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Water Shortages Linked to Violence, Poverty

A Boko Haram bombing, February 6, 2015, (Photo courtesy Diariocritico de Venezuela) Creative Commons license via Flickr

A Boko Haram bombing, February 6, 2015, (Photo courtesy Diariocritico de Venezuela) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, August 27, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – More nature-based solutions are urgently needed to avoid a violent global water crisis, warn the hosts of World Water Week 2018, which opened Sunday in Stockholm, attracting government leaders, water experts, development professionals and business representatives from throughout the world.

A record number of 3,700 delegates are meeting in the Swedish capital August 26-31 to explore solutions to the world’s escalating water challenges, hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), which organizes World Water Week each year.

The urgency arises because wherever there is poor water management and stressed ecosystems, violent conflicts and poverty are sure to follow.

Today, more than 1.2 billion of the world’s 7.6 billion inhabitants lack access to clean drinking water.

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, societies must find and implement solutions that work with, not against, nature.

World Water Week has become the central meeting-place for the global water community to work out such dilemmas. This year the gathering is focused on the link between water, ecosystems and human development.

Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and a former environment minister of Nigeria, speaks to an audience of water experts on August 27, 2018, the opening day of World Water Week 2018, Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by Thomas Henriksson / SIWI) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and a former environment minister of Nigeria, speaks to an audience of water experts on August 27, 2018, the opening day of World Water Week 2018, Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by Thomas Henriksson / SIWI) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations and a former environment minister of Nigeria, told conference delegates about the link between environmental degradation, poverty and violent conflicts in her home country, which has endured terrorism carried out by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

“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,” Mohammed said.

As an example of the dramatic consequences of a collapsing ecosystem, Mohammed pointed to Lake Chad, which has shrunk by 90 percent, saying, “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 other [thing]s, to low levels of school-enrollment among our girls. Taken together,” said Mohammed, “all these factors have contributed increasingly to insecurity in our region, already affected by religious extremism.”

Åsa Regnér, assistant secretary-general and deputy executive director at UN Women, described lack of water as a root cause of poverty and inequality since “…in Sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water, equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce in France.”

“With the rapidly growing demand for water, it is becoming increasingly clear that water is everybody’s issue. Scarcity  of water has become the new normal in  so  many  parts of the world,” said SIWI Executive Director Torgny Holmgren.

In his welcome address this morning, Holmgren called for a shift towards more green infrastructure solutions, observing 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,” said Holmgren. “They can repair themselves and restore their functionality also after significant damage.”

There is a growing realization everywhere that humans are increasingly vulnerable to water shortages, extreme weather and social unrest, Holmgren said.

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,” Jämtin said. “There is evidence that water and sanitation infrastructure have been attacked, or that the access to clean water is denied as 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,” Jämtin said.

Stockholm Mayor Karin Wanngård, pointed to the risk from populism and short-sightedness but also felt that cities are increasingly coming together to find new solutions. “I hope that this week will help the global community to get closer to the goal of a sustainable world,” she said.

Some speakers expressed optimism about the increase in new solutions modeled on natural processes.

2018 Stockholm Water Prize winners Professors Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht at the 2018 World Water Week opening session, August 27, 2018 (Photo by Thomas Henriksson / SIWI) Creative Commons license via Flickr

2018 Stockholm Water Prize winners Professors Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht at the 2018 World Water Week opening session, August 27, 2018 (Photo by Thomas Henriksson / SIWI) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Many find the work of 2018 Stockholm Water Prize winners Professors Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht inspiring.

Van Loosdrecht is professor in Environmental Biotechnology at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. Rittmann is a professor of environmental engineering and director of the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University, United States.

By revolutionizing microbiological-based technologies in water and wastewater treatment, the two professors have demonstrated how to remove contaminants from water, cut wastewater treatment costs, reduce energy consumption, and recover chemicals and nutrients for recycling.

Rittman told Maggie White, SIWI’s senior manager for international policies,  “We want to have a merging of environmental and economic interests. We don’t want to make pollution control and environmental protection just a cost to society, we want to turn that also into a generator of resources and economic value.”

