to the conceptual and practical elaboration of the many legal concepts and principles that we now take for granted,” said Holmgren.

There’s no doubt that we need all the expertise we can get to keep clean water flowing in the right proportions to everyone in need.

More than two billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people are living in countries with excess water stress, according to a May 2017 report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals –Economic and Social Council.

Water stress means more than 25 percent of total renewable freshwater resources is withdrawn to meet ongoing needs. Northern Africa and Western Asia experience water stress levels above 60 percent, which indicates the strong probability of future water scarcity, Guterres warns in the report.

Flooding is the opposite, but even more serious problem, as the dramatic water rescues in Texas from the catastrophic floods from Hurricane Harvey this week painfully demonstrate.

The connections between water stress, flooding and climate change are among the many issues subject to in-depth review at World Water Week. Some are:

Water and climate: Climate change is to a large extent water change. Water disasters account for more than 90 percent of the natural disasters in the world and climate-driven water hazards, water scarcity and variability pose risks to all economic activity, such as food and energy production, manufacturing and infrastructure development, as well as political stability. This is true for both high and low income countries. Resilience to climate change requires adaptive water management and robust water infrastructure to keep ecosystems healthy.

Water as connector between the SDGs and the Paris Agreement: In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the water and sanitation SDG (Goal 6) links across all the other 16 Goals with a great number of water related targets in the overall Agenda; making water a key underlying factor and entry point for the successful implementation of the entire 2030 Agenda.

Drinking water and sanitation: The global water and sanitation crisis is mainly rooted in poverty, power and inequality, not in physical water scarcity, say World Water Week organizers. “It is, first and foremost, a crisis of governance. Poor resources management, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia, and insufficient capacity lie in many places behind the lack of sustainability of services, which also undermine the arrival of new investments.”

Water security: To manage the global rise in demand for water and to increase water productivity, incentives for using water more effectively are necessary. Water needs to be given its true value for production purposes in the energy, industry and agriculture sectors.

On pricing of water and valuing water: Water needs to be better valued. Some parts of this value can easily be reflected in a price, others cannot. So, water pricing needs to be complemented with laws, standards and an increase in public awareness. World Water Week organizers point to the need to make sure that basic water services are affordable to the poorest people, respecting the human right to water and sanitation

Innovative financing and green bonds: Billions in sustainable and climate smart financing will be needed for both supplying water and treating waste water, but an investment in climate-proof infrastructure today will be offset by a future reduced need for emergency response measures to counter floods and droughts.

Water cooperation: Development needs cooperation. Cooperation over transboundary waters would spur regional development, improve resilience to climate change, and decrease the risk of geopolitical hostility. The political aspects of transboundary cooperation cannot be neglected if real progress is to be made.

Water and migration: Researchers and policymakers are increasingly seeking to explain migration and refugee flows in terms of water scarcity, often perpetuated by climate change. The links between water challenges and climate change increase  uncertainty. While they are not the main causes of large-scale population migration, they are “push factor multipliers” together with social, economic, and political factors.

Water and faith: Water has profound symbolic meaning in many religious and local traditions, yet water stress is acute in many parts of the world where faith is a central aspect of individual and community identity. The role of Faith Based Organizations becomes crucial given their presence and influence in local communities.

Resolving these problems takes skill, cooperation and patience, and also lots of money. In a new report launched today at World Water Week, the World Bank estimates how much it will cost.

“Reaching the Sustainable Development Goal of access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030 will require countries to spend $150 billion per year,” the report states, “a fourfold increase in water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) investments compared to what is spent today. This is out of reach for many countries, threatening progress on poverty eradication.”

The report, “Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals,” suggests that a turnaround in the way countries manage resources and provide key services is required, starting with better targeting to ensure they reach those most in need, and tackling inefficiencies to make sure public services are sustainable and effective.

