A historical summit

The world’s first summit on water scarcity and drought! This initiative aims to understand how to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and will initially comprise of leadership from 20 companies, governments in 12 countries, organizations, civil society and academia.

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…the whole human development, at least up to now, has been a bitter struggle against scarcity.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Xenos, 1989, p.1

The World Economic Forum ranks the ‘water crises’ as a top risk facing societies and business. The ever-expanding water demand of the world’s growing population and economy, combined with the impacts of climate change, are making water scarcity a reality in many parts of the world. It is already affecting livelihoods, human health, and ecosystems. A recent report pegs the number of people affected by water scarcity at 4 billion as opposed to 2 billion in earlier reports.

Cities, industries, agriculture and the environment are seriously impaired. Several cities around the world have literally run out of water recently, resulting in major havoc and costs for citizens, business and government. Water scarcity and droughts severely affect local communities and disrupt supply chains world-wide through disseminating agricultural production and limiting industrial production. Scarcity is expected to intensify with most forms of economic development, and as a result of extreme variability in climate. If unmitigated, extreme droughts will have an aggravating impact on economies, societies and the environment in all parts of the world.

Government leaders realize the severity of the situation and acknowledge that we cannot continue with how we have managed water as a blueprint for the future. The adoption and endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) provides us with an opportunity to re-engage on water scarcity and drought management responding to SDG 6.4, in particular:

Substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity.

Government leaders also have signed on to the “Paris Agreement” dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020. Though water scarcity and drought is not explicitly mentioned, the agreement aims to increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development. It will have to include a significant amount of resources for upgrading existing and new water infrastructure and institutions, especially for areas affected by serious droughts and water scarcity.

Turning drought and water scarcity into an opportunity

While increasing water scarcity and drought will continue to pose major challenges to society, managing these situations can be turned into a major opportunity for development, business and communities. This, however, requires leadership and a pro-active approach that engages a wide range of stakeholders throughout society.

Policy and institutional reforms for preparedness

To become more pro-active, policy and decision makers need to improve policies, regulation and planning. At present, the absence of reliable information quantifying water scarcity across spatial and temporal scales forms a true hindrance. Measuring ‘scarcity’ in the global South continues to be dependent on meteorological data, with questionable granularity. There is an urgent need to catalyze the development of new policies, plans and institutions based on multiple forms of qualitative and quantitative water and environmental data, across different scales. Bringing such information together would offer a more robust capacity to predict water scarcity and drought and underpin planning and management decisions including, for example, relief aid, agricultural subsidies, water allocation measures, insurance, and drought credits.

Diversify water supply and reduce demand

To seriously tackle water scarcity and drought, technological approaches have to evolve beyond either augmenting supply or reducing demand. There is an urgent need to come forward with and implement portfolios of technological solutions tailored to different stakeholders. This means establishing portfolios of water supplies and management of demand using a diversity of conventional and unconventional approaches to get water to the users and have it used wisely. This can be summarized in:

  • Reduce : reducing water loss and increase water efficiency in agriculture, industries and cities;
  • Re-use : re-using used water and desalinating sea-water as a new source of water supply;
  • Replenish : replenishing aquifers, lakes, reservoirs and rivers so they provide a buffer for periods of extreme droughts.

While each of these approaches are practiced around the world, a portfolio approach that combines these is rarely applied. There is a great opportunity to document existing cases and promote the combined use of portfolios of water scarcity and drought management technologies across energy, agriculture, urban and industrial sectors. Knowledge exchange platforms can facilitate sharing of ideas on both demand and supply side approaches to tackling water scarcity.