Featured Images:  Enjoying fresh water, August 3, 2006, Beaucaire, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (Photo by topher76) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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Week for a Water Wise World

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri has developed the country’s first National Water Plan to protect Argentine clean water sources like this stream in Mendoza Province in the western central part of the country. (Photo courtesy Mendoza Government Press)

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri has developed the country’s first National Water Plan to protect Argentine clean water sources like this stream in Mendoza Province in the western central part of the country. (Photo courtesy Mendoza Government Press)

By Sunny Lewis

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, August 29, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – Cool, clear, delicious water – there’s no substitute for the one substance on which all life depends. Yet, often there is too little clean water, or too much. These problems, and their solutions, are in the spotlight right now at World Water Week in Stockholm.

Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the theme of this year’s week-long conference, August 27-September 1, is “water and waste: reduce and reuse.”

“World Water Week is a key meeting place for the water and development community; it is here that we come together and make sure that the very best ideas are brought forward,” said SIWI’s Executive Director, Torgny Holmgren.

More than 3,000 participants from 130 countries have come to Stockholm to learn about new research results, share experiences, discuss progress in the implementation of the Global Sustainable Development Goals, and together try to find new ways to meet the world’s growing water challenges.

In his welcoming speech Holmgren said it will be challenging but necessary to change large-scale water consumption patterns.

“The week’s theme, Water and waste: Reduce and reuse, really touches the very core of our daily lives,” said Holmgren. “To reduce, some drastic changes will be necessary – especially by the main water users, including industries, energy producers and the agriculture sector.”

Changes are also needed in how we think about reuse of water, he said. “Rather than presenting us with a problem, we can view waste as an asset also becoming a business opportunity.”

Sweden’s Minister for Environment, Karolina Skog told the audience that sustainable and efficient management of water and wastewater profoundly touches “all aspects of human life; economic growth, sustainable development, sustainable city planning, circular thinking in industry and in production, energy saving, good quality of our water and, last but not least, it is crucial for health and for a sustainable environment.”

This year, an astronaut is among the speakers at World Water Week. Physicist Christer Fuglesang, a Member of the Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science and a European Space Agency astronaut, was first launched aboard the STS-116 Space Shuttle mission on December 10, 2006, making him the first Swedish citizen in space. He has participated in two Space Shuttle missions and five spacewalks, giving him a unique perspective on planet Earth.

Fuglesang described the intricate water reuse systems that are essential to space missions. Water enables food to be grown on board space ships, ensures a drinking water supply for the crew, and helps to inform research into optimized water efficiency on Earth.

Stephen McCaffrey, 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate and a professor in water law, spoke of the need for water cooperation and water diplomacy.

He told World Water Week attendees that although the ingredients for potential water conflicts do exist, such as higher population pressure, climate change, and much of the world’s fresh water being shared by two or more countries, studies show that water sharing is much more likely to lead to cooperation than conflict.

H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, patron of the Stockholm Water Prize, will present the 2017 Prize, which includes a US150,000 award, to Distinguished Professor of Law Stephen McCaffrey, McGeorge School of Law, at the Royal Banquet in Stockholm City Hall on August 30.

Professor McCaffrey was named 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate “for his unparalleled contribution to the evolution and progressive realization of international water law,” the selection committee said. He is the only lawyer ever to receive the prestigious Stockholm Water Prize.

Since 1977, McCaffrey has served on the faculty of the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California. He was Special Rapporteur for the International Law Commission’s work on The Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, 1985-1991.

Professor McCaffrey has been acting as legal counsel to governments in several negotiations concerning international watercourses.

The cases include watercourses in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Although he has experienced first-hand the potential conflicts over freshwater resources, he remains an optimist, pointing to studies that have shown that shared fresh water is generally a catalyst for cooperation rather than conflict.

“I believe nobody who studies, researches or practices in the field of transboundary water management, water law or diplomacy could be unaware of Professor McCaffrey’s contribution to the conceptual and practical elaboration of the many legal concepts and principles that we now take for granted,” said Holmgren.

There’s no doubt that we need all the expertise we can get to keep clean water flowing in the right proportions to everyone in need.

More than two billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people are living in countries with excess water stress, according to a May 2017 report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals –Economic and Social Council.

Water stress means more than 25 percent of total renewable freshwater resources is withdrawn to meet ongoing needs. Northern Africa and Western Asia experience water stress levels above 60 percent, which indicates the strong probability of future water scarcity, Guterres warns in the report.

Flooding is the opposite, but even more serious problem, as the dramatic water rescues in Texas from the catastrophic floods from Hurricane Harvey this week painfully demonstrate.

