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Franz Rojas: "Without water there is no growth, nor can there be any progress"

  • Franz Rojas: "Without water there is no growth, nor can there be any progress"

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CAF Development Bank of Latin America
CAF is a development bank committed to improving the quality of life for Latin Americans. We promote sustainable development and regional integration.
The 5th Water Dialogues, held in Madrid on October 2nd, are annual meeting fora held to discuss different topics, in order to promote the exchange of knowledge and experiences on issues of interest for the water sector between Latin America and Spain. This time, the focus is 'Water and resilience to the effects of climate change'.
We have interviewed Franz Rojas, Coordinator of the Water Agenda, Vice-Presidency of Sustainable Development, Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), on the occasion of this event.

Question: What topics will be discussed during this new edition of the Latin America-Spain Water Dialogues?

Answer: The 5th edition of the Water Dialogues focuses on the connection between the effects of climate change and water management, with very noticeable effects such as droughts and floods. In this regard, we will have a presentation by a representative from the United Nations that will talk about the impacts of climate change, to then start a first session on droughts, by a representative from the Spanish water management authority. Next a high level panel — with participants from different countries' authorities in change of water resource planning and regulation at the national and regional level, as well as representatives responsible for water and sanitation services in large Latin American cities — will share experiences on this topic.
We have to first move forward in the creation of river basin councils or committees — and Spain is an excellent example to follow
The second session will focus on urban floods, with the presentation from an expert in disaster management from the United Nations, followed by a high level panel with experts that faced flood events in their countries and work to ensure greater resilience to extreme events.
Given the senior level of participants, we expect to reach conclusions that will contribute to the development of public policy proposals, taking advantage as well of the solid experience in extreme event management in Spain.

Q: What are the most visible effects of climate change on water worldwide? What about in Latin America? 

A: We live in a connected world, where the only constant is change. Hydro-meteorological patterns are changing, sometimes suddenly, making forecasts more complex and uncertain. In the past 20 years, the frequency of floods has exacerbated, reaching more than 3,100 floods globally, causing significant damages both in urban and rural areas, affecting homes, transport routes, basic services, agricultural production and unfortunately, in several cases, resulting in the loss of human lives. Another effect of climate change are long-lasting droughts, which, unlike floods, are slow and progressive, also having undesirable impacts on the agricultural sector — sometimes causing migrations — and on the water supply to cities and industries. The direct economic losses caused by floods and droughts are estimated to be around 40 billion USD per year, with even higher indirect costs.
In the past fifteen years, floods have increased by more than 40% compared to the previous period, and droughts have been more intense
On the other hand, Latin America and the Caribbean are very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In the past fifteen years, floods have increased by more than 40% compared to the previous period, and droughts have been more intense, being more visible in those countries with arid or semi-arid regions like Peru, Argentina or Mexico.

Q: How can we increase resilience to the effects of climate change?

A: The keys are prevention, planning, and a culture resilient to changes in climate. Because we observe extreme fluctuations in temperatures, humidity, precipitations and run-off, we require flexible and adaptive planning, involving all levels of government and society as a whole, that is, we need to establish effective water governance, with resilient populations and communities.

Regarding the institutional framework, we have examples of committees with participation from different sectors, created specifically to manage droughts and floods, as it occurs in Mexico. At the sub-national level, we have to first move forward in the creation of river basin councils or committees — and Spain is an excellent example to follow — so that within those entities, that include representatives from authorities, users and civil society, we can develop plans to manage droughts and to control flooding. They can involve grey and green infrastructure, management tools to deal with extreme cases, to delineate controlled flooding areas, to establish bans or tariffs during extreme events, etc. We also have to create a public culture of preservation and appreciation of water resources.  

In the urban environment, the concept of resilient cities involves having appropriate basic services, to have water reserves and network connections to help during extreme events, and regulating informal settlements, for example preventing settlements in floodplains, which means those areas should be set aside for other uses. It also involves monitoring and early warning systems, emergency protocols and mechanisms to disseminate timely information to the public. The public, in turn, should share the responsibility of taking care of water resources; this will require intense work to raise awareness about the value of water, not only as a source of food and health, but as a cornerstone of sustainable development; without water there is no growth, nor can there be any progress.

Q: How does the CAF participate in the management of climate hazards in the region?

A: The CAF has a 2019-2022 Water Strategy, establishing the lines of work to reduce the risks of disasters caused by droughts and floods, and to develop policies and contribute to building the institutions for integrated water resource management. Both lines are consistent with the work of the CAF over the past few years: we have funded storm drainage systems in several cities of Brazil and Bolivia, as well as the construction of works to control flooding in Argentina and Ecuador. On the other hand, we provide support to several countries to build regulation dams to store water reserves that can be used during droughts. In fact, in Bolivia we have developed a programme to build small and medium size dams, aimed to increase climate resilience, and in Peru and Argentina we support integrated basin management, an approach that includes measures to adapt to climate change.

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