I say water, you say…

This board (pictured above), displayed at World Water Week leads with the title "I Say Water, You Say..." and aptly illustrates the diverse ways in which water matters to different people. World Water Week 2013 has brought together 2,500 people from all over the world. They represent NGOs (non-governmental organisations), international agencies, governments and private companies. As several speakers have noted during this week, pretty much everyone is interested in water in some way, but they all come with different perspectives. Whilst NGOs may be interested in water for basic needs, a government may be interested in water as a security issue. And whilst a farmer may be interested in water for crops, a pastoralist may need water for livestock. At the launch of the Young Professionals Day, discussions centred on the five following issues, each of which involves water in different ways:

  • water and sanitation
  • climate change
  • water and food
  • water and energy
  • transboundary issues
  • ecosystems

Water and sanitation are basic needs and basic human rights. As discussed by Dr Peter Gleick in his keynote speech, the failure to deliver on these rights is perhaps one of the greatest failures of the 20th century. Meanwhile, several discussions have taken place over the week regarding the links between water and food. This includes developments in mapping the trade in virtual water: when we trade, we don’t just trade products such as food, we trade water. The water and energy debate is fairly new, but we at FRANK know from our own experience that the lack of energy can make water supply difficult, and vice versa. Meanwhile, as discussed in yesterday’s blog, transboundary issues around rivers are highly political. And ecosystems are a fundamental part of the equation and one that, according to Gleick, we have historically neglected.

These are all distinct and complex issues. But during discussions over roundtables, some common themes emerged: firstly, the need to go beyond top-down approaches. Schemes which aim to create change, without first engaging with people to understand their concerns, are doomed to failure. Secondly, there is a gap between public awareness and policy, and better communication could be established between the public and policymakers. Finally, in each of these sectors there is a gap between what we know and what we do. More research is needed, but at the same time, more effort needs to go into translating that research into action. A fantastic example was cited of an Indian programme specifically designed to educate policymakers on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene issues). In the UK, meanwhile, the Open University is looking to launch a WASH module which will be open to anyone in the world, using online resources and case studies provided by local partners. These kinds of constructive examples provide the basis on which future collaboration should be built.