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World Water Week: Leaders Warn That Time Is Running Out to Address Global Water Issues


World leaders described the urgent pressure many countries are facing with regard to future water supply at the opening of the 2015 World Water Week in Stockholm this week.

"As the leader of my country I cannot look my people in the eyes and with good conscience say that everything will be okay when I know the world continues to travel down a very destructive path,” President of the Marshall Islands Christopher J. Loeak told attendees at the opening plenary on August 24th.

Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said his country, already once of the most water-scarce in the world, was now under even more pressure due to the influx of refugees from its war-torn neighbors Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

"We are a nation already burdened with extreme water scarcity that has always been one of the biggest barriers to our economic growth and development," Ensour said. Now, "Jordan has a crisis on top of a crisis."

He added: "Water and sanitation infrastructure investments that we were planning to implement in 10 years to meet normal population growth demand are now urgently required. This urgency is driven as much by the need for sufficient water supply as by the reality that a fragile water sector directly undermines social cohesion and economic development, exacerbating the tensions already raised within Jordan and across the region as we battle the spillover effects of violence and unrest."

"In the near future, water shortage is expected to become an international dilemma that incites new armed conflicts," Ensour said. "Jordan however, is using the water dialogue as an element for corporation rather than conflict initiation."

Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, called for a standalone water goal in the United Nations’ proposed Sustainable Development Goals, which would replace the just-expired Millennium Development Goals.

"When the international community is shaping a new sustainable development agenda, water management and allocation must be at its heart,” he said. “Not only as a separate goal but as an essential vehicle for development and health.”

Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), which organizes World Water Week, warned: “From the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, to São Paulo, California and China, people's perseverance is being tested. We can no longer take a steady water supply for granted."

A seminar on August 23rd, hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) within the framework of World Water Week, also called for cooperative water governance as a key component for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

“Cooperative governance, joint decision-making and coordination among different stakeholders in a trans-boundary river basin have many challenges, but these are outweighed by the long-term benefits that water cooperation has for increased resilience, socio-economic development, and political stability,” Desiree Schweitzer, Deputy Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities, told the seminar.

Serbian Interior Ministry State Secretary Aleksandar Nikolic noted that “uneven distribution, availability and the fact that water sources cannot be renewed, require fundamental changes in water usage.

“Water is managed according to the principles of unity of the water system and sustainable development, meeting the needs of current generations. At the same time, we must not jeopardize the right and the needs of future generations to do the same for themselves.”

Seminar participants looked at two regional examples that demonstrate how water governance, disaster risk reduction, climate change, and security are interlinked: trans-boundary water cooperation in Southeastern Europe, particularly during the flood response in May 2014; and bilateral water cooperation between Ukraine and Moldova in the Dniester River basin.

The 2015 World Water Week, held under the theme "Water for Development," runs from August 23-28.