The connections between water stress, flooding and climate change are among the many issues subject to in-depth review at World Water Week. Some are:

Water and climate: Climate change is to a large extent water change. Water disasters account for more than 90 percent of the natural disasters in the world and climate-driven water hazards, water scarcity and variability pose risks to all economic activity, such as food and energy production, manufacturing and infrastructure development, as well as political stability. This is true for both high and low income countries. Resilience to climate change requires adaptive water management and robust water infrastructure to keep ecosystems healthy.

Water as connector between the SDGs and the Paris Agreement: In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the water and sanitation SDG (Goal 6) links across all the other 16 Goals with a great number of water related targets in the overall Agenda; making water a key underlying factor and entry point for the successful implementation of the entire 2030 Agenda.

Drinking water and sanitation: The global water and sanitation crisis is mainly rooted in poverty, power and inequality, not in physical water scarcity, say World Water Week organizers. “It is, first and foremost, a crisis of governance. Poor resources management, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia, and insufficient capacity lie in many places behind the lack of sustainability of services, which also undermine the arrival of new investments.”

Water security: To manage the global rise in demand for water and to increase water productivity, incentives for using water more effectively are necessary. Water needs to be given its true value for production purposes in the energy, industry and agriculture sectors.

On pricing of water and valuing water: Water needs to be better valued. Some parts of this value can easily be reflected in a price, others cannot. So, water pricing needs to be complemented with laws, standards and an increase in public awareness. World Water Week organizers point to the need to make sure that basic water services are affordable to the poorest people, respecting the human right to water and sanitation

Innovative financing and green bonds: Billions in sustainable and climate smart financing will be needed for both supplying water and treating waste water, but an investment in climate-proof infrastructure today will be offset by a future reduced need for emergency response measures to counter floods and droughts.

Water cooperation: Development needs cooperation. Cooperation over transboundary waters would spur regional development, improve resilience to climate change, and decrease the risk of geopolitical hostility. The political aspects of transboundary cooperation cannot be neglected if real progress is to be made.

Water and migration: Researchers and policymakers are increasingly seeking to explain migration and refugee flows in terms of water scarcity, often perpetuated by climate change. The links between water challenges and climate change increase  uncertainty. While they are not the main causes of large-scale population migration, they are “push factor multipliers” together with social, economic, and political factors.

Water and faith: Water has profound symbolic meaning in many religious and local traditions, yet water stress is acute in many parts of the world where faith is a central aspect of individual and community identity. The role of Faith Based Organizations becomes crucial given their presence and influence in local communities.

Resolving these problems takes skill, cooperation and patience, and also lots of money. In a new report launched today at World Water Week, the World Bank estimates how much it will cost.

“Reaching the Sustainable Development Goal of access to safely managed water and sanitation services by 2030 will require countries to spend $150 billion per year,” the report states, “a fourfold increase in water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) investments compared to what is spent today. This is out of reach for many countries, threatening progress on poverty eradication.”

The report, “Reducing Inequalities in Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals,” suggests that a turnaround in the way countries manage resources and provide key services is required, starting with better targeting to ensure they reach those most in need, and tackling inefficiencies to make sure public services are sustainable and effective.

Guangzhe Chen, senior director of the Water Global Practice of the World Bank, said, “Millions are currently trapped in poverty by poor water supply and sanitation, which contributes to childhood stunting and debilitating diseases such as diarrhea. To give everyone an equal chance at reaching their full potential, more resources, targeted to areas of high vulnerability and low access, are needed to close the gaps and improve poor water and sanitation services. This report provides a roadmap for closing that gap.”

This report provides policymakers with a baseline and guidance on how to better target investments to ensure that basic water and sanitation services reach the poorest communities and households.

A lot depends on whether a person lives in a city or in a rural area. Across the 18 countries studied, 75 percent of people who lack improved sanitation live in rural areas, and only 20 percent of rural inhabitants have access to improved water.

Over two years in the field, the research teams found that:

  • In Nigeria, over 60 percent of the rural population live more than 30 minutes away from a working water source.
  • In Indonesia, only 5 percent of urban wastewater is safely treated and disposed of, and children living in communities with open defecation during the first 1,000 days of life are 11 percentage points more likely to be stunted.
  • In Bangladesh, E. coli was present in about 80 percent of water taps sampled, a similar rate to water scooped up from ponds.
  • In Ecuador, 24 percent of the rural population drinks contaminated water; 21 percent of children are stunted and 18 percent are underweight.
  • In Haiti, access to improved drinking water sources has declined in the last 25 years; access to improved sanitation is stagnant at 33 percent; and the number of households with access on premises to improved water has decreased from 15 to 7 percent.

