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World Water Week 2019: Making inclusive development a reality

3 October 2019
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OneWorld staff were among the record number of water professional attendees, conveners and presenters from across the globe at the 2019 World Water Week (WWW) in Stockholm from 25 – 30 August.

The theme of the week was ‘Water for Society: Including All’ and the content shared during the week highlighted how this is more than just an aspiration. If we want to realise the 2030 Agenda, then inclusive growth needs to be at the centre of everything that is done to achieve each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including SDG 6: Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

A few weeks after the conference, OneWorld team members reflect on the conference and whether we are making the necessary progress to bring the urgent issue of inclusivity into the water security debate. In particular, this article reflects on the discussions at WWW around transboundary finance and water management, and nature-based solutions as key areas for enabling sustainable, inclusive development.

To read more about OneWorld’s seminars at the 2019 WWW and access related resources - click here.

Financing Transboundary Investments

Throughout the week, presenters and participants highlighted opportunities and challenges for mobilising finance for transboundary water management. The Economist Intelligence Unit launched its Blue Peace Index on the first day of the conference. This set the tone for the week, as multiple seminars explored the need for a clear focus on mobilising transboundary investments, with a strong emphasis on private sector investment.

Participants identified a number of challenges for mobilising climate finance for transboundary investments, including capacity constraints of national governments in developing countries, limited access to or a lack of historical and projected data, and the ever-changing criteria that international donors pose for accessing funds. Nevertheless, the requirement to develop bankable transboundary investment programmes is an opportunity to promote international cooperation and improve coherence of decision-making and communication.

Participants also emphasised the need to adopt emerging approaches towards transboundary water management such as the Source-to-Sea approach. This integrated approach to environmental management and development links multiple aspects - from land use, through to estuarine systems, and all the way through to the open ocean.

Private sector investment in transboundary water, however, remains a significant challenge. River Basin Organisations (RBOs) and their riparian countries need to think differently about the role of private sector investment and the opportunities for attracting it. OneWorld CEO Belynda Petrie sheds some light on this question in  her recent article “Financing transboundary water investments – from public good to shared interest”.

Belynda Petrie speaks the Blue Peace Launch during World Water Week 2019

OneWorld, with Stefan Uhlenbrook from the UNESCO World Water Assessment Programme, co-led the Seminar on Water Security, Migration and Regional Integration – is there a Nexus?. Spanning three sessions over the course of a day, the seminar explored the links between water security, migration and regional integration, raising questions around the differences between drivers and stress multipliers. Using examples from globally representative regions, the seminar made the case for inclusive water resource management as an important measure for reducing displacement and optimising the opportunities presented by migration.

OneWorld researcher Anna Filipova(project manager: energy transitions)  also presented at the seminar on ongoing research into the linkages between trends in regional integration and water security in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The research analysed secondary data on historic trends in water security, migration, urbanisation, population growth and regional integration. The study shows that migration and regional integration have a nuanced relationship with water security, improving it in some cases, and worsening it in others. Gaps in regional and basin-level water policy were identified, with the study recommending that regional integration be identified and analysed as a key driver of water security and insecurity in SADC. The full paper will be published in due course.

Seminar on Water Security, Migration and Regional Integration – is there a Nexus?

Is there evidence to support nature-based solutions?

A later session examined the options provided by nature-based solutions (NbS). Biodiversity and ecosystem services provide numerous benefits such as climate regulation and water purification, amongst many others. Multiple studies show an emerging consensus that the benefits from investing in such NbS significantly outweigh the costs. However, these benefits and costs are often not equitably shared and inclusive.

Experts at WWW highlighted the need for a better understanding of this business case and the true value of NbS. It is clear that integrating and scaling up both grey (built) infrastructure as well as green (natural) solutions to water challenges is an urgent priority. Despite the rapidly advancing evidence base for NbS, through a variety of practices such as environmental flow assessments, there remains a lack of robust evidence for the relative costs and benefits associated with integrating grey and green solutions, and for how these can be equitably shared.

Discussions highlighted the challenges of simply trying to transfer cost-benefit assessments of green infrastructure options from one geography to another. These challenges stem from the fact that the array of co-benefits derived from NbS differ widely in different contexts. Going forward, NbS experts need to be involved in decision-making, and developing and planning infrastructure, from the outset, and not only consulted to see where they could add value after the fact. It is essential that practitioners and experts convey the costs and benefits of green options to decision-makers in a clear and transparent manner that is easy to understand and draw comparisons from.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) 2019 report on Integrating Green and Gray provides a strong case for the need to integrate all types of infrastructure into planning for sustainable development. Building on this, WRI introduced a paper at the conference to guide practitioners on how to conduct a ‘green-gray’ assessment through a six-step method of economic analysis that puts green infrastructure on an equal footing with grey infrastructure. This approach is gaining recognition as best practice in terms of integrated water resources management.

OneWorld researcher Jonty Rawlins (Project Manager: Natural Resources) also presented his research into ‘Governing water (re)allocation in South Africa: insights from a crisis’ at the Water governance with and for all: Is it working? seminar. The study analyses the complex aspects influencing water reallocation in South Africa through a case study of the recent drought in South Africa’s Western Cape province.

His research finds that South Africa is a key example of equity being the fundamental driving force for reallocation. However, severe climatic stressors have exposed political, regulatory and institutional water governance deficiencies throughout the Western Cape and South Africa at large. Responding to water misallocation requires that reallocation mechanisms that balance equity and efficiency criteria be integrated within the framework of existing political institutions.

Read the full published paper here.

Jonty Rawlins presents his research into ‘Governing water (re)allocation in South Africa: insights from a crisis’ at the Water governance with and for all: Is it working? session at World Water Week 2019

Looking forward

Next year’s WWW will focus on the multidimensional challenges of climate change. 2020 is poised to be a watershed year for inclusive and sustainable development as the global threat of climate change will highlight the progress (or lack thereof) towards achieving the SDGs.

Inclusivity must remain a central objective of water security initiatives going forward if the world is to achieve SDG 6 and the 2030 Agenda. There needs to be continued and progressive realisation of the SDGs for all, in order to reduce the net risks associated with key global challenges such as , land degradation and climate change.



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