World Water Forum: nature takes centre stage

Natural ‘infrastructure’ such as river basins, forests, lakes and wetlands, plays a key role in addressing today’s global water needs and must be an integral part of every country’s water management portfolio, says IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) at the World Water Forum starting in Marseille on Monday 12 March.

Zarqa River Photo: Dana Khrais

 With burgeoning populations, growing economies and a changing climate, universal access to water and sanitation is one of the key challenges of the 21st century. In Marseille, politicians, water managers, the private sector, NGOs and communities will come together to debate and share solutions to the water challenge. IUCN believes that nature and the services it provides are central to these solutions.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to the water challenge,” says Rocio Cordoba, IUCN Water Unit Coordinator in Mesoamerica. “Many different approaches are needed but more democratic management of our natural ecosystems within river basins such as forests, lakes and wetlands can, and should, play a key role in building a fair and sustainable world”.

Nature provides us with many services that are crucial to sustainable water management. Forest soils, aquifers, lakes and wetlands provide water storage. Wetlands filter water, floodplains and wetlands lower flood peaks in downstream cities, while mangroves and coral reefs protect coasts against storms and floods. This natural ‘infrastructure’ also makes us stronger in the face of climate change.

“A healthy environment is critical to strengthening our resilience against climate change”, says Mark Smith, Director of IUCN’s Global Water Programme. “It protects us from floods, droughts, erosion and other disasters and keeps clean water flowing from our taps. No strategic package for financing can be complete without investment in natural infrastructure and no minister making a decision on water infrastructure can be fully briefed until the natural infrastructure options are on the table too.”

Natural ‘infrastructure’ is the backbone of the green economy and the benefits of investing in it often exceed the costs. Beijing municipality, for example, invested US$ 1.9 billion from 2001-2005 in watershed protection, New York spent US$ 1.5 billion on ecosystem management rather than $6 billion on a water filtration plant and private companies and NGOs in Quito, Ecuador are building a trust fund for watershed management, now worth US$ 8 million.

“IUCN has a strong message to send from Marseille to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development taking place in Rio in June, and then onward to IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Republic of Korea in September,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “Sound water management is fundamental for building a sustainable future. Only with a healthy and sustainable natural environment can we make our economies truly ‘green’.”

For more information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

• Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 79 856 76 26, e ewa.magiera@iucn.org
In Marseille: Brian Thomson, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 79 721 8326, e brian.thomson@iucn.org
Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Water Programme Communications Officer: m +41 79 404 1973, e claire.warmenbol@iucn.org

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