Rachid Benmessaoud, World Bank country director in Nigeria, warned, “Water and sanitation services need to improve dramatically, or the consequences on health and well-being will be dire. Today, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under 5. Poor children also suffer from intestinal diseases, which together with under-nutrition and infections contribute to stunting. We are risking the futures of our children: their potential is being stymied by unequal or uneven access to the services they require to thrive.”

To download the 18 WASH Poverty Diagnostics reports click here

Another multi-lateral bank has a bold and encouraging word for those concerned about water and sanitation issues.

The Inter-American Development Bank, which is co-organizing Latin America’s contributions to World Water Week says, “Latin America and the Caribbean has the potential to lead a revolution in the management of wastewater as a resource by reusing it in agricultural and industrial activities, and by promoting circular economy models. The region can do all this while striving to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – by the year 2030.”

Today 77 percent of all people in Latin America and the Caribbean lack access to safe sanitation. Only an estimated 28 percent of the wastewater collected by public sewers receives some kind of treatment before being discharged to the environment.

In Argentina, for instance, a country of 44 million people, 8.2 million lack access to drinking water and 20 million to sanitation. Investment needs to cover this access gap are estimated at US$21 billion.

Waste water treatment in Argentina is estimated at 20 percent. Most water utilities do not cover operational costs and struggle to provide quality services.

The country has been recently struck by extreme weather events that showcase the need for better water resources management.

To tackle these challenges, the new administration headed by President Mauricio Macri developed the country’s first National Water Plan. The plan is based on four pillars: access to water and sanitation; water and food; water and energy; and adaptation to extreme weather events.

Argentina’s plan advances a new regulatory framework that will help water utilities improve their financial situation. The new authorities are also promoting innovation and private sector participation that will help overcome these challenges.

The lack of water is one of the main constraints to agriculture in more than 60 percent of Argentina, and it is worse in places without access to electricity, according to Macri’s office.

To correct the water deficit in some regions, specialists from the National Institute of Industrial Technology developed technologies for access to groundwater through pumps that run on solar energy. The pumps, located more than 10 meters deep, have been installed in 22 communities across the country.

This small step forward illustrates that creative solutions to water scarcity do exist. This week in Stockholm, more than 3,000 experts are looking for ways to keep the creativity flowing.


Featured Image: Physicist Christer Fuglesang, a Member of the Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science and a European Space Agency astronaut, addresses conference attendees at the opening plenary, August 28, 2017 (Photo courtesy Stockholm International Water Institute) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Our Drying Planet

TigrisRiverBaghdad

An aerial view of the Tigris River as it flows through Baghdad, Iraq, population 8.76 million, the second largest city in the Arab world, July 31, 2016. (U.S. Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis

ROME, Italy, March 16, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – The world faces an acute water crisis within a decade that will affect food supplies, megacities and industry globally, warns Australian science writer Julian Cribb, author of the new book “Surviving the 21st Century.

The water crisis is sneaking up on humanity unawares. People turn on the tap and assume clean, safe water will always flow. But the reality is that supplies are already critical for 4.2 billion people – over half the world’s population,” says Cribb. “During times of drought, megacities like Sao Paulo, La Paz, Los Angeles, Santiago, 32 Indian cities and 400 Chinese cities are now at risk.

World water use is already more than 10 trillion tonnes a year. While the human population has tripled since 1950, our water use has grown six-fold,” says Cribb.

In his book, Cribb cites some disturbing facts:
  • Groundwater is running out in practically every country in the world where it is used to grow food, posing risks to food security in northern India, northern China, Central Asia, the central and western United States, and the Middle East. Most of this groundwater will take thousands of years to replenish.
  • The icepack on high mountain chains is shrinking, emptying the rivers it once fed in practically every continent.
  • Around the world, large lakes are drying up, especially in Central Asia, China, sub-Saharan Africa and the South American Andes.
  • Most of the world’s large rivers are polluted with chemicals, nutrients and sediment.
  • 50,000 dams break up the world’s major rivers, sparking increased disputes over water between neighboring countries.

Pope Francis has warned that humanity could be moving toward a “world war over water.”

