More Stakeholder Engagement, Effective Communication Key to Ensuring Water Security: World Water Council Conference

Anders Berntell at WWC meeting DCMarch, 20 – Washington DC

Engaging more stakeholders and more effectively communicating the importance of sustainable water management are key to ensuring future water security, participants agreed during a one-day conference organized by the World Water Council (WWC). 

“A huge challenge lies ahead of us: we must invent our water future together,” WWC President Benedito Braga said at the event, “Water Security: A Pathway to Sustainable Development,” held in Washington, DC on March 20th ahead of World Water Day 2015.

“To succeed, we need the political decision-makers and the international community to come together to implement changes,” Braga said. “Through investment in water security, we will guarantee security in most other domains, including energy, environment, food, and health.”

As negotiations over the new Sustainable Development Goals, which replace the Millennium Development Goals that expire this year, move into the home stretch, “we must concentrate and mobilize all our efforts to make sure water is appreciated, not only as an end in itself, but as a means for sustainable development as a whole,” Braga said.

“The year 2015 is not an opportunity the world can afford to miss. There is no time to waste.”

But panelists agreed that the water community has not done as effective a job as it could to communicate why policy- and decision-makers should prioritize water.

They also agreed that more work is needed to bring all stakeholders to the table in discussions of water security.

“We have been trying for 40 years to get water to rise up on the political stage,” said Zafar Adeel, director of the United Nations University-Institute for Water Environment and Health. Water has had to “ride in on the coattails of food and energy, because that’s where it’s easier to see monetization.”

Adeel said the private sector has an important role to play in addressing water challenges. It can bring in needed capital resources; is better geared to scaling up from the local to the national level; and is better at applying appropriate technologies and partnering with stakeholders to determine what works and what the market responds to.

But as Anders Berntell, Executive Director of the 2030 Water Resources Group, noted, the private sector is one of the actors often left out of discussions on Integrated Water Resources Management.

John Oldfield, CEO of NGO WASH Advocates, stressed the need to get finance ministers and prime ministers, rather than just water ministers and presidents, invested in solving the global water and sanitation crisis. He cited recent work by the World Bank and US national intelligence agencies, which respectively made a case for the high economic costs of poor sanitation and water as a national security issue, as examples of the kind of work needed.

Other participants noted that cultivating political will to address water challenges can be a question of providing the right kind of data to decision-makers.

Berntell said his organization is trying to do just that. “With statistics and figures, the government does take action,” he said.

John Tubbs, Director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, noted that there is often a “disconnect between science and policy … Science needs to recognize what [kind of data] policy needs.”

Richard Damania, Global Lead, Economics, at the World Bank Water Global Practice, said the links between water and climate change are “very deep,” and “if you don’t get management of water right for changing climate, there will be economic repercussions”.

But “We haven’t done a good job of communicating this,” he said.

WWC President Braga said he saw growing political will for a standalone water SDG, and was “confident” that there would be financial resources to back political commitments to solving global water problems.

“If you have good projects, money will come through the government and private sectors,” he said.

He said as part of its efforts to continue engaging stakeholders in discussions on water and sustainability, the WWC has reached out to the agricultural sector and to hydropower producers.

The WWC has signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to promote more efficient water use in irrigation, and is also working with agribusiness and farmers’ unions to promote balanced water use at the river basin level, Braga said.

“I have the expectation that during the (World Water Forum) in Korea, agricultural water use will be more important,” he added.

The 7th World Water Forum will be held from April 12-17 in Daegu-Gyeongbuk, South Korea.