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Madrid hosts the first International Water Conference

  • Madrid hosts the first International Water Conference
    (Photo: Pablo González-Cebrián/Smart Water Magazine)
Schneider Electric
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Yesterday Madrid hosted the first edition of the International Conference ‘New challenges and solutions for water in sustainable cities’, held concurrently with the SIGA Trade Fair for Innovative Water Management Solutions 2019 (and shown through live streaming at SWM). The main organisations involved in the water sector were invited to participate, such as the International Water Association (IWA), the European Federation of National Associations of Water Services (EUREAU), the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition.

Pedro Rollán, Vice-president of the Regional Government of Madrid and Chairman of Canal de Isabel II

Pedro Rollán, Vice-president of the Regional Government of Madrid and Chairman of Canal de Isabel II, the public utility in charge of water management in the Region of Madrid, introduced the conference restating the commitment to integrated water cycle management, and outlining some success stories of Canal de Isabel II.

Kala Vairavamoorthy, Director of the IWA

From the first two speakers we take home some messages related to the circular economy. Kala Vairavamoorthy, Director of the IWA, spoke about technological challenges, concluding: ‘We need to transition to a more circular economy approach, where we try to use water as many times as possible, we try to create different grades of water for different uses, and we try to capture as many resources from those waste streams as we can. And we think about all of these things from the design stage’. Bruno Tisserand, President of EUREAU, also touched on the circular economy when talking about water challenges in Europe. According to him, the key aspect for the circular economy is not only to have the technology, but also a business model that utilities can use to recover the cost of investments. For example, recovering P and N in waste streams requires a high CAPEX investment and also high operational costs. There needs to be a real benefit from investing in new technologies, so we will need to create a market to sell the recovered products.

Natalia Limones, Short Term Consultant in World Bank Group

Next we heard from Natalia Limones on water challenges in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) from the perspective of the World Bank, describing the Water Scarce Cities initiative. This initiative emerged as the Mayor of the city of Sana, in Yemen, approached the World Bank looking to learn from other cities that experienced similar water security issues as they did: cities with high water stress, rapid urban growth and affected by climate change. The initiative provides a knowledge reference for cities in the MENA region. The majority of solutions looked at are related to sector governance and utility management strategies. Technology is not a major concern, but the capacity to implement it. Some of the lessons learned include relying on solutions not vulnerable to climate change (diversifying sources and banking water); the key role of economics as production costs change, with nonconventional sources becoming more affordable; and the critical value of inclusion and good communication.

Sergio Campos, Director of the Water and Sanitation Division of the IDB

The following speaker told us about water challenges in Latin America: Sergio Campos, Director of the Water and Sanitation Division of the IDB, outlined three aspects. First, the importance of water resources for economic development in the region; the significant but still insufficient progress made with regards to providing access to water and sanitation, and finally the challenges ahead, mainly to do with financing. He noted that not everything is infrastructure, we also need to strengthen institutions and legal frameworks, and build capacity. Finally, he highlighted that in order to achieve SDGs related to health, education, gender or poverty, we first have to achieve SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation.

Hugo Morán, State Secretary for the Environment at the Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition

Finally, Hugo Morán, State Secretary for the Environment at the Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition, brought the focus to Spain and the Mediterranean region, emphasising the great challenge ahead for humanity: adapting to climate change. The Mediterranean region is particularly vulnerable; in Spain predictions estimate a 24% reduction in water resource availability by the end of the century if the targets of the Paris agreement are not achieved. To ensure integrated water resource management, Mr. Morán proposed four changes in water governance: (1) improvements in the coordination of sector-based policies so they are consistent with the goals of water policies (and not the other way around); (2) consistent policies across the different government levels; (3) cooperation between users, social agents and authorities (4) a political decision-making model that allows assessing management models to adapt them as needed, and ensures accountability.

Bruno Tisserand, President of EUREAU

Concerning water sources, he noted that groundwater, already overexploited, can no longer be the source to turn to when we face water scarcity. Instead, we need to turn to new sources such as desalination or reuse, so that groundwater resources can recover and become once again a safety net during drought periods. He concluded his presentation stressing the need to have a fair transition in the way we manage water resources, as the theme of World Water Day 2019 states, ‘Leaving no one behind’, being particularly fair with those most vulnerable.

A round table where the speakers answered questions from the audience brought the conference to a close.

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