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Fourth aquaNOW Audience Now Archived Online; Experts Call for Joined-Up Thinking to Solve Global Water, Sanitation Crises

GLASGOW, Scotland, United Kingdom

Participants at the fourth aquaNOW Audience, held on May 22nd under the theme “Water and Borders,” agreed on the need to break down “silos” so that water, sanitation, hygiene and food security issues can be addressed in an integrated manner.

An archived version of the event is available here.

The high-level international panel -- which included Kate Harawa, Country Director for Water For People in Malawi; Robert M. Kalin, professor of Environmental Engineering for Sustainability at the University of Strathclyde; John Oldfield, CEO of US-based non-profit WASH Advocates; Dr. Douglas McKenzie, a marine biologist and founder of Xanthella, a company that produces highly innovative designs of photobioreactors for research and industrial scale up; and Ruby Moynihan, a PhD Candidate and Scottish Government Hydro Nation scholar at the University of Edinburgh and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research -- discussed recent news stories on Haiti’s ongoing cholera epidemic, trans-boundary water issues between India and China, the Islamic State’s takeover of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, and the potential of wastewater-fed algae to produce biofuels.

Oldfield reiterated that cholera "transmission and mortality and morbidity are preventable." He said the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) community needed to “raise awareness not just of deaths” from this and other water-borne diseases, “but of its preventability and solutions.”

It is “pathetic that we are still talking about cholera today -- not just in Haiti but in many parts of Africa," when "it is preventable,” Harawa added.

“We are not doing enough from all angles,” she said. “We are not talking enough about water and sanitation. It is high time that we join hands to fight water-borne diseases.”

“We need to break down silos,” said Kalin. He called for WASH and food security to be linked in the forthcoming UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Within the soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals, water and sanitation were treated as separate issues -- and as a consequence, different government ministries and NGOs were working on them in isolation, he said.

“Sustainability means joined-up thinking,” Kalin said, but “this isn’t happening because it isn’t simple.”

The solution is Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), from the local up to the trans-boundary level, he said.

Moynihan agreed that “water is interconnected with other things" and “does not exist in isolation.”

However, debates on trans-boundary issues are also “siloed,” she said. In the case of India and China, as well as lower riparians Bhutan and Bangladesh, there is no comprehensive agreement on water-sharing, which “does not bode well for regional security.”

It is also not an unusual situation around the world. Single-issue agreements around water are common, she said, but broader agreements are needed.

At the same time, Moynihan and other panelists took issue with warnings about imminent "water wars.”

“There has always been conflict over water, but lots can be done to prevent it before it gets to that point,” she said.

McKenzie added that the “danger comes when water is squeezed.”

According to Oldfield, “Water is a threat magnifier or threat multiplier,” rather than a direct cause of war. “We need to look at ways to maximize the benefits of water.”

“Water professionals should be diplomats," bringing people together around water, he said. 

The fourth Audience was part of a series of events held to mark International day of Biodiversity, and in anticipation of the International Water Resources Association's XVth World Water Congress, which is taking place in Edinburgh this week.

The aquaNOW Audiences series is produced by OOSKAnews, the world’s leading publisher of water-related news and intelligence. The events are moderated by David Duncan, CEO and Founder of OOSKAnews Inc., and supported by the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and aquaNOW.info.

The fifth Audience will take place on May 29th from 9:15 – 10:45 AM BST (4:15-5:45 AM EDT) during the World Water Congress.