Guangzhe Chen, senior director of the Water Global Practice of the World Bank, said, “Millions are currently trapped in poverty by poor water supply and sanitation, which contributes to childhood stunting and debilitating diseases such as diarrhea. To give everyone an equal chance at reaching their full potential, more resources, targeted to areas of high vulnerability and low access, are needed to close the gaps and improve poor water and sanitation services. This report provides a roadmap for closing that gap.”

This report provides policymakers with a baseline and guidance on how to better target investments to ensure that basic water and sanitation services reach the poorest communities and households.

A lot depends on whether a person lives in a city or in a rural area. Across the 18 countries studied, 75 percent of people who lack improved sanitation live in rural areas, and only 20 percent of rural inhabitants have access to improved water.

Over two years in the field, the research teams found that:

  • In Nigeria, over 60 percent of the rural population live more than 30 minutes away from a working water source.
  • In Indonesia, only 5 percent of urban wastewater is safely treated and disposed of, and children living in communities with open defecation during the first 1,000 days of life are 11 percentage points more likely to be stunted.
  • In Bangladesh, E. coli was present in about 80 percent of water taps sampled, a similar rate to water scooped up from ponds.
  • In Ecuador, 24 percent of the rural population drinks contaminated water; 21 percent of children are stunted and 18 percent are underweight.
  • In Haiti, access to improved drinking water sources has declined in the last 25 years; access to improved sanitation is stagnant at 33 percent; and the number of households with access on premises to improved water has decreased from 15 to 7 percent.

Rachid Benmessaoud, World Bank country director in Nigeria, warned, “Water and sanitation services need to improve dramatically, or the consequences on health and well-being will be dire. Today, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under 5. Poor children also suffer from intestinal diseases, which together with under-nutrition and infections contribute to stunting. We are risking the futures of our children: their potential is being stymied by unequal or uneven access to the services they require to thrive.”

To download the 18 WASH Poverty Diagnostics reports click here

Another multi-lateral bank has a bold and encouraging word for those concerned about water and sanitation issues.

The Inter-American Development Bank, which is co-organizing Latin America’s contributions to World Water Week says, “Latin America and the Caribbean has the potential to lead a revolution in the management of wastewater as a resource by reusing it in agricultural and industrial activities, and by promoting circular economy models. The region can do all this while striving to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – by the year 2030.”

Today 77 percent of all people in Latin America and the Caribbean lack access to safe sanitation. Only an estimated 28 percent of the wastewater collected by public sewers receives some kind of treatment before being discharged to the environment.

In Argentina, for instance, a country of 44 million people, 8.2 million lack access to drinking water and 20 million to sanitation. Investment needs to cover this access gap are estimated at US$21 billion.

Waste water treatment in Argentina is estimated at 20 percent. Most water utilities do not cover operational costs and struggle to provide quality services.

The country has been recently struck by extreme weather events that showcase the need for better water resources management.

To tackle these challenges, the new administration headed by President Mauricio Macri developed the country’s first National Water Plan. The plan is based on four pillars: access to water and sanitation; water and food; water and energy; and adaptation to extreme weather events.

Argentina’s plan advances a new regulatory framework that will help water utilities improve their financial situation. The new authorities are also promoting innovation and private sector participation that will help overcome these challenges.

The lack of water is one of the main constraints to agriculture in more than 60 percent of Argentina, and it is worse in places without access to electricity, according to Macri’s office.

To correct the water deficit in some regions, specialists from the National Institute of Industrial Technology developed technologies for access to groundwater through pumps that run on solar energy. The pumps, located more than 10 meters deep, have been installed in 22 communities across the country.

This small step forward illustrates that creative solutions to water scarcity do exist. This week in Stockholm, more than 3,000 experts are looking for ways to keep the creativity flowing.


Featured Image: Physicist Christer Fuglesang, a Member of the Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science and a European Space Agency astronaut, addresses conference attendees at the opening plenary, August 28, 2017 (Photo courtesy Stockholm International Water Institute) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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