Junior Rapporteur at SIWI World Water Week 2019

Image credit: SIWI

The World Water Week, an annual event organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), is future-oriented meeting that gather more than 4000 of the world’s leading experts in cross-sectoral, inter-disciplinary water issues with representatives from governments, local authorities, international organisations, business, as well as other stakeholders and NGOs.

The theme of World Water Week 2019 was “Water for Society: Including all”, seeking to draw attention to the fact that humanity’s major challenges are interlinked and can only be solved through broad solutions. The escalating water crisis has increased focus on the importance of good water governance, to make sure that there is enough clean water for the many competing needs. This year’s theme was aligned with the UN on “leaving no-one behind” by addressing the basic objective of the 2030 agenda to secure inclusive and sustain-able development for all people in all countries. Issues such as climate change, ecosystems, migration, accessibility, economic development, governance, capacity building, and much more were high-lighted, discussed and debated.

Social Thematic Rapporteuring Team

I have worked as a Junior Rapporteur for the 2019 World Water Week during August 25-30, 2019 in Stockholm (Sweden). I was part of the Social Thematic Team along with other eight members. We followed a ‘solutions-based approach’ meaning we focused on solutions, best practices and ideas that are brought up and discussed in the sessions. We attended and reported on all the 200+ seminars, events, showcases and high-level plenary sessions taking place during the conference. We categorized the findings using the four questions directly related to the 2019 thematic scope.

1. How can water play a pivotal role in addressing inequalities, discriminatory practices and un-just distributions of power to ensure the implementation of the 2030 Agenda?

Water has come to be seen as the “blue thread” connecting the 17 SDGs of Agenda 2030: being a prerequisite for reaching nearly all the goals. “Including all” – the theme of this year’s World Water Week and the foundation of the Agenda – still remains a utopian vision in the case of water. Access to water remains far from universal and those typically “left behind” are often also the ones disproportionately impacted by insufficient access to water. Improved management of water, particularly when guided by SDG 6, can therefore open up multiple spaces for empowerment. During the week it was illustrated how access to water can be significant for eradicating poverty (SDG 1) and breaking down barriers to gender equality (SDG 5), but also for ensuring access to nutrition (SDG 2), health (SDG 3), decent work (SDG 8) and dignified lives for the disabled (SDG 10). Water therefore holds the potential to be an equalizer: a catalyst for change. Yet, improved water access alone does not necessarily translate into less inequality. Instead, all efforts to reach SDG 6 must be coupled with participatory schemes that guarantee no stakeholder’s voice goes unheard - living up to the forceful argument from the opening plenary: “nothing about us, without us”.

2. How does water contribute to achieve equal power relations that, by including everybody, en-sure fairness and breaks inequality barriers preventing human rights and welfare for all?

Good water governance is key to ensuring inclusive sustainable development which leaves no one behind. An open enabling environment is vital for tackling inequality through water governance, requiring political buy-in, transparency, capacity building, data sharing and multi-stakeholder participation. A systematic human rights-based approach enshrining universal rights to water in legislation and policy can ensure a judicial starting point for breaking down barriers to equitable participation. Water policies must recognise the diverse needs of disadvantaged groups, whether addressing gender inequality, rural-urban disparities, rights of indigenous groups, disabled people or other vulnerable groups. An increasing number of states are committing to inclusive policies aiming to reach those who are ‘left behind’, but these commitments must be followed by targeted implementation plans, funding and capacity building to enable responsible entities to act on their mandates. Furthermore, transparency is vital for good governance - open access data and auditing not only enables evidence-based decision-making, but is a powerful tool for accountability. Engaging existing civil society organisations and community groups in management is vital to long-term sustainability and equity. As vulnerable groups might have limited capacity to engage, providing resources and training in advocacy is crucial for breaking down barriers to participation.

3. In a world with climate change, how can we maintain healthy ecosystems for people and na-ture? More specifically, how can water be managed to better ensure healthy ecosystems that contribute to prevent forced migration?

A growing number of areas around the world are classified as severely water insecure, resulting in migration from areas of greater to lesser water insecurity. Natural disasters and extreme events related to water, such as drought and flooding, further worsen these patterns. A responsive policy framework that acknowledges the ecosystem-water-migration nexus is therefore crucial. Water security must be incorporated into water resource-planning and multi-stakeholder engagement must be at the core of all efforts. Water laws are currently lacking in the recognition of community freshwater rights, particularly on indigenous land. To paraphrase Dr. Jackie King: the silent voices of river systems and of those depending on them need to be acknowledged. Recognition of local and indigenous communities’ contribution to sustainable watershed management is crucial, and their participation needs to be central in water resource management to prevent forced migration. The goal must ultimately be to build climate resilience locally: through socio-ecological systems that can absorb the pressures of climate change. Grey-to-green infrastructure transitions as a mitigation strategy is central, and cyclical wastewater treatment systems play a key role. To implement it, we need a continuum of cooperation happening across multiple levels of governance. New data-driven monitoring systems for managing water scarcity can help fill the data gaps in IWRM and mitigate the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities and regions.

“Proactive capacity building is essential for sustainable development.”

– Dr. Jackie King

4. In a public-private-civil partnership, what role does the private sector hold in enabling an eco-nomic development that foster innovations for inclusive water security?

Private sector involvement in water and sanitation service delivery can contribute to more affordable and sustainable provision of service. Services should be inclusive and require strong regulatory regimes which ensure pro-poor tariff setting (cross-subsidies) and prioritization of vulnerable groups. This can happen through large-scale PPP agreements in capital intensive piped networks, but also through more innovative approaches involving social entrepreneurship, blended finance and microfinance initiatives aiming at expanding network connectivity. Data obtained from networks can be used for open-access platforms to provide transparent and real-time information to the public, giving all stakeholders a clear view of the progress being made. Rural areas should be given a priority, and there is a need to develop databases which are useful for regulators or service providers to improve the provision on site. Political economy is key in order to upscale socially-oriented business models using IT models for monitoring and evaluation. Corporations can work to create a business case for water stewardship. In addition, the private sector has the power to direct financial flows to investment in water security and to engage in capacity building to promote best practices to reduce water input for production and appropriate innovation and behavioral change. The private sector can collaborate with others to provide low income loan products for WASH as well as WASH loan trainings.

overarching conclusions


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Javed Ali
Doctoral Researcher
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