When 2,500 water experts from 136 countries gather for a weeklong conference on water-related issues, there is bound to be a great deal of discussion, debate, collaboration and innovation. Having just returned from World Water Week in Stockholm, I am left contemplating how we can effectively leverage this momentum to drive real and lasting change in the water and sanitation sector.
One idea seems to resonate: the elimination of barriers.
We can no longer afford to talk about water issues in silos. With water cross-cutting global macrotrends such as energy and climate change, security, population growth and urbanization, among others, there is an increasing need to discuss water in the context of other issues. Take water and energy for example.
There is an inextricable link between water and energy—with a significant amount of water needed to generate energy and energy needed to deliver water. Just last week, Circle of Blue reported that a Congress funded report on the conflict between energy demand and water scarcity and potential solutions has been brought to a standstill by the Department of Energy. It is research like this that needs to be encouraged and carried out in order for our country to fully understand that sustainability will depend on collaboration and to spark action. While the water and energy nexus was certainly covered in-depth by water experts during World Water Week, we need to encourage more idea exchange and collaboration outside of our subject-matter circles in order to truly address critical issues such as this in a holistic and sustainable manner.
Even within the water and sanitation space, there is a need to eliminate barriers between the private sectors and NGOs that sometimes impede our ability to maximize impact. Discussions at World Water Week have demonstrated a significant increase in collaboration between sectors to address critical water issues, yet there is more that can be done. For example, as NGOs begin to embrace social entrepreneurship, which adds an aspect of profitability and accountability to traditional philanthropic projects, the private sector can apply its business expertise to help identify and train entrepreneurs who can implement and maintain sustainable solutions. My colleague Angela Buonocore, ITT’s chief communications officer, recently discussed just this in her piece on the Huffington Post. From the opposite perspective, NGOs have the deep local expertise necessary to help businesses understand the social implications that must be considered when establishing a presence in emerging markets. This knowledge is invaluable in order for businesses to succeed in societies that have different views, behaviors and customs.
But what other barriers must be broken down? Perhaps more figuratively is the barrier that lies in the way we think about the global water crisis. We must stop focusing on short-term solutions to water and sanitation issues and focus on the long term. When world leaders gather next week at a UN summit to review progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), aimed at reducing poverty, hunger, disease, death and illness by 2015, it will be clear what water experts have long recognized—we are lagging on water and sanitation development goals. As Anders Berntell, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said, “Good management of water resources and provision of drinking water and sanitation is a prerequisite for fulfilling all the MDGs.” We must shift our way of thinking and recognize that water is a cross-cutting issue that needs to be a priority in order to achieve the MDGs and sustain society well beyond 2015.
My experiences over the past week have encouraged me that we are on our way towards eliminating these barriers and we need to continue to move forward in this direction to ensure lasting change. On the 20th anniversary of World Water Week, I congratulate SIWI for playing such a crucial role in this progress. While World Water Week only comes once a year, these conversations and important actions continue on a daily basis. I’m looking forward to continuing to play a role in addressing these issues and eliminating barriers to do so more effectively.
Bjorn Von Euler is director of corporate philanthropy for ITT Corp. This is his second report from the World Water Week event in Stockholm, Sweden, for Environmental Leader. His first report can be read here.