A key stop on the road to COP27, the conference allowed IWMI to share blueprints for creating more water-secure, climate-resilient communities across the Middle East and North Africa.
Vidhisha Samarasekara, IWMI’s Strategic Program Director for Water, Climate Change, and Resilience, formed part of the IWMI delegation that participated in the recently concluded MENA Climate Week, held immediately following the 9th World Water Forum. In this Q&A, she discusses the conference’s influence in shaping the agenda for the upcoming COP27 climate summit and highlights some of the ways IWMI is strengthening water security across the region so that the countries of the Middle East and North Africa may become more resilient in the face of climate change.
What was the significance of MENA Climate Week in your view, and how did the conference raise the visibility of urgent water and climate security issues across the region?
Vidhisha Samarasekara: Water and climate security are sadly stark realities facing people in the MENA region. In this context, having the opportunity to convene as a region and participate in a high-level event such as this presented a strategic opportunity to come together as a lobby. We were able to brainstorm and share experiences, build on learning and knowledge emanating from others, discuss and develop regional initiatives, and highlight priority areas for action. As a platform, MENA Climate Week enabled constructive discussions to take place, fostered new partnerships, and raised the overall visibility and profile of the priority areas around water and climate security which continue to pose a significant threat to people and livelihoods.
Why was it important for IWMI to participate in this summit?
VS: MENA Climate Week is the gateway for setting the agenda for COP27 in Egypt and COP28 in the United Arab Emirates, bringing the focus of climate adaptation and mitigation efforts to a region that is facing significant risks. For IWMI as a whole, participating in an event such as this allows for our positioning of research priorities to continue to be relevant. The conference provided a forum for our research priorities to be further bolstered — substantiated by “on the ground realties” — and presented and targeted effectively to maximize the reach and impact of our findings. Among these was the reminder that the MENA region faces a diverse range of development and adaptation challenges, as communities struggle with a complex web of environmental and human crises. I would say that, in many ways, our IWMI team came back from Dubai revitalized, refreshed, and ready to respond to new and emerging areas of work based on our participation at this event.
How are IWMI’s areas of expertise well-suited to help the MENA region become more climate resilient in the years and decades ahead?
VS: IWMI has had a long-standing and well-established presence in the MENA region. Our researchers have been supporting MENA countries as their governments implement important agendas involving sustainable wastewater reuse, drought management, groundwater governance, and water productivity, among other key topics. And we have made significant headway in each of these areas.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this success has been our ability as researchers to pivot when and where required to advance emerging research agendas and contribute towards providing innovative solutions and technology transfers to the end users of our research. Examples abound, but some of our most impactful work has revolved around the implementation of nature-based solutions and addressing the region’s water-energy-food challenges through the creation of opportunities for local innovators to produce more food while using less water and energy.
I expect that owing to IWMI’s expertise in these areas, our ongoing presence in the region, and the continual deepening of the professional and community networks we have grown, IWMI will continue to be a long-standing trusted partner in addressing the region’s water security challenges in what is an extremely heterogeneous operating environment.
Which events at MENA Climate Week were particularly impactful from IWMI’s perspective, and why?
VS: Our participation in the Marrakech Partnership High-Level Champions Implementation Lab helped establish IWMI as a key knowledge player concerning water reuse. In this case, we were invited by the High-Level Champions to design and lead a session titled “Water and Strengthening Resilience: How Can Recycled Water Play a Critical Role in Supporting Climate Resilience Building for Water and Food Security in the MENA Region?” This event was both well-attended and highly regarded by MENA Climate Week participants. Through this session, IWMI was able to not only showcase its in-house expertise on the subject matter, but also demonstrate our ability to draw on IWMI’s water reuse expertise and networks to bring the ‘best voices’ to the table to talk about the core issues that remain to be resolved and discuss how these challenges can be suitably addressed through collective and concerted action.
The Implementation Lab itself was both important and timely. It was positioned to provide an inclusive forum and dialogue environment for decision-makers, development partners, donors, investors, civil society organizations, and scientists to discuss and debate advances and innovations in the field of wastewater reuse. Through our active engagement with our partners and networks, we were able to bring together a very strong group of experts from the region to participate in a roundtable consultation.
In addition to the Implementation Lab, IWMI co-organized a side event with partners — AGWA, IUCN, GRP, and FAO — focusing on how to transform food systems so that they may become more climate resilient. This event also drew strong interest and attention from MENA Climate Week participants. Meanwhile, IWMI also co-convened a session with UNDP, IFAD, FAO, and ICBA titled “Climate Action in Fragile Settings: Food Security” and participated in a UNDP session titled “Fostering Peace through a Sustainable Water Future.”
Can you talk about any notable IWMI partnerships that were developed or deepened during MENA Climate Week? And looking forward, how would you say IWMI’s involvement at the conference helped fortify the position of water on the agenda of the COP27 climate summit?
VS: MENA Climate Week presented a number of opportunities for our IWMI delegation to interact with a wide and diverse group of stakeholders, ranging from policymakers and development practitioners to members of the donor community.
From my perspective, a stand-out feature of MENA Climate Week was the very strong presence of senior representation across all the key agencies working on water, climate, and the environment — particularly so from the MENA region. It was evident that those present were keen to use MENA Climate Week as a platform to develop their respective institutional pathways toward COP27. In that sense, IWMI participation at MENA Climate Week was very opportune. Our team used the time between sessions to participate in conversations about positioning water on the COP27 climate agenda, cultivate new partnerships, and develop wider networks.
Collectively, I think our participation at MENA Climate Week — an event which drew leading experts and water practitioners from across the region, alongside our peers in the research community — helped strengthen the potential for water to emerge as a central agenda item at COP27. Having been able to stand together alongside a community of practitioners including a strong and engaged youth representation, and speak in a common voice while in Dubai, we are confident that we have made meaningful headway in that regard. For IWMI going forward, it will be critical that we build on the momentum we generated at MENA Climate Week to steer our engagement in upcoming regional climate weeks on the road to COP27.