Water is vital to sustain life on land, in bodies of water and in the air. Clean water and sanitation are one of the 17 Global Goals, and the right to water and sanitation was officially recognised as a human right by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010. As foundational as it is for life on Earth, water access, sustainability and governance are increasingly coming under threat. One quarter of the world’s population faces high water stress. As the global population increases, so does the demand for safe water, increasing pressure on already fragile water ecosystems. Faced with global floods, droughts, sanitation issues, rising sea levels and geopolitics influencing water governance, the 22nd World Water Week brings different stakeholders together under the theme of “Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World.”
Organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the annual week-long event began in 1991 and was officially named as World Water Week in 2001. Its premise is simple. As the SIWI website puts it, “World Water Week is the meeting place for everyone who wants to understand how water can help us address the world’s greatest challenges. World Water Week is designed to be a powerful force for action since people can immediately learn what others are doing and find collaboration partners for new projects.” World Water Week is a series of interdisciplinary events with engagement from stakeholders in the public and private sectors. This year’s event covers topics including sustainable WASH practices, investing in rain, water security and governance and accelerating the implementation of the SDGs.
The wider context
This year’s World Water Week comes at an opportune moment. Record droughts in the Horn of Africa, southern Europe and the United States, and floods in India, Italy and across Africa. Water sovereignty and access to water sources such as rivers have become crisis points, with Ethiopia and Egypt having an ongoing dispute about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a project that Egypt argues will negatively affect the flow of the Nile River. The prospect of Day Zero - the day when a city exhausts its water supplies - has been and will be the reality for cities such as Cape Town, Chennai, Jakarta and São Paulo. Climate change and rising temperatures have exacerbated water scarcity and excess, with the potential for other kinds of emergencies always a danger.
There has also been increased investment and interest in water sustainability practices. Perhaps spurred on by an increase in water-related disasters and pollution, as well as a decline and stagnation in basic WASH services in healthcare facilities and urban areas, research and investment into innovative water and sanitation practices and technologies has increased. Microsoft announced a series of water wise initiatives, from reducing water usage across its global operations to investing in water replenishment projects and the Water and Climate Resilience Fund. Other companies such as Pepsi, Meta and Google have made similar pledges to reduce and recycle water usage at their facilities and invest in restoration projects. The European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union’s lending arm, has invested approximately €79 billion in water security, sustainability and sanitation projects. The EIB invests an annual average of €3 billion in water infrastructure such as dams, aquifers, recycling plants and treatment facilities. Technology has also presented new ways of conserving and recycling water. Data portals such as the SDG Water Quality Hub, rain harvesting and collecting water from fog and using AI to boost agricultural irrigation and trade water offsets are just a few examples of applying innovative methods to water conservation and restoration.
The 2023 UN Water Conference - held for the first time in a decade - led to the adoption of the Water Action Agenda, a five-pronged roadmap to realising universal access to clean water, improving access to basic sanitation and water efficiency by 2030. The 2023 edition of World Water Week builds on the work of the UN Water Conference, with the President of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, being in attendance.
The importance of being water-wise
2023 marks the halfway point of the Water Action Decade. Established in 2016 by the UN General Assembly, the years between 2018 to 2028 are dedicated to resolving the global water crisis and work to implement the Sustainable Development Goals related to water and sanitation. World Water Week predates the Water Action Decade, but its scope, alongside the Stockholm Water Prize and Stockholm Junior Water Prize, are a critical component of addressing and mitigating the effects of the global water crisis, a crisis exacerbated by climate change.