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Water at the crossroads of Climate Change and the SDGs

September 22, 2015
  • World Water Week ends with a call to climate negotiators to fully integrate water into the global agreement of Paris 2015 next December
  • Solving the problems of hydric resources and sanitation are approached as a key factor in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
  • The prestigious event about water in Stockholm held its 25th anniversary with 3,300 participants from 125 countries

Water for Development was the slogan of this year’s World Water Week (WWW) held between the 24 and 27 of August in Stockholm. 3,300 participants from 125 countries analysed and debated the most pressing questions that affect water and sanitation, and showed why water is a key factor in the future of humanity: without water sustainable development is not possible and it is one of the factors that causes most uncertainty in the current process of global warming. The executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), organiser of WWW, Torgny Holmgren, emphasised this latter point referring to the climate and summarised by stating: "Water is the linking element between all the aspects of Climate Change. Climate Change is Water Change".

This year’s World Water Week held its 25th anniversary. The event originally began as the Stockholm Water Symposium in 1991 and it was in 2001 when it changed its name to World Water Week. Since then, and organised by the SIWI, it has been held annually in the Swedish capital, is a benchmark in questions of managing the water crisis, and is attended by representatives of governments, university and research centres, civil institutions and companies from around the world.

Key in the Sustainable Development Goals

The beginning of the race to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set out by the UN as a natural prolongation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), was one of the recurring themes in most of the interventions and debates, most particularly on the interdependency of these goals with Climate Change.

Just as Anders Jägerskog stated, consultant of the Swedish Embassy in Amman for regional questions of water in the Middle East and North Africa, member of the Scientific Committee of WWW and chief editor of the World Water Week Report, water is the key factor for evaluating global warming on Earth: "The effects of Climate Change will be shown through water, and in fact they already are. There is too much water in some zones and not enough in others. Water now comes when you don’t need it, and not when it is necessary. As a prior requisite for sustainable development, water has the potential to serve as a connector between nations, not only between the different political settings and economic sectors".

With an eye set on Paris 2015

From the 30 November to 11 December this year, France will host and chair the 2015 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11), also called "París 2015". It is a critical date, since it must result in a new international agreement about the climate applicable to all countries with the goal of maintaining global warming below 2º C.

The spirit of the Conference goals was clearly present during WWW in Stockholm. The reality of Climate Change and its direct influence on access to water, the food security of billions of people and the risk of meteorological disasters are the unanimous concerns of scientists, water managers and the governments of the most vulnerable countries, which have increased in number as scientists have discovered the reality of the threat.

A dramatic example of this was the plea to the negotiators in Paris 2015 by the President of the Marshall Islands, Christopher J. Loeak, to reach an historic agreement that not only saves his country, but also the world: "We [Marshall Islands] have a future before us in which we are literally being swept off the map", he stated in reference to what the threat of the forecast rise in the sea level represents for his country.

Anders Jägerskog also referred to the leading role of water in the next Paris Conference and the importance of framing it in the achieving of the SDGs as from: "The implementation of the post-2015 development agenda and the hoped-for new agreement about climate change must be undertaken coherently and water can only provide a bridge for this coherency".

Rajendra Singh, prize in indigenous wisdom

Each year during World Water week the SIWI awards the Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, a prize awarded for the recognition of people directly related to work in pursuit of access to water, sanitation and the fight for sustainable development in the areas most affected by the lack of these basic resources.

The 2015 prize was awarded to Rajendra Singh for his efforts to improve safe access to water in rural India and achieving greater food and economic security for the neediest. Singh lives and works in the arid Indian state of Rajasthan, where for several decades he has devoted himself to the fight against drought and in favour of empowering the communities of the area. In close collaboration with the local people, his work is based on recovering ancestral techniques, which he states are those that guarantee the sustainability of the solutions: "Through indigenous wisdom of collecting rainwater we have made villages that were abandoned in poverty prosper. The current problems of water cannot be resolved with science or technology alone. There are human problems of governance, politics, leadership and we must recover the capacity for social recovery. To solve local water problems we must develop participative action and the empowerment of women, link ancestral knowledge to the modern scientific and technological focuses and invest in traditional models of development, use of resources and social norms".

ABOUT THE WE ARE WATER FOUNDATION

The We Are Water Foundation, promoted by the Roca company, has as objectives, on the one hand, to raise awareness amongst the general public and the administrations about the need to promote a new culture of water and, on the other hand, relieve the negative effects related to the lack of hydric resources, through the development of cooperation and aid programmes alongside diverse organisations such as Education without Frontiers, the Vicente Ferrer Foundation, Intermón Oxfam and UNICEF.