Addressing an international seminar on the human right to water hosted in February by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope said, “It is painful to see when in the legislation of a country or a group of countries, water is not considered a human right. It is even more painful when it is removed from legislation and this human right is denied. I ask myself if in the midst of this third World War happening in pieces, are we on the way to a larger world war over water?

Each of the last three UN secretaries-general – Ban Ki-Moon, Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali – has warned of the dangers of world water scarcity and of future water wars.

To counter this danger, José Graziano da Silva, who heads the Rome-based UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, is focusing on the cradle of civilization, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and the entire Gulf region, as one of the areas most exposed to the risks posed by climate change, particularly water scarcity.

In an opinion article written in January, Graziano da Silva cited research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the authority for his warning, “The Gulf region is poised to experience a significant uptick in the frequency of consecutive dry days…

If we fail to keep average global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius, the region often known as the cradle of human civilization will increasingly face extreme heat waves of the kind that disable the human body’s ability to cool itself,” the FAO leader wrote.

He says avoiding that fate is within our means, but requires that governments muster the will to “increase food output by around 50 percent by 2050,” and we have to do that, he says, “without depleting strained natural resources beyond the tipping point.

Of course, food production requires plenty of water.

In the Gulf region particularly, says Graziano da Silva, no government can accomplish this alone. The region imports about half of all its wheat, barley and maize, and 60 percent of the region’s fresh water flows across national boundaries.

Graziano da Silva draws his hope for the future from the Near East and North Africa’s Water Scarcity Initiative , a partnership for water reform in the Gulf region.

This network of partners, which includes over 30 regional and international organizations, is working to provide member countries with opportunities to learn and share practices in the sustainable use and management of water.

Water scarcity in the Near East and North Africa region is already severe.

Fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world. They have fallen by two-thirds during last 40 years and are expected to drop at least more 50 percent by 2050.

Ninety percent of the region’s land lies within arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, while 45 percent of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion, according to the FAO.

At the same time, agriculture in the region uses roughly 85 percent of the available freshwater.

The Initiative is attempting to bring scientific tools to bear on these grim facts. Water accounting, food-supply cost curve, gap-analysis and regular monitoring of agricultural water productivity are some of the advanced tools that the Initiative will use to quantify the benefits and costs of alternative policy options to address food insecurity while sustaining water resources.

Data collection, management and analysis are the backbone of the Initiative that will support the strategic planning for water resources and provide evidence for policy formulation.

Making use of the expertise developed by FAO and its partners, the Initiative will advise governments and the private sector on the adoption of modern technologies and institutional solutions to increase the efficiency and productivity of water use in agriculture for the benefit of millions of farmers and rural communities in the region.

Options to save water all along the food value chain will be shared with the private sector, while governments will be encouraged to promote incentive frameworks that reposition farmers at the center of the sustainable management of land and water resources.

The Initiative will support the ongoing major policy processes in the region, including the Arab Water Security Strategy 2010-2030 and the Regional Initiative for the Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources and Socio-Economic Vulnerability in the Arab Region.

FAO’s work in the region ranges from emergency efforts in response to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen to running Farmer Field Schools in Egypt and helping the United Arab Emirates develop their first national agricultural policy.

The UAE is planning to roll out water meters on farms, while at the same time introducing smart subsidies targeting those who consume less water than average.

Benefits range from better diagnostic data on actual water use and incentives to actual conservation practices to allocating the savings to farmers who can invest in their businesses for even more efficiency.

That climate change poses such threats to an area known as the cradle of civilization underscores the need for urgent action to put agriculture at the center of the sustainability agenda,” says Graziano da Silva.

World Water Day, on March 22 every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. Today, there are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to home, spending countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources, and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water.

This year’s theme: Why waste water? is in support of Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

And now it’s not just a day, or just a week, like the prestigious annual World Water Week in Stockholm in September, but the United Nations has designated another decade to mobilize for water conservation and sustainable use.

The UN Water for Life Decade 2005-2015  a knowledge hub, a best practices program, encouraged communications regarding water and integrated into its work the accomplishments of the UN-Water technical advisory unit.

In December 2016, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution “International Decade (2018–2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development” to help put a greater focus on water during 10 years.

Emphasizing that water is critical for sustainable development and the eradication of poverty and hunger, UN Member States expressed deep concern over the lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene as well as concern over water-related disasters, scarcity and pollution worsened by urbanization, population growth, desertification, drought and climate change.

