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World Water Week round up and reflections

6 September 2012

Last Friday saw the end of the 2012 World Water Week in Stockholm which, as always, provided a platform for exchanging ideas, debating new concepts and providing the opportunity for like-minded organisations to creatively collaborate.  Some of the standout themes that emerged over the week were the water- food- energy Nexus, Partnerships, Tools and Data.

The Nexus is not a new concept and is something that has been under discussion for some time, particularly since the 2011 Bonn Nexus Conference. The key difference in this year’s discussions, however, was the progression of the issue from a broad theoretical concept to actually seeing practical examples of how it is being both experienced and addressed on the ground. It has been encouraging to hear of projects being implemented which not only demonstrate understanding of the link between the issues but also the recognition that we can no longer tackle resource challenges in silos. At the same time, discussions over the week highlighted the effort that is still needed, particularly at the policy level, in ensuring that this connectivity is recognised, understood and used to inform decision-making.

Partnerships, perhaps unsurprisingly, featured strongly in a number of seminars and meetings in terms of their essential role in addressing some of the bigger water challenges facing business, government, and communities as a whole. It is encouraging to see that, whilst there are still a few talking shops, an increasing number of these partnerships are focused on on-the-ground water risk mitigation.

Another striking feature of the week is the continued development and refinement of tools designed to help address water risk for the corporate sector. It almost seems that there is a race to continually innovate and develop new tools. Water tools certainly have their place, and there are a number which are proving to be quite robust including the (CEO Water Mandate) Water Action Hub, WWF Water Risk Filter and Aqueduct.

However, local research and analysis is always required and this leads on to the final theme of the week - local data availability, which featured in a number of discussions. There are still glaring gaps in local data and appropriate KPIs in some of the countries where it is needed the most. What this means practically is that a number of governments are not yet able to get a granular understanding of what their water risks are, nor can they measure if and how progress is being made to mitigate these risks.

The week demonstrated a wide degree of contrasts, from leading thinking on how to address the Nexus challenge, to grappling with basic data collection and understanding.  While it is vitally important to keep on challenging our thinking and pushing boundaries, we must first create a consistent foundation level of understanding water risk and its interrelationships with other scarce resources. If we don’t, progressive action on mitigation will remain the domain of best practice exceptions when what we really need is for it to become the norm.

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