Poor water management and stressed ecosystems cause poverty and violent conflicts. To avoid a global water crisis, more nature-based solutions are urgently needed. These were key themes during the inauguration of World Water Week 2018, which has brought world leaders, water experts, development professionals and business representatives from all over the world together in Stockholm, Sweden.
There is a growing realization that humans are increasingly vulnerable to water shortages, extreme weather, and social unrest. Decades of unprecedented economic and population growth, rapid urbanization and climate change have led to stressed ecosystems and high pressure on limited water resources. In response to this, societies must find and implement solutions that work with, rather than against, nature.
Focused on the link between water, ecosystems and human development, a record 3 700 participants have converged in Stockholm, Sweden to discuss concrete solutions to the escalating water challenges at this year’s edition of World Water Week, a leading meeting place for the global water community organised by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).
In his welcome address on August 27, Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) called for a shift towards more green infrastructure solutions, noting that they are inherently multi-functional.
City parks retain rain, improve the microclimate, contribute to biodiversity – and look good doing so. Green solutions are, in addition, also often much more resilient than grey. They tend to bend rather than break under pressure. They can repair themselves and restore their functionality also after significant damage, remarked Holmgren.
H.E. Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), highlighted that water is the “stocking station” for all the sixteen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
She spoke about the strong link between environmental degradation, poverty, gender inequality and violent conflicts, something that is visible in her home country Nigeria, which in recent years has suffered from terrorism.
I believe that the tragedy of Boko Haram is inextricably linked to poor water management and the solution to the conflict in the region must include equitable ways of using water resources, she said.
As an example of the dramatic consequences of a collapsing ecosystem, Amina J Mohammed referred to Lake Chad, which has shrunk by 90 percent.
It has impacted food insecurity and is increasing the risk of water-borne diseases, but it is also causing poverty by taking away farmers’ livelihoods, especially for women. And it has a gender dimension, contributing among others to low levels of school-enrolment among our girls. Taken together, all these factors have contributed increasingly to insecurity in our region, already affected by religious extremism, said Mohammed.
Carin Jämtin, Director-General of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, also talked about the relationship between poverty, conflicts and lack of clean water.
In countries affected by conflict and fragility, tensions over water increase. There is evidence that water and sanitation infrastructure has been attacked, or that the access to clean water is denied as a tactic or weapon of war. Without access to clean water, children fall ill, hospitals do not function, and disease and malnutrition spread quickly. Among the threats against children in conflict, the lack of safe drinking water is one of the deadliest, Carin Jämtin said.
Similar views were expressed by Åsa Regnér, Assistant Secretary-General, and Deputy Executive Director, Director for the Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships Bureau, at UN Women who stressed that including women and girls in the water conversation is crucial.
Regnér also described lack of water as a root cause of poverty and inequality and how women’s bodies have in some countries become the pipes and pumps “infrastructure for water.”
Only in Sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water, equivalent to a year’s worth of labour by the entire workforce in France, Regnér said.