World Water Week: Nature turns on the tap

How do we ensure safe access to water and sanitation for the planet’s growing urban population? This question will be discussed at the World Water Week from 21 to 27 August in Stockholm. The theme this year is ‘Responding to Global Changes: Water in an Urbanising World’. IUCN’s answer comes from nature itself.

Woman with baby at local water well, Zambia. Photo: IUCN/Daniel Shaw

Coping with growing water needs in cities is one of the most pressing challenges of this century. With the planet’s burgeoning population expected to hit seven billion in 2011 and with more than half of humanity living in cities, increasing pressure on freshwater is stretching this vital resource to its limits. As cities grow, they are looking further away to secure access to freshwater. This can lead to tensions across borders. According to IUCN, natural infrastructure and sound water management are key elements of sustainable solutions to these problems.

“Healthy ecosystems in river and groundwater basins upstream keep clean water flowing to cities and are key for building the social and economic resilience needed for cities to cope with climate change,” says Mark Smith, Director of the IUCN Global Water Programme. “Wetlands filter and clean water for free and healthy rivers deliver it to people in cities. Healthy forests and wetlands store water, and well-managed floodplains reduce the vulnerability of cities downstream.”

Investing in nature is also an important part of a green economy.

“Many of the world’s big cities have understood that protecting natural ecosystems to secure their water supplies makes economic sense,” says Ganesh Pangare, Coordinator of the IUCN Asia Water Programme. “Keeping water catchments healthy saves billions of dollars in costly urban infrastructure built to store, clean or transfer water.”

Well-coordinated cross-border cooperation is crucial for successful management of water resources that could potentialy cause tensions.

"IUCN’s recently launched BRIDGE project will help ensure that water management reforms are coordinated across borders,” says Alejandro Iza, Director of the IUCN Environmental Law Centre. “Better cooperation among countries that share water is vital in making sure that the development of water resources is sustainable and progress in bringing safe water supplies is faster.”

For more information, please contact:

In Stockholm: Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Water Programme, claire.warmenbol@iucn..., t +41 79 404 19 73
Ewa Magiera, IUCN Communications Officer,, t +41 76 505 33 78

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