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Water for sustainable development: what’s the role of the water community?

  • Water for sustainable development: what’s the role of the water community?

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About the blog

Sarah Ransom
General Manager of the Australian Water Partnership. Sarah has fifteen years’ experience in international development, as an Australian diplomat and with the Asian Development Bank and UNDP.
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The 2022 World Water Day theme ‘Groundwater, making the invisible visible’ shines the light on a critical but sometimes overlooked water resource. Almost half the world's population depends on groundwater, and it plays such an outsize contribution to our daily water needs, global stability and prosperity. Hidden beneath our feet is an important resilience and biodiversity asset, which needs to be valued appropriately to be sustainably managed.

In our events celebrating World Water Day this year, the Australian Water Partnership interpreted the WWD theme to highlight the contributions of women and other marginalised or ‘invisible’ people to sustainable water resource management. Women, people with disability, Indigenous peoples and social minorities still lack an appropriate voice in many instances, and so water is managed without the benefit of their knowledge and needs. Stockholm World Water Week in 2022 will also include the huge volumes of ‘virtual water’ hidden in goods and services, in their exploration of this year’s theme. There is a lot about water that is curiously unrecognised.

This might be because many human-water interactions literally happen out of sight – either literally, in the case of groundwater and wastewater treatment – or simply aren’t generally well-known. It may also be that the incredible technical depth that supports the world’s best water science and engineering makes water issues sometimes hard to approach, even for a well-informed and interested non-specialist. The upshot is, as one development issue amongst many, water doesn’t have the profile it deserves.

The incredible technical depth supporting the world’s best water science and engineering makes water issues sometimes hard to approach

The shortfall in financing to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 is a case in point. There is a well‑recognised gap in financing to achieve SDG 6 globally. The human costs of this gap are heartbreaking and include illness and premature death, reduced school attendance and increased household labour to secure water – a burden mainly on women and girls. Lack of access to these basic services locks people in poverty.

In Australia’s region, this is particularly acute. In the Pacific, the total population with access to basic services is only 57% for water and 35% for sanitation. This is one of the lowest rates in the world and reflects challenges with remote and rural populations, lack of surface water sources and high exposure to natural hazards. Of the Asian Development Bank’s 49 developing member countries, 22 are rated water insecure. We are a long way from achieving sustainable water resource management and universal access to the human right to water.

Water is at the heart of sustainable development, through its many interdependencies with other sectors – energy, urban planning, agriculture, transport, manufacturing and climate resilience. Two major events in the next twelve months will shine a light on this connection: the 27th Conference of the Parties for the UNFCCC (COP27) in Egypt in November 2022 is expected to highlight water, following the successful first Water Pavilion at COP26 last year; and a March 2023 conference at UN Headquarters in New York will mark the midterm review of the UN Water Action Decade. As the climate crisis bears down and poverty increases as a result of the pandemic, the challenge is to make water’s centrality to sustainable development more visible.

How can the water community help? The water sector is made up of passionate and committed people who can act as ambassadors, helping to make visible the hidden aspects of water. To do this, we should learn from science communicators such as Make Water Famous, Nextblue and Water Science Policy who effectively use imagery, story and content to help explain the complexities of water to non-specialist audiences. Water needs to be valued appropriately to be sustainably managed. Because water flows through everything, it needs to make sense to everyone.

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