Exchange and cooperation

At present, there is no organized fashion at global or regional level to share best practices on water scarcity and drought preparedness and management. Though a number of cases demonstrating local and national innovation are documented, there is a true lack of international exchange and cooperation around water scarcity and drought. Such cooperation, however, would allow government, business and civil society to exchange ideas, learn about new approaches and technologies and provide peer support to adapt to water users and climate induced shocks from scarcity and droughts. Knowledge exchange and cross pollination of ideas and approaches around managing water scarcity would significantly reduce opportunity costs of engaging with fresh approaches. Given the climate change induced uncertainty that is further stressing water management, an exchange platform will provide much needed inputs for adaptive policy- making and practice. Hence, there is scope for building on a regional/global platform for sharing experiences and technologies along with learning that is emerging out of successful initiatives that address water scarcity.

Finance and investment

Adapting to growing water scarcity requires the building of new institutions and infrastructure. Setting up river basin organisations, strengthening utilities, or fostering water users associations are just some examples of the kind of institutions that need to be in place to tackle water scarcity and droughts. There is an urgent need to invest in setting-up and strengthening such institutions. Addressing water scarcity and drought further requires major investment in infrastructure, both man-made and natural infrastructure, to be able to store water, become more efficient and be able to re-use or desalinate (sea) water. Major investments in these infrastructures are often a great opportunity for stimulating socio-economic development. There is a need to review existing and potentially create new drought and scarcity financing mechanisms at local, national and international level.

Summit themes, outcomes and format

Four themes will structure the Summit discussions and will be elaborated in the keynotes, round table and plenary discussions.

The Summit is to focus on:

  • Creating climate preparedness and resilience: focusing on policy, planning, institutions, regulation, incentives and enforcement to adapt;
  • Establishing portfolios of water supply and demand management: focusing on approaches and technologies reducing water demand and losses, water reuse and desalination, and replenishing storage (i.e. in groundwater and reservoirs), across energy, agriculture, urban and industrial sectors;
  • Strengthening mechanisms to measure and exchange on water scarcity and drought: focusing on information, knowledge, know-how, experiences and expertise to develop and influence adoption of a wise water culture and practice;
  • Mobilising public and private investments: focusing on resources for upgrading existing and creating new water institutions and infrastructure to manage water scarcity and drought.

Expected Outcomes

Water Scarcity and Drought Summit will deliver the following outcomes:

  • International Water Scarcity Exchange: global mechanism to create exchange and cooperation amongst leading professionals, and policy and decision makers on water scarcity and drought management;
  • Measuring Water Scarcity: initial consensus on measuring water scarcity supporting the implementation of SDG Goal 6.4;
  • Global Drought Initiative: participant’s endorsement for an initiative to strengthen international co-operation and financing to tackle water scarcity and drought.

Summit Format

The Summit White Paper will capture the key dimensions of water scarcity and drought across the globe. It will raise the main bottlenecks and highlight successful approaches by different stakeholders. In doing so it is to inform and guide the deliberations at the Summit. The Summit itself will consist of keynote addresses, followed by panel and round tables discussions on the identified themes.

The Summit will specifically deliberate on tackling water scarcity and drought management focusing on:

  • Policy and institutional reforms: review of policy and regulatory frameworks across sectors impacting on water scarcity;
  • Technological solutions: effective demand and supply management through portfolios of solutions;
  • Process oriented efforts: the culture of water use, efficiency, ethics, managing and improving water availability and mechanism to enhance these;
  • Public and private investments: mobilising local, national and international financial resources for much needed investments in infrastructure and institutions.

Key Invitees and stakeholders

The Summit will be attended by ca. 200 participants from around the world. They will include government leaders tackling water scarcity challenges, business leaders challenged by droughts and providing solutions, NGO leaders raising awareness and supporting communities to cope with scarcity, development partners supporting drought initiatives, science leaders providing insight in the causes and future outlook on water scarcity and drought, and community leaders experienced in managing water scarcity on a daily basis.

Together these represent a cross section of key stakeholders that need to be working together to tackle water scarcity and drought management going forward. A further list of potential invitees in provided in Annex 1. The Summit while challenge the participants to explore new ways of collaboration and new roles of business, NGOs, government and other actors in turning water scarcity and droughts into an opportunity.