Editor’s pickWorld Water Day: 8th World Water Forum unites world leaders and thousands and experts

29-03-2018

Back row (left to right): UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Danilo Türk; Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay; Minister of the State of the Principality of Monaco, Serge Telle; Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, Lee Nak-yeon; Prime Minister of Senegal, Mahammed Dionne; Vice-President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue; Minister of Environment of Brazil, José Sarney Filho; and Prime Minister of São Tomé and Príncipe, Maria do Carmo Silveira

Front Row (left to right): President of São Tomé and Príncipe, Evaristo Carvalho; President of Guyana, David Granger; President of Cape Verde, Jorge Carlos Fonseca; Governor of the Federal District of Brasilia, Rodrigo Rollemberg; President of Brazil, Michel Temer; World Water Council President, Benedito Braga; President of Hungary, János Áder; His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Japan, Naruhito; and the Prime Minister of Morocco, Saadeddine Othmani

More than 840 million people worldwide – or one in nine – do not have access to safe water, and 2.3 billion, one in three, lack access to a toilet.

“Around the world, more people have mobile phones than toilets,” Matt Damon, water activist and actor, explained.

In a global effort to avoid widespread water crises and to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation around the world, the World Water Council organised the 8th edition of its World Water Forum, which took place in Brasilia, Brazil, from the 18th to the 23rd of March, also coinciding with World Water Day.

With more than ten Heads of States in attendance, including the President of Brazil, Michel Temer, President of Hungary, János Áder, President of Senegal, Macky Sall, Prime Minister of South Korea, Lee Kak-Yeon, and numerous CEOS of Fortune 500 companies, among many others, to participate in high-level panels and more than 200 sessions where the future of water security was mapped out for the coming three years. Through the sessions, thousands of attendees came together to find solutions for the world’s water security challenges.

The very first World Water Forum was hosted in Morocco in 1997. Among its triumphs, the triennial World Water Forum has been instrumental in promoting the acknowledgement of Access to Water as a Human Right, which was finally recognised in 2010 by the United Nations (UN). This came on the heels of the 6th World Water Forum, hosted in Istanbul, Turkey, where the fundamental nature of this right was defended.

Furthermore, the World Water Forum and its creator, the World Water Council, have played key roles in ensuring recognition for Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) – ensuring safe access to water and sanitation for all. This goal, set by the UN in 2015, is to be achieved by 2030.

The Southern Hemisphere has just hosted the World Water Forum for the very first time, opening South America’s doors to dialogue and an exchange of experiences and best practices related to the use of water. This edition in Brasilia offered a Citizens Village, which welcomed all global citizens free of charge, and allowed them to participate in the debate through exhibitions, lectures, movies, arts and crafts workshops, entertainment, talk shows, and gourmet food courts.

The World Water Forum is also a crucial opportunity for global authorities to share knowledge and develop strategies for various issues, such as combating climate variability and water scarcity. By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas as droughts, floods, and other water crises are plaguing many parts of the globe, such as São Paulo, Brazil, and Cape Town, South Africa.

São Paulo’s main water supply, the Cantareria reservoir, has dipped dangerously low to five per cent capacity, just about comparable to a month’s supply. But the irony of this reality rests in the fact that Brazil holds the world’s largest source of freshwater, at 12 per cent of the global supply.

At the World Water Forum, the over-arching theme of Sharing Water also pointed out that without water, there would be no life, no food, no development, and also honoured water’s role in uniting communities and tearing down barriers. Moreover, decision-makers from around the world gathered at Brasilia, banding together to discuss and present recommendations in order to secure water for the future.

“Water is essentially a political issue and must be dealt with at the highest decision-making levels,” Benedito Braga, World Water Council President, said. “We have a great deal of scientific knowledge and we have a huge number of solutions to choose from, but policy-makers must make it a priority so these proposals can be put into practice.”

Around the world, some of the most pressing problems surrounding water are not about quantity, but quality, and is a matter of life and death for many worldwide as 660 million people are without access to improved drinking water resources and a further 2.4 billion lack access to improved sanitation.

Severely low levels of sanitation coverage, in particular, are leading causes of death and disease across the globe: As recently as 2016, eight per cent of children under the age of five died from diarrhoea, which is usually caused by contaminated drinking water. Those without adequate sanitation access live primarily in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Women and girls tend to be the most affected by drinking water and sanitation issues as they spend a collective 200 million hours a day collecting water.

World Water Day 2018 highlights “nature-based solutions” to current water-related challenges, often exacerbated by climate change, disasters and population growth. The World Water Forum also helped demonstrate to leaders how a combination of existing infrastructure, geographic realities, natural resources, and adequate financing can lead to better water management. For every US$1 invested in water and sanitation, the economic return in terms of averted health costs and productivity is US$4.

Through the World Water Forum, the World Water Council (WWC) calls on all governments to make water their top priority and encourages them to increase their budgets for sustainable multipurpose water infrastructure to ensure safe water for everyone on the planet and for different uses as well, such as food and energy production while safeguarding the environment. Moreover, they stipulated that 80 per cent of countries who report insufficient financing to meet national drinking-water targets cannot continue to be a reality in the 21st Century. They also called for renewed commitment and innovation, saying that financing must be tripled to €90 billion per year, taking into account operating and maintenance costs, in order to meet SDG 6.