Convergence of Energy, Financial, Food and Water Crises a ‘Perfect Storm’

by | Mar 20, 2009

bjorn-mug21Climate change and the global financial crisis are top of mind at the World Water Forum (WWF) in Istanbul this week, quite a shift from three years ago. During a well-attended panel featuring technical experts on water and the financial crisis, Jamal Saghir, director of the energy, transport and water (ETW) department at the World Bank, called the unprecedented convergence of the energy, financial, food and water crises a ‘perfect storm.’

Saghir’s World Bank colleague, Katherine Sierra, echoed his thoughts and described the water sector as chronically underfunded. She emphasized the need to avoid a “lost decade” in water and sanitation investment and recommended linking water and energy efficiency initiatives through new infrastructure, technology and financing projects.

Other interesting topics of discussion included:

Disasters and Climate

The Crown Prince of Japan, Naruhito, shared an interesting point of view on the link between disasters and climate. He emphasized the need to bring together minds from advocacy organizations, business, and government to chart long-term visions for the management of river basins. Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council (WWC), reiterated this sentiment and urged leaders to mobilize before disaster strikes; incorporate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in development planning; and provide safe water and toilets quickly when disaster or conflict strikes.

Funding For Water

Johan Kulenstierna, chief technical advisor of UN-Water, discussed the decreasing availability of funds for water projects around the world. UN-Water, together with a wide range of stakeholders, is working to identify the best metrics to measure return on investment for water projects to help attract financial resources.

Supply Chain and Sustainable Distribution

Additional side panels focused on a wide range of issues, including how water utilities and managers-both public and private-can develop effective supply chain and manufacturing capabilities. Several of the speakers offered examples of how the private sector has successfully partnered with NGOs and local communities. They also highlighted some lessons learned, including the fact that many failed water projects are the result of not incorporating sustainable distribution measures as part of the process. Successful projects require long-term vision, cross-sector collaboration and local community participation.

Several interesting reports were also launched:

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) launched Water Energy and Climate Change, a report that highlights the interconnections between these issues and underscores the need for them to be linked to global negotiations, such as the international climate talks due to culminate in Copenhagen this December. (Full Disclosure: As co-chairs of the WBCSD Water Project, ITT Chairman Steve Loranger and Borealis CEO Mark Garrett co-signed the report.)

The Global Water Partnership launched its new book, “Integrated Water Resources Management in Practice: Better Water Management for Development,” which highlights case studies and success stories about water resource management, especially around coastal areas.

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) launched a report, “Managing Water for All: An OECD Perspective on Pricing and Financing – Key Messages for Policy Makers,” that calls for policymakers to focus on finding the right mix of tariffs, taxes and aid transfers (3Ts) for achieving water and sanitation targets, and for leveraging other sources of finance.

Many of the discussions reinforced the vast opportunities for the private sector to be a partner in creating valuable change, from working with advocacy organizations, communities, local governments and water authorities, to financial support for infrastructure and capacity building. These are all critical factors, especially in the developing world.

Raymond Jost, secretary general for the International Secretariat for Water (ISW), gave a powerful speech that truly captured the sentiment of the Forum. He said, “I especially hope that the magic emanating from Istanbul, as the crossroad of cultures, will remind us that water is also culture, tradition, spirituality, art and nature, and we must engage more than ever before citizens in order to preserve our venerated water.”

Bjorn Von Euler, director of corporate philanthropy for ITT Corp., attended the World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey. He is writing a series of reports on the forum for Environmental Leader.

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