The 19th Stockholm World Water Week held August 16-22 ended with a message sending to the Copenhagen climate negotiations to be held in December calling for including water in the climate change negotiations. More than 2000 participants from over 130 countries took part in the discussions relating to all kinds of issues related to water in Stockholm. What are the new progresses? Here is a roundup of the world water week by Xuefei Chen.
Water is not just another sector
Anders Bertil, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute which is the main host of the water week pointed out that water is not just another sector, it is the prerequisite for the development of all sectors. "All the other sectors in our society depends on water."
This is a big change in thinking compared with many years ago. People tended to call on politicians to pay attention to water issue while water issue cannot be solved only by the water sector or water engineers. It is realized now that it needs the coordinated efforts from all related sectors including agriculture, climate, energy, disaster alleviation, environment, finance, sanitation and health, urban sector, water quality, management, water supply as well as regional and transboundary waters.
The theme of this year's water week is Responding to global changes, accessing water for the common good with special focus on transboundary waters. With such a theme, the emphasis obviously changed from superficial slogans or theories to facing the reality and sit down and let's talk about cooperation rather than conflict, let's share best practices and lessons.
Professor Yang Xiaoliu from Peking University and also a member of the Scientific Committee of SIWI said that people didn't realize the problem when productivity was low. As economic and social developments are catching up, especially in developing countries, water becomes more valuable than before because every sector needs water, without water, without development. Thus facing the problem and talking about it is the best method to solve the problem.
Dr. Yin Junxian, China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research revealed that the high cost of water projects such as South-North Diversion project and the Three Gorges project is not on the dam itself, the larger part of the cost is on the resettlement of residents and other areas.
"Thus we should pay attention to various stakeholder's interest to minimize various contradictions. When the contradictions are solved, the cost can be lowered too," he shared the experiences in China in multi-agency coordination over the South North Diversion projects in China. "When we designed a 50 year or 100 year long project, we consider the majority's interest and it must be good for the majority, but some small number of people's interest can be affected. In that situation, some kind of compensation mechanism must be created so that all the stakeholder's interest is considered."
Water and climate change
SIWI chief Anders Bertil said that climate change is in effect water change, since it will be through water that the changes will be realized first and foremost. Climate adaptation is to a large extent about water resources management .
Compared with the rhetoric of fighting against or combating climate change, the words of mitigation and adaptation of climate change are mostly used so that people become more constructive and down to earth in finding practical ways to truly mitigate and adapt climate change.
Professor John Matthews from WWF said water is the medium through which most ecosystems, societies, economies and cultures will experience climate change.
"The water community is not engaging effectively with policy makers on adaptation," thus he suggested that information and the access to information should be immediate for communities and policy makers. Adaptation must be grounded in sustainable ecosystem management , people and ecosystems should be recognized as the center of good adaptation practice and capacity development and knowledge sharing should be open access, bottom-up, top-down, south-north and gender-cognizant.
Managing water demand and China's efforts in saving water
Compared with the past, more and more people realized that water is not free, water has a price. The message from the Istanbul Water Forum was that ‘free water is over'. Thus, during the water week people thoroughly discussed how to manage water demand, why people live in mega cities have to pay for their use of water.
The global water crisis shows that one must manage their consumption of water. In the contrast of complaining that China's eating habit change might cause severe challenges for the world in other years, people noticed the positive changes happening in China.
Senior scientist Professor Malin Falkenmark, who is also the ‘mother of the concept of green water and blue water' from SIWI said that there are some interesting breakthroughs.
"We have heard some interesting breakthroughs, first of all, the increased attention paid to the possibility to control evaporation now developed in China and the possibility to turn non-productive evaporation into biomass producing transpiration. The study from China shows that much higher productivity could be achieved if one uses supplementary irrigation with plastic sheeting by conventional blue water irrigation," said Falkenmark.
Another positive initiative is launched by Friend's Earth in Jordan to build good neighborly water partnership among Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli communities and improve awareness among the youth on water shortages and how to cooperate to deal with the water issue instead of conflict.
The 60th General Assembly president Jan Eliasson made a keynote speech on water, development, peace and security. He proposed that water should be a catalyst for cooperation and a way out to achieve peace and security if people can change their mindset.
India Sulabh Sanitation Movement leader Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak won the 150 thousand dollar Stockholm Water Prize for his unremitting efforts in changing people's mindset and building low paid public toilets for millions and millions of the poor.
Professor Falkenmark said that to find out a distinction of water use will be essential between the local use and the large recirculation, those that are truly consumptive and how far demand management can reduce the water needs.
Water sources have to be distinguished too, the blue water in rivers and lakes and the green water in the soil. Green water contributes over 80% of crop production, the largest water consumer is the forest.
"This awareness of two complementary sources, also give the credibility to the idea that Subsahara Africa may become a great giant in future food production. There is plenty of green water to be used in Africa, " said Falkenmark.
Business sector must face the reality
Water should be high on the business agenda because all businesses depend on water. The continuity and future success of any business are impacted by the availability, cost and quality of water at many points along the ‘value chain', including ‘upstream', midstream and down-stream, there is alternative for source for energy, but there is no alternatives to water, stressed the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
Mr. Björn Stigson, President of WBCSD said looking back, one can see a change inside the industrial sector for example to improve efficiency and lower the cost. But the business sector have to see outside factors and different stakeholders. Businesses are facing the third industrial revolution.
"The world will be completely different if we want to reduce carbon dioxide by 50% in 40 years time. It means an industrial revolution which sees the industry to be clean, lean and mean. Clean because we cannot pollute as we did, lean because we do not have enough resources with the present economic structure we have and an increase of more people. It should be mean because of the transformation of challenge," said Stigson.
Stigson pointed out that business must pay attention to social development which related to water and communities because if the society fails, there will be no way to develop business. So business must be done on the basis of taking consideration of social capital, human capital and resources capital.
"This is the big challenge for the business community. Where is the borderline of our social responsibility? What can be done and what we should do? The answer is not obvious yet. But we need to be visionary and there must be a strong cooperation between different parts of the society," Stigson pointed out a good question.
With the challenges that every day about 5000 children die of water-related diseases and 2.6 billion people still not having safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, the theme of next year's Water Week will focus on water quality, announced Anders Bertil, executive director of SIWI which hosts the week every year.
By Xuefei Chen, People's Daily Online, Stockholm.