At World Water Week, leaders discuss growing water crisis

The world must find new, nature-based solutions to meet escalating global water threats. Presently, it is being discussed in Stockholm where world leaders, water experts, development professionals and CEOs have gathered for the annual World Water Week from the 26th to the 31st of August. 

The 2018 World Water Week will be held under the theme Water, ecosystems and human development, an issue of particular relevance given the past year’s many extreme weather events.

In recent weeks, Sweden has been plagued by wildfires, raging all the way to the Arctic Circle. Around the globe, 2018 will be remembered for record-breaking droughts, fires and floods. This is a wake-up call on the challenges that climate change, economic and population growth, and increasingly unpredictable weather and water patterns impose on global water security. Large parts of the world already experience water stress and the United Nations (UN) expects that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will suffer from water scarcity.

Recent weather-related events also underline the critical role ecosystems play for human well-being and existence. Development efforts will invariably affect the environment but should improve, rather than compromise the sustainability of vital ecosystems. Nature-based solutions as effective tools for human development will also be a focus of this year’s theme.

Many leading innovators and thinkers on nature-based solutions for water will contribute to this year’s World Water Week. The prestigious Stockholm Water Prize will be awarded to Professors Mark van Loosdrecht and Bruce Rittmann for their microbiological-based processes that have revolutionised wastewater treatment.

World Water Week will also track water in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and host a wide array of sessions on topics ranging from agriculture to pharmaceuticals and conflict resolution.

Over 3,300 participants from more than 130 countries will attend World Water Week, representing governments, private sector, multilateral organisations, civil society and academia. Speakers at the opening session included Her Excellency Amina J Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General United Nations, and the 2018 Stockholm Water Prize Laureates Professors Mark van Loosdrecht and Bruce Rittmann.

Water is key to a range of issues that will shape the world in the decades to come. They will be discussed in-depth during World Water Week:

Water and climate: Climate change is water change. Water disasters account for more than 90 per cent of the natural disasters in the world and increased variability pose significant risks to all economic activities as well as to political stability. This is increasingly felt in high income countries.

Water links the SDGs and the Paris Agreement: All sustainable development goals require water to be achieved. Oceans, ecosystems, energy and food security, as well as economic growth and urbanisation are directly dependent on the use and management of freshwater. The water and sanitation SDG (Goal 6) links across all the other 16 Goals with a number of water-related targets making water a key factor for the successful realisation of the 2030 Agenda. For the Paris Agreement, most of the countries who submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) prioritised water in their adaptation chapters, before agriculture and health.

Drinking water and sanitation: The global water and sanitation crisis is rooted in poverty, exclusion and inequality, not in physical water scarcity. It is, first and foremost, a crisis of governance. Poor resource management, corruption, lack of apt institutions, bureaucratic inertia, and insufficient capacity lie behind the lack of sustainability of services.  This also undermines the ability to attract new investments.

Water efficiency: To manage the rising global demand for water and to increase water productivity, incentives for using water more effectively are necessary. Water needs to be given its true full value as a vital resource in energy, industry and agriculture sectors.

Water and food and nutrition: An estimated 800 million people are currently undernourished while well over 2 billion are overweight, obese or are negatively affected by unhealthy diets. This mal-development is a global phenomenon with the most rapid increase among young people, and among the poor.

Innovative financing and green bonds: A great deal of financial resources and skill are needed secure the future supply and treatment of water. In addition to providing people and producers access to freshwater and treatment of sewage, the investments must be climate-proof to reduce emergency measures to counter increasing intensity and frequency of floods and droughts.

Water cooperation: Development requires the stability provided by cooperation. Cooperation over transboundary waters allows for regional development, improves resilience to climate change, and decreases the risk of geopolitical unrest.

Water integrity: Corruption is one of the most serious challenges to sustainable management of water resources and provision of water services. It reduces economic growth, discourages investment, increases the services delivery costs, increases health risks and robs poor people of their livelihoods and access to water.

Pricing of water and valuing water: Water needs to be accorded its full true valued. Some parts of this value can easily be reflected in a price, others cannot. Water pricing should be complemented with other policy instruments such as laws, and raising awareness or standards. All water governance must ensure that basic water services are accessible, as per the human right to water and sanitation, and that ecosystem health is maintained.

Water and migration: Increasingly, researchers and policymakers explain migration and refugee flows in by increasing water scarcity partly resulting from climate change.  As a vital and variable social and economic resource, water can destabilise fragile societies and sectors and contribute to large-scale population migration, but it never the sole cause. In many parts of the world, refugees and migrants lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Water and faith: Water has profound symbolic meaning in many religious and local traditions. Water governance and development are not only about government policies and investments but rooted in behaviours and cultural values. In this respect, faith-based organisations can be important water actors given their presence in and influence on local communities.

Pharmaceuticals and water: Micro-pollutants, such as active pharmaceutical ingredients, are of growing global concern because of the link to antimicrobial resistance. Manufactured to be stable enough to reach and interact with the relevant organ, many pharmaceuticals remain in the environment for long time.

Prizes and awards: During World Water Week, Stockholm Water Prize will be awarded to Professors Mark van Loosdrecht and Bruce Rittmann, who receive the 2018 Prize for pioneering research and innovations that have revolutionised water and wastewater treatment. The Prize ceremony will take place on Wednesday 29 August at Stockholm’s City Hall, where the laureates will receive the Prize from Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden on behalf of His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf, patron of the Stockholm Water Prize.

The winner or winners of Stockholm Junior Water Prize was announced on the 28th of August. The final welcomes winners of the national competitions in 32 countries. The winner(s) will receive the prize from H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden during a ceremony at Berns Salonger in Stockholm.