Article | 22 Aoû, 2018

World Water Week: Water, ecosystems and human development

Water, ecosystems and human development is the leading theme of this year’s World Water Week. The annual conference on water is held in Stockholm, Sweden from 26 to 31 August and gathers scientists, business leaders, policy makers and water managers to convene and discuss challenges and solutions for our planet’s most precious resource.

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Photo: ©ADPP

The theme ‘water, ecosystems and human development’ recognises an inseparable trio. Development does not exist without water.  Without water, ecosystems and people suffer and development stalls. Without healthy ecosystems, water degrades and development brings risks and insecurity. For development to prosper and flourish, water and ecosystems need to be given the chance to do the same”, says James Dalton, Director of the IUCN Global Water Programme.

World Water Week offers an international platform for government, business, and science to convene and address the many challenges posed to our planet’s dwindling and degrading water resources. Earlier this year, the UN focused on nature-based solutions as the theme for the 2018 World Water Development Report. IUCN pioneered nature-based solutions over a decade ago and continues to implement them widely on the ground.

Nature-based solutions represent our reliance on natural systems. We rely on the natural properties, distribution, and functioning of our natural ecosystems and biodiversity that provide us with freshwater.  Mangroves naturally protect coastlines, provide habitat, and store carbon.  Floodplains have shaped our landscapes for millions of years, providing fertile land for agriculture and habitat for biodiversity and human livelihoods.  Wetlands help to slow down floodwaters, distribute nutrients and improve water quality.

If we safeguard nature’s health, and therefore performance, we could save billions in water services that are provided by nature based solutions, and also help avoid loss of human life caused by large-scale disasters and conflict.

Now in the second year of implementation, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) address water challenges through SDG 6, specifically target 6: ‘by 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes’. Considering the UN Biodiversity Conference will take place in late 2018, the biodiversity dimension of ecosystem development and water resource management will be given special attention in Stockholm by the IUCN Water Programme.

A new Alliance for Freshwater Life (AFL) will be launched at WWW, a global collaboration to halt and reverse the decline of freshwater biodiversity. The AFL is an interdisciplinary network which will work to improve the conservation and sustainable use of freshwater ecosystems and the biodiversity therein. During another special session, the results of five years implementation of IUCN's Partnership for Environmental Governance in West Africa (PAGE) will be presented. The PAGE programme was implemented in West Africa, specifically in the Volta, Niger, Senegal and Mono river basins.

One of IUCN’s key sessions at WWW ‘Water, Biodiversity & Development: a magic formula for the SDGs’ will address answers which swirl and resurface in many international debates. How do we steer national SDG planning debates to recognize that the SDGs are indivisible? Can conservation be better articulated – by the water and biodiversity communities alike – as a key development issue? In the end SDGs related to life on land, biodiversity, water, and oceans, underpin the stability of the planet, and that of current and future human development.

Fishermen in Mozambique, IUCN SUSTAIN Initiative       Photo: ©ADPP

IUCN will equally address one of the greater policy challenges of our time: how to prioritise different river basin benefits and functions given limited water resources?  The session ‘Efficiency, sufficiency, sustainability: allocation in river basins’ will look at policy challenges and public and private responses to improve water allocation that includes ecosystem and development needs. Taking this into the international realm, IUCN will focus on transboundary water management, and what mechanisms have moved beyond the state diplomatic offices to share water among diverse sets of stakeholders while balancing development and conservation goals (Session: Share, Conserve, Develop! How do we do it all in Transboundary Basins?).

Water challenges are global in scope, but hit women and the world’s poor hardest, as the lack of sufficient, clean, affordable water impacts health and wellbeing. IUCN, along with the Women for Water Partnership, Oxfam, and SaciWATERs will release a new publication titled ‘Women as Change-makers in the Governance of Shared Waters’. Issues of gender equality in transboundary water governance have received little explicit attention to date in policy literature, but action is happening on the ground. “With improved recognition and understanding of the roles women fulfil as agents of change in the governance of shared waters governance, there is potential to accelerate transformations that will lead to a more sustainable resource for humans and nature, says Isabelle Fauconnier, IUCN Water Policy and Governance Coordinator.


For a full overview of events where IUCN will lead, co-convene or contribute, please visit this page:

IUCN Water will be tweeting live from Stockholm Water Week under the handle @IUCN_Water and using the hashtag #WWWeek, #NBS, and #SDG6.