Summing Up

The final day of World Water Week brought participants together to discuss the main lessons of the week. Broad conclusions always risk simplifying and diffusing the complexity of the issues that were discussed during the conference. Rapporteurs from the week’s sessions were therefore asked to report as concretely as possible on the following three headings, which reflect the conference’s overarching theme of cooperation: “cooperation for what and by whom”, “roadblocks and bridges”, and “the way forward”. Cooperation for what and by whom:

One of the key forms of cooperation discussed during this week has been cooperation between issue sectors such as the water, food and energy sectors. Following on from this, the theme for next year’s conference will be “water and energy”. Another key collaboration in the area of drinking water is collaboration with nature. In order to secure sustainability for water services, it has become apparent that it is necessary to better manage water resources. One example of this is the WaterAid’s community based water resource management (http://www.wateraid.org/~/media/Publications/strengthening-WASH-services-and-community-resilience.ashx). Another scheme, which we are collaborating with, is a participatory groundwater management scheme in India led by Arghyam (http://arghyam.org/focus-areas/resource-centre-for-promoting-participatory-groundwater-management-principles-in-the-himalayan-region/). Other areas of cooperation discussed during the conference include cooperation between the public, private and third sectors; cooperation between local, national and supranational agencies, and, importantly, cooperation within the sector itself.

Roadblocks and bridges:

As keynote speaker Professor Malin Falkenmark noted, one of the key difficulties when it comes to cooperation is that people come to water with very different perspectives. As an example, she showed a diagram which illustrated all of the different perspectives that people could have on the issue of water quality. Chemists, hydrologists, and social scientists for example would all look very differently at the issue. Sociologists may look at different cultural perceptions of cleanliness, chemists might focus on purification techniques, and hydrologists might look at how depleting water sources and pollution are affecting quality. Overcoming this, she suggested, will require a concerted effort to understand issues from others’ perspective. Meanwhile other speakers said that there may be trade-offs involved, and these should be made explicit. For example, a government might need to concede that a scheme such as a dam could contravene the rights of a particular indigenous group. Perhaps another question to ask then is cooperation for whom?

The Way Forward:

Finally, participants discussed a range of different solutions for moving collaboration forward. This included providing policymakers with concrete examples of approaches that have worked and, just as crucially, approaches which have failed; measuring the current costs of the status quo and showing people how much we’re losing by not changing our ways, as well as showing them how much we could benefit through change, and focusing on local, contextualized solutions. Meanwhile, the way forward for this conference will be through the “Stockholm Statement” which will call for a Sustainable Development Goal on water (http://stockholmstatement.siwi.org/). The SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) look likely to replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as global targets to be achieved by countries by 2030 (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/beyond2015-news.shtml). Speakers said it was important that there be a distinct goal on water because it is so crucial for development. But at the same time, it was agreed that water is a connecting force, not a sector in its own right. Participants therefore said that water should be considered in all of the other goals as well. Can we have it both ways? On-going discussions will take place regarding what will replace the MDGs.

A further debate, when it comes to the SDGS, is whether high level goals such as SDGs can make a difference. Participants throughout the week have stated that whilst some MDGs were achieved there were significant limitations, including inequitable results, problems with how they were measured, and perhaps most significantly, whether the progress that did occur would have occurred without the MDGs. As one speaker during the week said, high level discussions can be like ‘”rain that never hits the ground”. So in order to be truly effective, the SDGs will need to be measurable, linked to accountability structures and perhaps most importantly, linked to work on the ground. And this is where organisations such as FRANK Water come in. By working on the day to day issues of access to basic services such as drinking water, we gain an understanding of the difficulties that high level declarations face on the ground. And it will be our job over the coming years to collaborate with other organisations to make sure that this information is shared as widely as possible, so that the rain does eventually hit the ground.