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"It is imperative we address water security taking into account the impact of climate change"

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  • "It is imperative we address water security taking into account the impact of climate change"

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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.
Schneider Electric
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The 5th Water Dialogues, to be 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 will be 'Water and resilience to the effects of climate change'.

We have interviewed Julián Suárez, Vice-President for Sustainable Development at the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), on the occasion of this event.

Question: Why does the 5th edition of the Water Dialogues focus on water and climate resilience?

Answer: The four previous editions of the Water Dialogues dealt with current topics of interest for the sector, and the 5th edition will be no exception. Climate change is undeniable and its detrimental effects are increasingly more noticeable. In fact, the two most visible faces of climate change correspond to hydro-meteorological phenomena: droughts and floods. Both globally and in Latin America in particular, we observe a significant increase in the frequency and intensity of floods, at the same time as droughts are gradually more common and lengthy.

Concerning floods, about 1.2 billion are exposed to flood risks globally, a number that is expected to grow to some 1.6 billion by 2050, affecting 1 out of every 5 people on Earth. In Spain, floods are the natural catastrophe that causes most damages, with annual losses estimated at 500 million euros per year.

Climate change is undeniable and its detrimental effects are increasingly more noticeable

Concerning droughts, almost half the world's population — about 3.6 billion people — live in areas where water availability is expected to be inadequate to meet basic demands at least one month per year, a number that is expected to increase to some 5.7 billion people by 2050. And the forecasts are not very encouraging: droughts are expected to be gradually more severe and harmful, especially in areas with water scarcity.

Having said that, it is imperative we address the water security agenda in earnest, taking into account the impact of climate change. During the 4th edition of the Water Dialogues I mentioned that Latin America could be considered the 'water continent', since it has one third of the available freshwater in the world. However, the uneven distribution of water resources and often inadequate basin management, together with rampant and unplanned urban development, lead to situations where a large portion of the population and the competitiveness of the agricultural and livestock sectors are affected by increasing water stress. In economic terms, for example, a recent FAO study described economic product losses due to drought affecting crops and livestock in Latin America and the Caribbean as high as 22 billion USD between 2005 and 2015.

In light of this, the CAF — Development Bank of Latin America —, together with the Spanish cooperation, through the Spanish Ministries for the Ecological Transition (MITECO), Economy and Business (MINECO) and Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation (MAEUEC), take this opportunity to support the sustainable development agenda in Latin America, through the review, re-definition, and implementation of public policies to guide the links between water and climate change.

Q: In 2019 the Dialogues hold their 5th event. What is your overall assessment of this event after 5 years?

A: The experience has been highly successful. The Water Dialogues have become consolidated as fora to strengthen the already close cooperation ties between Spain and Latin America in relation to a crucial issue for sustainable development: water resource management. Based on the discussions on the different topics the Dialogues have focused on these past years, we were able to move forward a specific cooperation agenda between Spain and Latin America. For example, currently we have two Memoranda of Understanding concerning dam safety that were developed during prior editions of the Dialogues. The first one is a cooperation agreement between the CAF, Spain and Bolivia, signed under the auspices of the 3rd edition of the Dialogues; the second one is a similar one with Argentina, signed at the end of 2018. In the framework of these cooperation agreements, and taking advantage of the experience in Spain, we are supporting Bolivia to strengthen institutional arrangements for dam management, and at the same time, formulate technical guidelines for dam management with the help of the Spanish Chapter of the Commission on Large Dams (SPANCOLD).

In the case of Argentina, the cooperation enables the exchange of experts from both countries, something very rewarding. In addition, we are supporting the consolidation of the legislative framework, and the identification of retrofitting needs in several dams in the Norte-Grande region of Argentina.

The Water Dialogues have become consolidated as fora to strengthen the already close cooperation ties between Spain and Latin America in relation to a crucial issue for sustainable development: water resource management

We have also strengthened the exchanges and south-south cooperation through the Conference of Ibero-American Water Directors (CODIA), a forum where the CAF participates regularly through the Water Coordination Area, under the Vice-Presidency for Sustainable Development.

Q: What is your vision of the role of the CAF in the promotion of events such as the Water Dialogues?

A: The CAF, which in 2020 will be 50 years old, was created to encourage regional integration and the sustainable development of its shareholding countries. Regarding the first of those points, in half a century it changed from a sub-regional Andean bank, with 5 member countries, to a multilateral development bank with 19 shareholding countries, a leading institution in Iberian America. In terms of the integration agenda, it is clearly a case of success.

Regarding sustainable development, the CAF would like to be the main partner in Iberian America as it navigates the commitments in the 2030 Agenda. That means not only support through different financing instruments, but also timely and effective knowledge management.

In that regard, the CAF seeks to be an effective facilitator of exchanges of experiences, lessons learned and proposals, leveraging the human capital and synergies derived from the cooperation among shareholding countries on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets.

With the 5th Water Dialogues we would like to continue to develop a cooperation agenda between Spain and Latin America in relation to water

The Dialogues are very convenient to this effect, since they draw attention to the water agenda, a sector that is necessarily at the core of sustainable development. Furthermore, this forum, as I mentioned earlier, helps define and consolidate specific cooperation efforts.

Q: What outcomes do you expect from this 5th Water Dialogues?

A: Expectations are high. Let's not forget that according to estimations by the United Nations, the increasingly more frequent and destructive natural disasters are the reason for 26 million people worldwide to fall into poverty each year. Therefore, if we do not make progress to develop communities that are resilient to natural disasters, it will be difficult to achieve SDG 1: end extreme poverty.

In this regard, with the 5th Water Dialogues we would like to continue to develop a cooperation agenda between Spain and Latin America in relation to water; in this particular case including a cross-cutting issue such as climate change. Both agendas, water and climate change, affect many different sectors and are key for sustainable development.