The new Decade will focus on the sustainable development and integrated management of water resources for the achievement of social, economic and environmental objectives.

To set the agenda in motion, UN-Water, in its 26th meeting in Geneva in February, decided on the establishment of a Task Force to facilitate its support to the planning and organization of the International Decade for Action – Water for Sustainable Development.

The Decade will commence on World Water Day March 22, 2018, and end on World Water Day, March 22, 2028. It could be the last decade that humanity can use to avert the predicted water crisis.


Featured Image: Mullah Neoka and his sons are wheat farmers in Afghanistan’s Herat province, once the bread basket of central Asia before land mines made farming impossible. HALO Trust, a UK-supported project to clear land mines has restored the land for agriculture. 2011. (Photo by Catherine Belfield-Haines / UK Department for International Development) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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Investing in Water for Life

Murray_River

Water is returned to Australia’s Murray River through a Nature Conservancy Water Sharing Investment Partnership, 2016. (Photo by Brian Richter) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

 STOCKHOLM, Sweden, September 1, 2016 (Maximpact.com) – Water scarcity is a top risk to global prosperity and ecological integrity. But creative impact investment solutions, such as Water Sharing Investment Partnerships, can shift water back to the environment, while supporting irrigated agriculture and meeting urban needs, finds new research presented during World Water Week in Stockholm.

The new study  from nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, “Water Share: Using water markets and impact investing to drive sustainability,” shows that through new approaches to water markets, the planet-wide problem of water scarcity can be managed.

The WSIP concept was created by The Nature Conservancy’s water program and impact investment unit, NatureVest, to advance the strategic trading of water-use rights within river and lake basins.

The establishment of high-functioning and well-governed water markets – in which a cap on total use is set; rights to use water are legally defined, monitored, and enforced; and in which rights can be exchanged among water users – can provide a powerful integration of public and private efforts to alleviate water scarcity,” the report states.

This model takes advantage of the motivations and incentives for trading water,” says Brian Richter, the lead scientist for the water program at The Nature Conservancy, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia with offices in 30 countries.

As water assumes a value, it provides a huge incentive for water conservation and water savings,” he said.

The Nature Conservancy launched its first Water Sharing Investment Partnership in Australia in 2015 in the Murray-Darling river basin, which drains one-seventh of the continent. As of May 2016, about A$27 million had been invested in the Murray-Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund , with a target of A$100 million within the next four years.

NatureVest plans to replicate the success of this fund in other areas of the world and is now in the process of scoping various river basins across the western United States and Latin America, where a similar model of water reallocation through investor-funded solutions can be applied.

 The Nature Conservancy is now building off its track record of using philanthropic dollars to purchase water on behalf of the environment in North America, to craft Water Sharing Investment Partnerships (WSIPs) and other water transactions and investment mechanisms to help rebalance water use in stressed basins.

 A WSIP operates within an existing water market, using investor capital and other revenue sources to acquire water-use rights.

These rights can be reallocated to nature, or sold or leased to other water users seeking more supplies, generating financial returns for investors.

The report identifies investor funded solutions, some of which may serve as the basis for a future WSIP such as long-term water trades within farming communities by establishing a complex of water sharing agreements: “…farmers’ water markets, long-term trades between farmers and cities, short-term trades within farming communities and short-term exchanges between farmers and cities.

As water assumes a value, it provides a huge incentive for water conservation and water savings,” Richter says.

Freshwater ecosystems are the most imperiled on the planet, and their condition is getting worse. More than 30 percent of Earth’s water sources are being over-exploited, some to near exhaustion.

A sense of urgency pervades the conference hall as 3,000 people from 120 countries are gathered in Stockholm this week for the 26th annual World Water Week under the theme “Water for Sustainable Growth.”

Torgny Holmgren, executive director of the organizer, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), said, “Without reliable access to water, almost no Sustainable Development Goal will be achieved. To make that happen, we must ensure water’s centrality to the entire Agenda 2030. This will show the power water has a connector.

Water connects not only sectors, but also nations, communities and different actors. Water can be the unifying power, the enabler for progress in both Agenda 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Holmgren.

Stockholm Mayor Karin Wanngård told delegates that cities struggle with some of the biggest problems, but also have access to powerful solutions.

We have the job growth, the universities, the creative ideas,” she said. “We also face the biggest emissions, the social problems, and housing shortage. Our participation in the struggle for sustainable solutions is key for global success. And that means a growing responsibility, a moral responsibility towards future generations and their ability to live in cities where it is possible to work, live in security, breathe the air and drink the water.

