“When We Speak about Economic Growth We Speak about Water Resources”

Posted: 2011-09-27

 – Report from GWP’s Side Event at Astana 2011

At the Seventh “Environment for Europe” Ministerial Conference in Astana, Kazakhstan, GWP convened a side event titled, “Economic Growth and Water: An Integrated Approach Helps” on September 23, 2011. GWP Chair Dr Letitia A Obeng emphasized that “When we speak about the economy and economic growth we speak about water resources.”

GWP Chair Letitia A ObengThe Conference addressed two main themes: Sustainable management of water and water-related ecosystems; and Greening the economy: mainstreaming the environment into economic development. The GWP side event linked these two aspects: how to make water resources available and yet protected when countries embark on economic development. The Conference recognized the “hydro-centric” and “eco-engineering” themes are closely related.

Four of the speakers at the GWP side event illustrated why water is attracting more political attention, while highlighting water’s complexity and the need for an integrated approach to guide its use, management and development.

Prof. Nariman Kipshakbaev from GWP Kazakhstan presented their experiences of developing a National IWRM Plan (presentation). He made a brief summary of water resources policy reform and emphasized that “there is a need to balance multiple uses of water in a water scarce region.” He stressed the important role of newly established water councils, citing examples of water councils that have a transboundary character, for instance in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

GWP Georgia Chair Ms Nino Chkhobadze looked at role of civil society and non-governmental organizations in support of water reform in the Caucasus (presentation). “It is not well understood the role NGOs play in supporting governments to develop and implement river basin management plans,” said Ms Nino Chkhobadze, who was Georgia’s Minister of Environment for eight years. “Involvement of society is understood as the right of people to be informed, but participation in decision making is moved aside.” She said that stakeholders and the public ensure positive results when they participate in processes that introduce Integrated Water Resources Management principles at local level, and subsequently, better acceptance of future investments.

GWP invited speakers that do not belong directly to the “water family” because GWP acknowledges that for water management to be successful it must involve experts from outside the “water box.” Prof. Laszlo Miklos from the Technical University of Zvolen in Slovakia is a geographer by background and a politician by experience. Having been the Minister of Environment for two terms, and a member of the national Parliament, he reminded the audience of the political commitments made under Agenda 21, and the adoption of the principle of an integrated approach to the management of land resources (presentation).

Recognizing that “integrated management” needs to be understood, he asked, “What exactly do we want to integrate? Different understandings of integration resulted in a myriad of policy reforms that integrated institutions and agencies and administration but not the planning process itself.” He recommended making land use plans the legal, obligatory framework for each sectoral plan because how we use land takes into account every sector including water management.

Prof. Lučka Kajfež Bogataj, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize together with other climatologists, looked at climate change from a national and international security point of view rather than from the environmental perspective (presentation). A number of studies suggest that the worst effects can be avoided by keeping global temperature rise below 2°C. But Prof. Bogataj said that if current problems are not solved, they will be aggravated regardless of mathematical scenarios that predict a temperature rise. She showed the participants the map of continents originally developed by the Ministry of Defense to illustrate, in graphic terms, the security challenges posed by a warming planet. Climate change is likely to make essential resources (notably freshwater, arable land, crop yields and fish stocks) scarcer in many parts of the world, particularly in already vulnerable societies.

“Increased scarcity increases the risk of competition over resources within and between communities and states,” she said. “This can create instability, increasing vulnerability to conflict. On current projections, substantial parts of the world risk being left uninhabitable by rising sea levels, reduced freshwater availability and declining agricultural capacity. This will exacerbate existing migratory pressures from rural areas to cities, from unproductive land to more fertile land, and across international borders.”

Photo on top: GWP Cacena Chair Yusup Kamalo and GWP Chair  Dr Letitia A Obeng

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