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In Case You Missed It: World Water Week 2013 Recap

Anna Delgado Martin's picture

After an intense and exciting week in Stockholm for World Water Week, it is time to look back at some conclusions of the conference and the way forward for next year. I was in Stockholm as a “Lead Rapporteur” and reported in the closing plenary session on “Cooperation to achieve equity by balancing competing demands”; other teams reported on “Managing waters across borders,” “Responding to Global Change,” and “Closing the science-policy-practice loop” (see closing plenary here).  This is my attempt to summarize over 100 sessions, you can find all the sessions in the WWW website.

I was a rapporteur for the Water-Energy-Food Nexus so in full disclosure my bias is towards that topic. Please feel free to add in the comments anything that you thought was relevant this year. Below are what I would describe as the key takeaways from the closing plenary session:

Water is not an isolated sector, but a connector
An issue that was repeated during the week and in the closing plenary session is that the water community must stop thinking of “water” as a sector. Water crosses sectors and regions and is vital for most human activities. There was also a lot of talk on the “nexus” and many sessions focused on finding new ways to improve cooperation to address all sectors in a holistic way, as the optimal solution for one can have negative impacts on others. Therefore, cooperation is the key to achieve security, efficiency, and sustainability.

One speaker suggested that the water community doesn’t live in a black box anymore, it swims in an aquarium, able to see the other sectors, but not always reaching them. A glass wall is still between us. I think it is an appropriate way to say that although we are aware of the other sectors more than ever (this year there seemed to be more people from the private sector, for example), the water community is still not fully engaging them. The good news is that many cross-sectoral initiatives and powerful partnerships were created in the last year. However, most of them are still led by the water community (water people talking to water people). In order to make the most change, the water community needs to engage across sectors even more. Given that next year’s WWW topic is on Energy and Water (same for World Water Day 2014), I expect that that next year’s conference will have a big presence of energy community members!

See infographic on Integrated Urban Water Management
Read about World Bank’s Thirsty Energy initiative

Tools are important to visualize and understand the problem but… not enough
A lot of new tools were presented during the conference on the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus, on transboundary waters, on data visualization, etc. These tools are powerful to translate science to policy makers, but many of them are too expensive, data intense and therefore they are very costly to maintain and update for most developing countries. Tools are not enough. It’s “easy” to develop a tool, but the important last step is to ensure that they are the appropriate tool and that they are used in decision making processes. To do so, capacity building is crucial.

New approaches
In several sessions there seemed to be a shift to thinking about the role for markets to deliver sustainable water and sanitation services to the poor. Different sessions focused on the monetary value of water and on the social, environment and economic costs of the lack of water and sanitation services. Other sessions also suggested the need to shift to a risk-based water security approach. Water security can no longer be defined as sufficient access to water; risk management needs to be included in the equation. Measuring costs to translate water risks into decision making was suggested several times as a useful approach to involve the private sector and the policy makers.

See infographic on Economics of Sanitation Initiative (What costs the world US$260billion each year?)
Read Study Reveals Large, Untapped Potential for Water and Sanitation Services for the World’s Poor

Post 2015: a call for putting water at the center of development by 2030
Many practitioners at the conference agreed that the Post 2015 goals should include a dedicated water goal covering water management, WASH and wastewater, but also that water should be considered and integrated into all relevant areas, such as energy and food security. Dr. Yumkella, new CEO of Sustainable Energy For All, gave a remarkable speech and asked the water community to give him a good water indicator that he could push for to be added in the Energy SDG.

And finally, focus on action and on localized solutions
It’s time now to focus on the implementation of already identified tools, technological advancements, and new approaches (such as many of the great proposals that were presented during the conference) and evaluate and document what works and what doesn’t. There is also a need to move from the global analysis (which is very useful to quantify the problem) to localized and contextualized solutions that involve local partners. One solution definitely doesn’t fit all. Participants concluded that during the past years there has been positive progress in awareness, knowledge and tools development but there is a need to advance on policy coherence and sectorial planning.