Addressing the opening session, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström reinforced the message that water is a connector and an enabler in realizing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 6 – clean, accessible water for all.

Successful realization of Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda will underpin progress across many of the other goals, particularly on nutrition, child health, education, gender equality, healthy cities and healthy water ecosystems and oceans,” said Wallström.

 Angel Gurría, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said that water now has come to the front and center of international deliberations. “Water now has the place it needs to have in international priorities,” said Gurría.

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Professor Joan Rose is awarded the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize by H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, during a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall, August 31, 2016 (Photo courtesy Stockholm International Water Institute)

Professor Joan Rose from Michigan State University received the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize on Wednesday, for her tireless contributions to global public health; by assessing risks to human health in water and creating guidelines and tools for decision-makers and communities to improve global wellbeing.

The prize, worth $150,000, was presented to Professor Rose by H.M. Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, during a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall during World Water Week.

Professor Rose said, “As an individual it is an honor and I am overflowing with gratitude. But it means even more, because it is a prize that honors water, it honors the blue planet and it honors the human condition. Therefore, I am very proud.

Rose and her team, whom she calls “water detectives” investigate waterborne disease outbreaks globally, to determine how they can be stopped and prevented.

She is regarded as the world’s foremost authority on the microorganism Cryptosporidium, an intestinal parasite that in 1993 killed 69 people and sickened more than 400,000 others who drank contaminated water in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

More than two billion people still lack adequate sanitation, and over one billion lack access to safe drinking water. Hundreds of thousands of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases each year could be prevented by improved water, sanitation and hygiene,” said Holmgren.

Joan Rose, our water hero, is a beacon of light in the quest for securing a better, healthier life for this and future generations,” he said.

Speaking of what she views as the world’s greatest water challenge, Professor Rose said, “I think it is going to be the reversal of water quality problems around the world; the algal blooms in fresh water and coastal waters, and the pollution, not just associated with humans, but also with disease outbreaks among our wildlife, like amphibians and fish. I also think reconnecting water and food security will be a major challenge. We are starting to do it but it will definitely continue to be a challenge.”

Water Facts from the United Nations:

  • Some 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, but 663 million people are still without.
  • At least 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water that is fecally contaminated.
  • Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and is projected to rise. Over 1.7 billion people are currently living in river basins where water use exceeds recharge.
  • Of the world’s 7.5 billion people, 2.4 billion lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines.
  • More than 80 percent of wastewater resulting from human activities is discharged into rivers or sea without any pollution removal.
  • Every day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diseases.
  • Hydropower is the world’s most important and widely-used renewable source of energy and as of 2011, represented 16 percent of total electricity production worldwide.
  • Roughly 70 percent of all water drawn from rivers, lakes and aquifers is used for irrigation.
  • Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters.

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Featured Image: The Jordan River runs along the border between the Kingdom of Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The 251-kilometre (156 mile)-long river flows through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. (Photo by Tracy Hunter) Creative commons license via Flickr

In Search of a Water-Wise World

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The drought in Somalia has lasted for years. This image of two men carrying a water can on a dusty road was shot on December 14, 2013. (Photo by the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

ENSCHEDE, Netherlands, July 4, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Rukiyo Ahmed, 26, discovered she was pregnant just as drought began to parch her village in the East African country of Somalia. Her household lost all its livestock. When the drought intensified, Ahmed and her family had to seek relief with extended family members living in the town of Dangoroyo, 35 kilometres away.

“I was so worried that I would have a miscarriage due to the effects of the drought,” said Rukiyo. “We had so little to eat. I became very weak and could barely walk.”

This story has a happy ending. With the help of the UN Population Fund , Ahmed eventually gave birth to a healthy boy.

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China fights the advancing desert by planting trees in Inner Mongolia, May 2010. (Photo by Cory M. Grenier) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Still, water scarcity is a real and present danger for the two-thirds of the global population – four billion people – who live without enough water for at least one month of each year. Half a billion face severe water scarcity all year round, many in China, India and Africa.

Professor of water management Arjen Hoekstra and his team at University of Twente in The Netherlands have come to this conclusion after years of extensive research in a study published in the journal “Science Advances“.

“Groundwater levels are falling, lakes are drying up, less water is flowing in rivers, and water supplies for industry and farmers are threatened,” Hoekstra warns.

