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Reflections from World Water Week 2011

1 September 2011

Water in an Urbanising World - was the theme of last week's World Water Week in Stockholm, and you would be hard pressed to find a more topical theme. There is little doubt that a large number of cities, particularly in developing countries, are grappling to provide their citizens with basic water and sanitation needs. While some progress has certainly been made there are still large gaps. According to the UNEP for example some 2 ½ billion people are still without access to improved sanitation and less than 60% of people in sub-Saharan Africa have access to improved freshwater.

So how can this divide be bridged? This was one of the key questions emanating out of two specific sessions focussing on Africa and Latin America respectively. The Africa focus day was convened by stakeholders such as African Ministers Council on Water, World Bank and UNEP amongst others, and what was clear from the speakers was that there is no silver bullet to solve the world's water problems. Rather, it is a combination of cross functional actions which are mutually inclusive by nature. Similarly the Latin America Focus day, which was hosted by key players such as UN-Habitat and the Inter-American Development Bank, the complexity of the challenge was highlighted however, as in the African session, solutions are available, however they need to be implemented in parallel and in a co-ordinated manner. Some of these actions include:

  • Reinvigorating water governance including legislative reforms
  • Targeted donor funding (Sub-Saharan Africa requires approximately US$10 billion annually)
  • Integrated water planning by governments
  • Upgrading utilities (human and physical resources) and ensuring these are correctly funded
  • Full cost pricing of water
  • Better hydrological data

One thing that is for certain however, is that this cannot be achieved by government alone but requires the support of a range of stakeholders from the business community to civil society. Each stakeholder group brings specific skills and know-how to the table which, when drawn on individually, has limited impact but drawn together with other players forms an intricate network where the sum is far greater than the individual parts.

This has been one of the key reasons why the Water Futures partnership was established, to leverage the collective action of a group of stakeholders with a mutual interest in seeing water risks being addressed. The Water Futures Partnership was initiated by SABMiller, WWF and German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) to demonstrate the business case for private sector engagement in promoting the sustainable management of water resources. While working on a relatively small scale, the partnership is demonstrating how, in the multidimensional setting of large metropolises, action can be taken where there is a common will to work together under the mantra of shared risk, shared responsibility. Over the next partnership year we look forward to growing our local partnerships through engaging with a broader range of interested stakeholders and welcome your input into this process.

To read the latest Water Futures partnership report click here

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