By Samurdhi Ranasinghe, Senior Communications Officer, IWMI
With Covid-19 restrictions gradually phasing out across the world, we were glad to meet again in Stockholm, Sweden for the 2022 World Water Week. This year’s conference was complemented by both online and onsite sessions. After a few years of virtual participation, the ability to attend in person this year allowed important conversation to happen, for stakeholders to meet and realize that there are more solutions out there than most people think.
Water is starting to matter to the world
The Stockholm International Water Management Institute (SIWI) has been hosting the World Water Week (WWWeek) for over three decades now. Some might wonder whether all these years of discussion about water was worth it. The short answer is, yes. The world needs better water decisions and smart solutions. While the very real challenges in water management have a long way to flow in reaching the center of the global agenda, we should also appreciate how far we have come. The solutions discussed at this year’s WWWeek will take center stage at the upcoming COP27 and the UN 2023 Water Conference.
“Climate change is with us now, and it’s clear that there is no time, or water to waste. While most of today’s challenges are linked to water, so as are the solutions,” said Liesje Schreinemacher, Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, issuing a special statement in line with this year’s WWWeek. “Investing in water means investing in life,” she said. This year’s #WWWeek theme focused on ‘Seeing the Unseen: The Value of Water’. It appreciates water from multiple angles and at a global scale: the value of water for people and development, the value of water for nature and climate change, and the financial and economic value of water.
“This year we felt a stronger sense of urgency, a sharpening of the focus on risks and extremes, and greater acknowledgement of the need to come together around a common agenda for action,” said Dr. Mark Smith, Director General, IWMI. “Alongside, there is optimism that real solutions are possible, and an emerging resolve to make sure that the UN 2023 Water Conference is meaningful and makes a difference,” he said.
Transformative Futures for Water Security
One of the key messages that came out of WWWeek was that we need transformations rather than just problem-solving. IWMI, together with partners, has already started work on this with the successful launch of our Transformative Futures for Water Security initiative (TFWS). IWMI, the World Youth Parliament for Water and Hisaar Foundation hosted a special meeting at #WWWeek to present the Initiative and strategize with other experts on the next steps. The TFWS initiative has set its course on multi-stakeholder collaboration based on South-South dialogue that will focus and strengthen the science base for action on water security. The initiative will use a bottom-up approach based on South-South future-looking dialogue, with youth acting as co-guardians of the process. We had two young professionals, Carolina Tornesi MacKinnon (President) and Noemie Plumier from the World Youth Parliament for Water join us at our TFWS meeting held at WWWeek.
Water runs through some of the biggest challenges facing the world like floods, drought, hunger, health, and pollution, and adjusting to the “new normal” water dynamics is critical, demanding that the way we use and manage water must also change to adapt. Water is not only the problem, but it is also the solution. This is why IWMI together with partners are working hard to empower decision makers with research-based water solutions to strengthen our response to these global challenges.
The climate crisis loomed large through the WWWeek discussions. “Water is central to climate change and is manifested in the way people are impacted and adapt to climate change. People are already adapting to water-related hazards. Water should also be an important consideration when planning mitigation action, but it often isn’t. That needs to change and water professionals need a seat at the climate negotiations table,” said Dr. Aditi Mukherji, a Principal Researcher at IWMI and a Coordinating Lead Author of the Water Chapter of the IPCC AR6. Mukherji led a session on ‘water, impacts and climate change’ at WWWeek which brought together Lead Authors of the recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC). The authors shared the water-related findings from the various IPCC reports and highlighted why solutions to climate change must incorporate water in their design.
“We’ve come a long way – in terms of mainstreaming wetlands as nature-based solutions. We have advocates at the highest levels of government and diplomacy pressing the importance of nature in solutions for the great global challenges. As the next step, we need to make that transition from building knowledge and awareness and coalitions to large-scale, accelerated action and investment in wetlands,” said Dr. Smith at a session on ‘Valuing wetlands’. “Now is the time to be bold and ambitious. We need to catalyze ambition,” he added.
Dr. Inga Jacobs-Mata, IWMI Regional Representative – Southern Africa, emphasized that, “there is now strong government commitment to recognizing customary water tenure in national and sub-national water law and regulations in Africa, but limited capacity on how to do this and which legal instruments to target”. IWMI together with partners are now trying to move the dial in terms of the next steps of institutionalizing customary water tenure into statutory water law and practical operations on the ground.
Our Deputy Director General, Dr. Rachael McDonnell, highlighted critical experiences from the MENAdrought project of working with the Governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco to empower management for the next serious drought. “All droughts are local, so work must start at country level,” said Dr. Mark Svoboda, Director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Drought is a threat multiplier,” said McDonnell. “Every country needs integrated drought management that not only includes early warning systems, but also action plans and mitigation solutions, so that pre-agreed responses to future events across multiple ministries and agencies can ensure the scale of suffering witnessed in 2022 is not repeated”.
WWWeek discussions also oscillated around the critical subject of financing for a water-secure world. “Financers often don’t see the link so it’s on us to build bridges and partnerships across sectors like agriculture and industries to highlight the interconnected and create resilient solutions,” Antoine Delepiere, Senior Programme Manager, Water and Sanitation, SIWI.
Women and young professionals in water
Women and young professionals remain underrepresented in the water sector. However, this year SIWI reports a record number of first-time visitors, of women and of people under 35 at #WWWeek. Out of the 5000 participants 39% of participants were reportedly aged 35 or younger.
This year, Annabelle M. Rayson from Canada won the 2022 Stockholm Junior Water Prize for her research on how to treat and prevent harmful algae blooms. HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden announced the winner during #WWWeek.
On the opening day of WWWeek, our DDG Dr. Rachael McDonnell was part of a panel for the ‘Water Women’ mentoring session which brought together a community of professional women from five different networking organizations.
“The ideas from 2017 are now coming to fruition. The time is right. Women are ready to take up their roles as negotiators and diplomats that reduce conflict in communities,” said Theresa Wasike of the Ministry of Water, Kenya, at one of the ‘Women in Water’ sessions at WWWeek.
With all this in mind, whilst there is still a very long way to go to bring water security for all, we are confident that progress is being made – too slow but it is still progress. The 2023 World Water Week will be themed around ‘Seeds of Change: Innovative solutions for a water-wise world’ and we look forward to it.