Until now, scientists had thought that about two to three billion people were suffering severe water scarcity. Four billion thirsty people is “alarming,” he said.

Professor Hoekstra’s team is the world’s first research group to establish the maximum sustainable “water footprint” for every location on Earth, and then investigate actual water consumption by location.

“Up to now, this type of research concentrated solely on the scarcity of water on an annual basis, and had only been carried out in the largest river basins,” says Hoekstra.

Severe water scarcity exists if consumption is much greater than the water supply can sustain. That is the case particularly in Mexico, the western United States, northern and southern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, India, China, and Australia.

There, households, industries and farmers regularly experience water shortages. In other areas, water supplies are still fine but at risk in the long-term, the Dutch team reports.

In the United States, 130 million of the country’s 323 million people are affected by water scarcity for at least one month of each year, most in the states of California, Florida and Texas.

Hoekstra observes that the subject of water scarcity is climbing higher and higher on the global agenda. “The fact that the scarcity of water is being regarded as a global problem is confirmed by our research,” he said. “For some time now, the World Economic Forum has placed the world water crisis in the top three of global problems, alongside climate change and terrorism.”

“All over the world,” Hoekstra said, “it is clear that the risks associated with high water consumption are being increasingly recognized. The growing world population, changes in consumer behavior, and climate change are having a significant impact on the scarcity and quality of water.”

Hoekstra’s work is confirmed by many other authoritative research teams.

About one-third of Earth’s largest groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted by human consumption, according to two new studies from the University of California, Irvine, the first to identify global groundwater loses using data from space. The data is drawn from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites flown by the U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).

This means that millions of people are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, conclude the researchers, whose findings were published June 16 in “Water Resources Research.”

In the first paper, researchers found that 13 of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers studied between 2003 and 2013 were being depleted while receiving little to no recharge. In a companion paper, they conclude that the total remaining volume of the world’s usable groundwater is poorly known, with estimates that often vary widely.

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California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr

“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

“The water table is dropping all over the world,” said Famiglietti. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

A NASA study released in March finds that the drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region of: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey, is likely the worst drought of the past 900 years.

In a joint statement, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said late last year, “El Niño will have a devastating effect on southern Africa’s harvests and food security in 2016. The current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years.”

El Niño conditions, which arise from a natural warming of Pacific Ocean waters, lead to droughts, floods and more frequent cyclones across the world every few years.

Meteorologists say this year’s El Niño is the worst in 35 years and is now peaking. Although it is expected to decline in strength over the next six months, El Niño’s effects on farming, health and livelihoods in developing countries could last through 2018.

In Central America, El Niño conditions have led to a second consecutive year of drought – one of the region’s most severe in history,

In Africa, Abdoulaye Balde, the World Food Programme’s country director in Mozambique issued a dire warning. “Mozambique and southern African countries face a disaster if the rains do not come within a few weeks,” he said.

“South Africa is six million tonnes short of food this year, but it is the usual provider of food reserves in the region,” said Balde. “If they have to import six million tonnes for themselves, there will be little left for other countries. The price of food will rise dramatically.”

Zimbabwe declared a national food emergency this month, according to the WFP rep in the capital, Harare. Food production is just half of what it was last year, and the staple grain, maize, is 53 percent more expensive.

Water scarcity remedies range from simple conservation and efficiency, to tree planting and wastewater re-use, to highly technical and expensive facilities such as nuclear desalination plants as advocated by the International Atomic Energy Agency  that would turn seawater into freshwater.

Finding sustainable solutions to water scarcity will be the focus of the annual World Water Week in Stockholm, held this year from August 28 to September 2. Hosted and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), this year’s theme is Water for Sustainable Growth.

Water experts, technicians, decision makers, business innovators and young professionals from more than 100 countries are expected in Stockholm to network, exchange ideas and foster innovations that could help satisfy the urgent needs of four billion people for water.

One such innovation is the world’s first certified green bond. It was just issued by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) under the Water Climate Bonds Standard, whose criteria was co-developed by SIWI and the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation.

The Water Climate Bonds Standard is a screening tool for investors that specifies the criteria that must be met for bonds to be labeled as “green” or earmarked for funding water-related, resilient, and low-carbon initiatives.

Proceeds from the SFPUC’s $240m Wastewater Revenue Bond  will fund projects in sustainable stormwater and wastewater management.


Featured image: California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr