Global: If there is no water, there is no life

The Twentieth gathering for the World Water Week (WWW) took place in Sweden's capital Stockholm from the 5th to the 11th of September 2010 with the theme The Water Quality Challenge-Prevention, Wise Use and Abatement. According to the organisers, “urbanisation, agriculture, industry and climate change exert mounting pressure on both the quantity and quality of our water resources.” The week was therefore organised to  “deepen the understanding of, stimulate ideas on, and engage the water community around the challenges related to water quality.”

At the end, delegates came up with the Stockholm Statement which noted that the the Millennium Development Goals will only be achieved by wise management of water resources and secure and equitable access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Inadequate access to water and sanitation deprives billions of people, especially women and girls, of opportunities, dignity, safety and well-being.

Bloggers who attended World Water Week have shared their notes and opinions online. Duncan Mara shares his World Water Week diary.
Sunday sessions:

The early evening session was the launch of the Second Information Kit on the 2006 WHO Wastewater Use Guidelines – not yet online (but my part is here). My presentation was on choosing a sensible value for the maximum tolerable additional burden of disease – i.e., the maximum DALY loss per person per year (pppy). The default value used for this in the 2006 WHO Guidelines is 10−6 pppy for this, but this is very ‘extravagant’ and I recommended a value of 10−4 DALY loss pppy as it reflects epidemiological reality in developing countries and some industrialized countries (e.g., Australia and the USA) much more closely. [Actually this also applies to Drinking-water Quality Guidelines, but that’s a real can of worms – for WHO, US EPA and the EU, amongst others − waiting to be opened…]


I attended the lunchtime side event on “What knowledge do we need to do better on Sanitation?” This was basically how the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and its partners see how their ‘Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity’ (SHARE) research consortium, funded by DFID, will progress. Check out the SHARE website when it gets going by the end of the month (in the meantime there are some details here).

Then I went to the afternoon seminar on “Water quality issues and new approaches in Latin America”. Interesting couple of papers – one on water and wastewater problems in Mexico City by Dr Blanca Jiménez (UNAM). The other was by Professor Eduardo Jordão (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) on the use in Brazil of UASBs + some form of secondary treatment serving populations of 20,000−1,500,000 – but little mention of costs or cost-effectiveness, and no mention of high-rate anaerobic ponds.

As I was rushing from the lunchtime session to the afternoon session my colleague Dr Jan-Olof Drangert (University of Linköping, Sweden) shoved a leaflet into my hand – all about his new website Sustainable Sanitation for the 21st Century, which comprises a free e-book and a set of PowerPoint presentations for training professionals in the sanitation and water sector. There’s a certain EcoSan emphasis, but it’s certainly very well worth taking a look. You can download the PowerPoints as ppt files, so you can use them as they are or select which slides you want to use in your own presentations. Excellent idea!


I went to the workshop on “Improved water use efficiency through recycling and reuse” and gave a presentation on Natural wastewater treatment and carbon capture. Professor Emeritus Takashi Asano (UC Davis), in a keynote presentation, told us all about water demand and wastewater recycling and reuse in California – a complex system necessitated by building a megacity (Los Angeles) in a desert and by California being the nation’s major table-food (vegetables, fruits) producer. Then Dr Ashley Murray (UC Berkeley) gave a really interesting paper on wastewater-fed aquaculture: set up a local business to grow fish in maturation ponds and the business returns half its net profit to the wastewater treatment works (waste stabilization ponds) to help pay for O&M – a very neat concept which she developed in Ghana.

But what is the impact of water shortage in the developing world? A special post in Ethiopian Review features a post about the challenges facing women in Afgooye, Somalia, where many families have no access to clean water or sanitation. The title of of the post reads “World Water Week in Somalia: “If there is no water, there is no life”:

There are no schools, latrines or reasonable toilets in the camp, besides some old toilets in the old building. We face a shortage of water here. We have to buy one barrel of water for 15,000 shillings (just under $10 [US dollars]) that is brought by a donkey cart as there is no running water pipe in the camp.

Global Voices Author Victor Kaonga was part of the media team at the World Water Week. In a post about Sick Water he emphasises the need for both the government and citizens in Malawi to address what is known as Sick Water:

In Malawi water is all things-political, health, economic, social, rights, an MDG, gender, spiritual, academic issue, etc. Dealing with water challenges needs a multi-faceted approach.

Statistics-good as they look do not speak everything in Malawi. Water Aid Country Representative Robert Kampala noted that Malawi noted that while some strides have been made in ensuring that at least about 70 percent of the population has access to safe water, Malawi still needs more work in improving the quality of water. Imagine we hear that Water supply coverage is at 65% country wide while Basic Sanitation 86% country wide. Interestingly I learn that in urban and rural areas, improved sanitation (basically latrines with slabs and flush toilets) are only at 65% and 46% respectively! This is sad. Where do the rest go if there are no toilets? And how then is our water affected?

And in a separate post, he asks, “Did you know the most scarce sanitary facility?”:

Toilets are a scarce facility the world over. About 2.6 billion don’t have the toilet. The problem is worse in developing countries which apparently also have serious effects of poor sanitation. But let me be quick to think aloud about toilets in developing countries. There appears to be too much bush to hide and use as toilets. You cannot do in a well-built urban area. Lack of planning in some cities creates poor sanitary situation. Personally I don't like slums. Additionally some cultures seem not to be toilet-unfriendly. At a corporate level, there are some institutions too that do not have a culture for toilets.

World Water Week 2010 left Timothy Karpouzoglou with a lot of questions:

World Water Week (WWW) 2010 is over, leaving me with some questions. Is WWW really about “opening up” or about “closing down” the debate on water resource management?

The overall theme for this year WWW has been water quality. WWW aims “to highlight positive action and new thinking towards water related challenges and their impact on the world’s environment” and also to “deepen the understanding of, stimulate ideas, and engage the water and development community around the challenges related to water quality”. These are all valid and urgent concerns in moving the debate forward.

So what is this new thinking? Some of it can be seen as more of the old thinking restated with today’s policy buzzwords. “Water quality” is still decided by scientists, talking to scientists about the science behind the solutions. The framing of the problem was often about the right technology. Common effluent treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants are commonly-suggested solutions, even if the costs associated are too high and unaffordable in many parts of the developing world.

Jeremy Allouche notes that World Water Week is an elitist club:

Here’s our first blog from World Water Week – some call it ‘the pilgrimage of water’. Well… the price of the pilgrimage (about £650) makes it difficult to attend and it remains very much an elitist club. In this regard, one always wonders how useful these high-level international events are and whether we are not repeating the same stuff again and again.

The disconnect between the conference and the world outside is sometimes too evident: while the international media reports on the floods in Pakistan and the droughts and floods in Niger, here the focus of the conference is on partnerships between water professionals and projects around new sexy ideas on water. Although water quality is the focus of the conference, climate change is another hot topic here: mainstreaming water and climate change, governance and capacity building for water and climate change, etc…
Still, the big highlight of this morning was the session on “Revisiting the Large Dam Controversy”. Although the World Commission on Dams (WCD) report has been criticised (especially around implementation guidelines), there has been some consensus around the principles and values it articulated. But now, with the development of climate change adaptation strategies and the arrival of new financiers, some fear that the new context (WCD+10) may end this fragile consensus.

Lyla Mehta discusses controversy at the conference:

It’s my fourth day at World Water Week, the annual mecca for policy-makers and players from the World Water Council, the Water and Sanitation Programmes (WSP), Stockholm Water Institute, WaterAid, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), as well as several UN and bilateral agencies such as DFID and others who can afford to pay the entry fee. Most people seem to come for networking, meetings, dinners and drinks, to launch new initiatives and reports… and occasionally even to attend the odd session.

I've been doing the same, though I had hoped to be more excited by some of the sessions and workshops. Most of them have been highly technical, with many of the same global perspectives and declarations that we have been hearing for a long time. But this is probably a reflection of how mainstream most talk about water is, be it in the media, policy or research realms…
For me, the highlight of the conference was the session on “Revisiting the Large Dam Controversy” hosted by the very exciting online journal Water Alternatives. It’s been 10 years since the World Commision on Dams published its landmark report, which provided guidelines for dam-building, covering social, environmental, economic and institutional aspects. This was the only session I attended where there was passion and debate, not surprising due to the topic even though a few were hoping for more blood-letting! Ten years on, there has been much progress. WCD guidelines are now mainstreamed in many new and ongoing projects all around the world. The WCD principle on the “right to consent” is also gaining acceptance in many global organisations and institutions.

Still, there are many ideological rifts and no clear consensus on ways forward, with early opponents still openly rejecting the WCD process and conclusions. This was exemplified by the words of ex-World Bank official John Briscoe, who proudly stated that the WCD and similar commissions should pack up since they are often rejected by dam-building nations who reject their guidelines. But Briscoe didn’t seem to do himself or his former institution any favours by continuing to ignore the fact that water resources development remains a highly contested process, often shaped by forces in the wider political economy. Moreover, southern governments who claim to be ‘democratic’ may not necessarily be representing the interests of the poor and marginalised through dam-based development.

In the end the Stockholm World Water Week 2010 revealed broad consensus on many water-related issues as Alex McIntosh reports:

By Day Four of the 2,500-attendee conference, a few overarching themes have begun to emerge. First, in the majority of the watersheds across the globe, we know too little about the amount of water available, the amount extracted in aggregate for human use, or the quality of the watershed. For this reason, in the seminar On the Road the Corporate Water Reporting, panelists from Nature Conservancy, CERES, Quantis, PepsiCo, CH2M HILL, Unilever, Borealis and other organizations all agreed that the trend towards greater water reporting transparency would continue, primarily driven by businesses’ need to obtain and manage their supply chain water resources, and in response to consumer/customer/investor stakeholder pressure.

A second theme emerging from World Water Week is there is general consensus among the world’s water experts and advocates that humanity already has passed the “safety point” with respect to sustainable use. In the seminar The Future of Global Water Technologies, panelists from McKinsey & Co, ITT, Black & Veatch and more framed the discussion by agreeing on four points:

* The world faces significant water resource challenges today, which will worsen in the coming years.
* Business as usual practices will not close the “water gap”.
* Cost effective, sustainable solutions are possible, but will require an economy-wide approach.
* A pathway towards water sector transformation does exist.

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