World Water Forum: From crises to opportunities

Every three years, the World Water Forum puts water into the global spotlight. This 7th edition, which started on Sunday 12 April in Daegu and Gyeongju, Republic of Korea, will focus on moving from policy talk to implementation – on how to put proven solutions to water challenges into wider use by harnessing innovation, creativity and know-how on a scale that can make a difference at local to global levels.

Lake Sils - Switzerland

IUCN will deliver a clear message at the World Water Forum: solutions to the water challenges confronting California, Brazil and countless local communities, cities or nations around the world are known and they can be implemented. The change needed is not easy but it is achievable. The global community needs to implement major changes in how investments are made in natural and engineered infrastructure, how water-related ecosystems are valued, and how water is governed. New technologies and infrastructure have important roles to play, but alongside and in conjunction with new and much faster application of solutions from nature. Ecosystems and biodiversity help to store, clean and recycle water; effective conservation action should therefore be at the core of implementing solutions to global water challenges.

The 7th World Water Forum comes at the right moment. Severe droughts in California, Sao Paulo and Taiwan have made water a headline issue around the world, just days before the Forum opened. These events follow unprecedented flooding in recent years in the UK as well as increasingly urgent action in large cities such as Melbourne and Beijing to implement water conservation following decades of shrinking water supplies. The World Economic Forum ranked the water crisis as number 1 in its 2015 assessment of global risks with potential to cause damaging economic and social impacts across entire countries and sectors.

Current water emergencies are drawing political focus to water. Unless effective solutions are implemented, these emergencies are set to become more frequent and political pressure more intense. According to the UN’s World Water Development Report 2014, growth in the world’s population is increasing demand for freshwater by 64 billion cubic metres each year. In combination with climate change, water-related risks for water, food and energy security and for biodiversity are rapidly becoming more acute as a result. These translate into economic losses, with agriculture for example absorbing up to 84% of all economic impacts from drought and social vulnerability, with almost 3.5 billion people expected to be living in areas of high water stress by 2030.

Populations are demanding that leaders in government and business deliver water security. These demands will have to be met – to improve access to clean water and sanitation, combat water pollution, improve cooperation over transboundary rivers and protect and restore the benefits to water security provided by nature. This is why all of these issues rank as high priorities in the emerging Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set to be adopted at the United Nations Summit in September 2015.

There are good examples of how change to sustainable water management is achieved. The World Water Forum will showcase and promote exchanges on cutting-edge innovations and proven best practices. These should inspire political, business and community leaders to accelerate action that will meet demands for water security.

“Solutions for water exist," says Dr Mark Smith, Director IUCN Global Water Programme. "We do have the knowledge and innovation needed to reverse water emergencies like those we see in Brazil and California. What is needed is the application of those solutions and the implementation of innovative approaches that will accelerate progress at scale. With more willingness to adapt to the new water realities, we can manage the changes needed.”

For example, in the Pangani, a vital river for economic development in Tanzania, IUCN worked with government and communities to develop new ways of allocating water among competing users and nature. The result was less conflict over water and new associations to strengthen users in the face of climate change impacts . As part of the IUCN-IWA led Nexus Dialogue on Water Infrastructure Solutions, irrigators, energy companies and water management agencies from Asia, Africa and Latin America worked together to show how to optimise both built and natural water infrastructure in ways that will sustainably meet needs in the nexus of water, energy, food and environment. New innovations, institutional arrangements, decision making and financing are key but ultimately achievable through collaboration and visionary leadership.

An IUCN delegation is currently participating in the World Water Forum in Daegu and Gyeongju, Republic of Korea. For a full overview of events and activities, please download IUCN Programme at 7th World Water Forum.

For more information please contact
Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Global Water Programme Communications, 

Work area: 
Climate Change
Global Policy
Protected Areas
Social Policy
Environmental Law
World Heritage
South America
North America
East and Southern Africa
West and Central Africa
West Asia
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