Water aid can solve the crisis

Posted: 2009-12-13

The solutions of many of the problems caused by climate change are within the sectors of society which manage water. Adaptation to climate change is about water and development – yet the world’s aid to improving water security decreases. Sweden must push to make sure that water issues are not overlooked in the climate change debate – and now or never is what it is all about, write water experts at Sida, UNDP, GWP, UN-Water, Stockholm Water House, and Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)

Article published in the Swedish Newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on 3 November 2009,

This is a translation from Swedish.

Climate change has a major impact on the world’s water resources, with longer periods of drought, increased unpredictability in rainfall and worsening floods as clear examples. In addition, this affects a number of societal functions and activities, especially the agricultural and energy sector. Therefore efficient and sustainable water use is key to the survival of millions of people. Experience and knowledge of how water resources should be allocated and used efficiently and sustainably is a cornerstone for successful adaptation efforts to the climate change. Yet, the international community’s support to development of water dependant sectors in developing countries has drastically declined in recent years.Facts show that the trend is not due to the financial crisis.

This is the background to the pre-meeting about the role of water in the climate debate, that takes place today in Barcelona as a step towards the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. The UN coordinating body for water issues, UNWater, sends today a message to the negotiations. The message is powerful and positive:

• What needs to be done can be done! From a global perspective the world’s water resources is sufficient and necessary technical knowledge is available. But water resources are unequally distributed and technical knowledge does not reach everyone.

• Designed in the right way, the international community’s joint efforts to face the climate challenge contribute to poverty reduction with fewer people living without safe access to clean water and basic sanitation, and reduced vulnerability to climate change.

• Climate adaptation is essentially about water issues, if priority is given to these, it will have positive impacts on all the developing goals.

In order to capitalise on these opportunities, Sweden should actively endorse the message of the UN and work with three priorities:

1. Integrated and transboundary water resource management

On its way through nature water interconnects eco systems, societies and states. Therefore, broad and cohesive actions which hold together local, national and regional water resource use, and can handle increasing competition around water to growing cities, agriculture, energy and industry are required. Sweden has many years of experience contributing to poverty reduction through working with integrated and transboundary water management.

2. Enhance the opportunities of participation in decisions

We know that efficiency and sustainability in the management of water resources increases if people are allowed to participate and affect decisions that have an impact on their livelihoods and everyday life. This is also proven by this year’s winner of the Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, Elinor Ostrom. Her research gives support to our continuing efforts to increase vulnerable people’s possibilities to participate in decision making processes for increased and safe supply of water in the wake of climate change.

3. Reduced corruption in water resources management

To ensure water supply large investments in both management and infrastructure are required. The World Bank has shown that up to 30 percent of investments are lost in corruption. This is totally unacceptable! Sweden should therefore continue to give priority to corruption prevention/eradication measures to strengthen the system of financial monitoring and control, systematic identification and minimization of corruption risks. This work requires collaboration with other donors, civil society and stakeholders in developing countries.

Although climate change so clearly demonstrates the need for effective water management and despite the positive role of water for development, indicators show a reduced commitment and investment in water resources. Sweden's expertise in water management is internationally recognized and is represented in industry, civil society as well as government. In order for Sweden to continue working effectively with others regarding water issues the climate agreement must also include these issues. This opens up for the funding of adaptation measures in the water sector.

We want Sweden to contribute to leveraging water in the climate negotiations and that increased efforts are made to turn knowledge into practical action to address climate challenges now faced by many of the world's poorest countries. Climate adaptation is about water and water issues are about reduced vulnerability, equitable and long term sustainable development. Awareness of these connections must be lifted up high on the climate agenda now - today. Integrate water in the climate negotiations, it is amply rewarded – particularly to the most vulnerable!



Sida, chef för teamet Samhällsbyggnad


Stockholm International Water Institute


Senior Water Resources Advisor, UNDP


Chief Technical Advisor, UN-Water


Swedish Water House


Deputy Executive Secretary, Global Water Partnership

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