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Torgny Holmgren (SIWI): "All sectors of society must be part of decision-making about water"

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  • Torgny Holmgren (SIWI): "All sectors of society must be part of decision-making about water"
    Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the organizer SIWI. Photo credit: Mikael Ullén/SIWI
Schneider Electric
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The annual international event World Water Week is considered a focal point for global water issues. Organized and hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), leaders and experts from around the world gather to share and exchange views and experiences to address the planet’s water challenges and related concerns.

This year, World Water Week took place from 25th to 30th of August, with the theme: “Water for society – including all”, in line with the UN’s World Water Day 2019’s theme “Leaving no one behind”.

We spoke to Torgny Holmgren, the Institute’s Executive Director, to find out a bit about this renowned water event and to discover the main conclusions extracted from this year’s WWW.

An economist by training, Holgrem worked for many years at the World Bank and the Swedish ministries of foreign affairs and finance in several countries before joining SIWI in 2012.

Question: Why did SIWI choose “Water for society: Including all” as this year’s World Water Week theme?

Answer: We want to emphasize the importance of inclusion. People should have a say in water relations that affect them and traditionally marginalized groups must be at the centre of policy - this is what the United Nations describes as Leaving No One Behind. Furthermore, we want to widen the topic and talk about how all sectors of society must be part of decision-making about water, not least the private sector which accounts for up to 85 per cent of our daily freshwater withdrawals.

All sectors of society must be part of decision-making about water

Q: Which were the main issues addressed at the World Water Week this year? ​

A: There were many topics discussed, ranging from sanitation to city planning to food. But what all sessions had in common was a growing sense of urgency. We only have 11 years to achieve the SDGs and roughly the same amount of time to reverse the trend on climate change. This means that we must join forces also with groups outside the traditional water community and this we clearly see happening now. We for example had very interesting presentations on topics such as food security and energy from specialists in those fields.

But what all sessions had in common was a growing sense of urgency


Torgny Holmgren at the Closing Plenary. Photo by Mikael Ullén.

Q: How do you think good water governance can improve inclusiveness?

A: This is the key issue! Access to clean water and safe sanitation is essential to human dignity, to economic growth, to health and to education. Efficient water governance is only possible if everyone affected has a say in decisions that concern them. Good water governance also means ensuring that ecosystems receive enough water.

Q: New research was published ahead of World Water Week that shows that 845 million people still need access to drinking water to meet the UN SDG6 by 2030. How is SIWI tackling this major challenge?

A: This is an issue at the centre of our operational activities around the world and also an issue we constantly raise, in international meetings and in local communities. We know that investments in water and sanitation pay for themselves four times over. There is no reason children should still be dying unnecessarily from diseases that could be prevented by clean water and soap!

Q: What ground-breaking research discussed during the 2019 World Water Week would you highlight?

A: There were many interesting solutions presented during the Week, not least from young researchers and entrepreneurs from low-income countries working to solve pressing issues in their local communities. I would also like to highlight the ground-breaking research of Dr Jackie King, who was presented with the world’s most prestigious water award, Stockholm Water Prize. She is an aquatic ecologist from South Africa who has developed tools to help decision-makers assess costs and benefits of altering rivers.

People are really starting to understand how today’s water challenges can only be solved through better water governance

Q: What have been the main conclusions of this year's World Water Week?

A: I would like to highlight three things. First, the importance of inclusion. We see more and more young people demanding to have a say. Many sessions have also focused on the fact that climate change will hurt the poor the most, which could widen the gaps between people and countries.

Second, people are really starting to understand how today’s water challenges can only be solved through better water governance. Until recently, there has been a tendency to focus on technology, but having transparent, fair and efficient decision-making is even more important.

A third theme that we are starting to understand much better is how dependent we humans are on ecosystems. There were for instance  interesting discussions at the World Water Week on the rights of rivers and I am sure this is only the beginning.

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