Three big ideas from World Water Week 2015
World Water Week is an annual conference organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute that discusses global issues concerning water. Held in August 2015, World Water Week attracted over 3,000 participants, including government ministers, scientists and economists, from 130 different countries. To celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, here are 3 big ideas from World Water Week 2015.
- Water crises are at the top of Global Risk 2015 report
The World Economic Forum ranked water crises at the top of its Global Risks 2015 report, ahead of scenarios such as fiscal crises, unemployment and terrorist attacks.
It defines water crises as “a significant decline in the available quality and quantity of fresh water, resulting in harmful effects on human health and/or economic activity”. Such water crises were ranked as the highest risk in terms of impact and the eighth highest in terms of likelihood to happen. Within the next 20 years, global water requirements are projected to be pushed beyond current sustainable water supplies by 40%, while the water consumption required for energy production is projected to increase by 85%.
The report also shows which areas are least prepared for water crises, with the Middle East and North Africa as well as South Asia being particularly vulnerable. Water-related risks also appeared in other areas, with North America ranked as poorly prepared because of the failure to adapt to climate change and Sub-Saharan Africa being poorly prepared for food crises.
- Climate change is already affecting our water.
Some of the biggest impacts from climate change will be water-related, such as melting ice caps, rising sea levels and changing cloud formations.
One example of this link is the Marshall Islands, a collection of over a thousand islands situated in the Pacific Ocean. “They call us small island nations, when what we really are is large ocean states,” said Christopher Loeak, President of the Marshall Islands, in his speech during World Water Week.
The Marshall Islands are especially susceptible to rising sea levels. A sea level rise of 80 cm would wipe out one third of the country, a scenario predicted to happen well within the next 100 years. Meanwhile, the country must put up with flooding and droughts, depending on the season. The floods destroy infrastructure, contaminate fresh water supplies and spread bacterial infections, while the droughts prevent the production of crops.
While many of the world’s biggest countries continue to delay taking action against climate change, the Marshall Islands is already fighting. But without international cooperation, it cannot win. “I cannot in good conscience look my people in the eye and tell them things will be okay,” said President Loeak.
- We don’t have a water sector. And we don’t need one.
With mounting pressure on water systems and supply around the globe, there is a need to take action on water issues. But how? The COP21 summit will be held in Paris in December 2015, where current climate change targets will be assessed and new targets will be drafted, but not one session at that meeting is dedicated solely to water.
The lack of recognition of an official water sector doesn’t bother water experts as much as you might think. “Water is a cross-cutting resource, not a sector,” said Karin Lexén, director of World Water Week, International Processes & Prizes. “We cannot afford to focus on sectoral self-interests or work in silos.”
Much like the very thing they aim to protect, water experts want the freedom to reach into as many different sectors as possible. Instead of isolating water issues, this would maximise the chance of finding practical solutions concerning water. This approach was summarized by David Tickner, chief freshwater advisor at WWF. “Ask not what you can do for water, but what water can do for you.”