2013 World Water Week: Water cooperation – building partnerships


Courtesy of Stockholm International Water Institute

The UN General Assembly has declared 2013 the “International Year of Water Cooperation. Why do we need to cooperate, on what, for what aim, at what level, with whom and, not least, how? The 2013 World Water Week in Stockholm will raise these questions to the international water community.

In two years, a new set of international “Sustainable Development Goals” (SGDs) will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The process to establish these SDGs has been initiated as an outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20”, in June 2012. The Rio+20 outcome document clearly states water as one key area for achieving sustainable development and thus on important part of the upcoming SGDs and post 2015 development framework.

With an expected world population of more than 9 billion people by 2050, depending on the same finite and vulnerable water resource as today for sustaining life and wellbeing, our inter-dependence is growing every day. With this in mind, the 2013 World Water Week will explore perspectives for building partnerships, advancing future water cooperation and finding solutions to the world’s waterrelated challenges.

Cooperation between actors in different sectors
Cooperation between actors in different sectors is essential for proper water development and management, and water managers need to reach out and work closely with actors in most sectors of society. This calls for increased cooperation with an ecosystems services perspective, sharing water benefits, costs and risks, and cooperating with the stakeholders concerned. A shared understanding and analysis of the economic and financing aspects is a prerequisite for meaningful cooperation. Ensuring adequate domestic water supply and sanitation, not least in the rapidly growing urban centres, and satisfying the need of other strongly water dependent sectors, such as industry, tourism/recreation and transport, also calls for cross-sectoral collaboration.

Cooperation between stakeholder groups – recognising water as a common good
The Human Right to safe drinking water and sanitation has been recognised by the UN; for all other uses government has a responsibility to ensure the optimum allocation and management of the water resource for the whole of society. This calls for the involvement of all relevant stakeholder groups, and for getting central and local governments, civil society organisations, private sector, academia and practitioners to the same table.

An increasingly important stakeholder group for effective water development and management is the private sector. This includes both large-scale and small-scale enterprises for whom access to water, and water-efficient production, are important in the face of the challenges of increased water scarcity. Private infrastructure investors and developers share similar concerns, and are faced with increasing demands for achieving environmental and social sustainability of infrastructure developments. Effective public-private-civic partnerships to ensure dialogue, and share benefits, costs and risks, are critical to make this work.

Water is a local resource, but cooperation on water also needs to be global. Enhancing the ‘north-south’ and ‘southsouth’ cooperation between high income, transitional and low income regions and countries is a continuous challenge. However, the traditional divides between ‘north’ and ‘south’ are rapidly changing in a globalising world, and so are the mechanisms of cooperation.

Cooperation across traditional management – from hilltop to ocean
Managing water means different things to different ‘water communities’: freshwater resources management, often divided into specialties around rivers, lakes, groundwater and glaciers; drinking water and sanitation management; wastewater management; coastal zone management etc. These communities again divide into different communities around the purpose of water development and management, such as different economic use sectors; ecosystems and habitats; climate change, disaster management etc. Although all of these communities address water as a vital resource for society, they often live separate lives without much communication between them. Bridging these management divides is a major water cooperation challenge to achieve coherence in policies and practices.

Many such relevant ‘management communities’ could be mentioned, but some of the more obvious relate to land, ecosystems and oceans, as well as to the linkages to climate change and disaster risk reduction. Land management is critical to water management: managing water with the land from ‘green’ to ‘blue’ and ‘grey’ water, and managing land rights and tenure, land use and management, and land acquisition, as key determinants to water governance. Although the concept of integrated water resources management (IWRM) explicitly mentions the land-water linkage, in practice it is often forgotten.

The outcome document of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 states the need to “significantly reduce water pollution” and “significantly improve wastewater treatment”. These long neglected issues require significant intersectoral cooperation to address the serious backlog that exists.

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