The state of the planet’s water resources is recognized as one of the greatest global challenges faced by our rapidly transforming world. A three-day conference on hydrological services therefore sought to address the urgent need to improve forecasting, management and use of water supplies and to tackle the problem of too much, too little or too polluted water.
The HydroConference, from 7 to 9 May, brought together 215 providers and users of hydrological services from 85 countries to strengthen knowledge-sharing and coordination. Delegates agreed that sustainability of water resources and reduction of disaster risk can only be achieved by addressing the full value chain, from data collection to the production of efficient hydrological services that allow informed decision and policy-making.
“We have to manage water on every scale much better than we do now. And yet we can not manage what we do not measure,”, was one a repeated refrain at the conference.
“We need to develop an action plan,” said HydroConference Chair Johan Gély of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. “Good hydrological services have a tremendous impact on the three pillars of the international agenda on sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and climate change,” he said.
It is estimated that by 2050 at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water. More than 2 billion people drink contaminated water, and poor sanitation and water-borne diseases claim hundreds of lives per week – an “invisible tsunami,” according to Gély.
About 90% of natural disaster impacts are water-related. Floods cost an estimated 120 billion dollars per year, whilst droughts stunt economic growth and trigger migration. Water lies at the heart of climate change adaptation.
More than 150 countries share rivers, lakes and acquifers. Water – like weather and climate – knows no national boundaries. Trans-boundary water cooperation and data-sharing is therefore vital to international stability, the conference heard.
WMO convened the HydroConference in partnership with a wide range of international organizations to coincide with the start of the international Decade (2018-2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development.
A high-level segment on 9 May sought to inject new urgency into the drive to improve the availability and use of hydrological services worldwide, to boost collaboration and leverage the combined knowledge and expertise, and to mobilize public and private sector support for key initiatives.
WMO President David Grimes and Secretary-General Petteri Taalas both stressed WMO’s commitment to giving top priority to water issues.
WMO is strengthening its role in water observations, services and related climate science. WMO is promoting build-up of national operational multi-hazard early warning centres, enhanced global & regional co-operation between hydrological and meteorological institutions and culture of exchange of data.
Selected highlights from the high-level segment:
“Water is life and it has to be an instrument of peace. It is a shared resource and it has to be a matter of cooperation,” said Danilo Türk, Chair of the Global High Level Panel on Water and Peace, calling for more water diplomacy and trans-boundary water cooperation.
UN General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak said a global water crisis was an increasing threat. Millions of people drink contaminated water and climate change is drying up rivers. “We see the water crisis from Flint, Michigan, to Cape Town, South Africa. People’s lives and livelihoods are at risk. The pressure is on us to make Sustainable Development Goal 6 (water) a reality,” he said. “The good news is that, more and more, the world is coming together to solve these challenges. The outcome will be better policies, more collaboration and smarter solutions.”
UN Deputy-Secretary-General Amina Mohamed said much progress has been made in understanding the bigger picture about water. Improved data and information is required to inform sound investments and sustain services to ensure “we leave no-one behind.”
Khayrullo Ibodzada, Chair of the Committee for Environmental Protection under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan: Over the past 60 years, the average temperature has increased by 1° Celsius in Tajikistan, accompanied by more frequent and intense hydrometeorological disasters. 60 percent of Central Asia’s water supply comes from Tajikistan. Increasing temperatures will speed up glacier melt, reduce river flows and undermine sustainable development. Tajikistan is hosting a conference on the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development” from 19-21 June.
Reza Ardakanian. Minister of Energy, Islamic Republic of Iran, said his country is experiencing the driest year in the last 50 years. Of the 80 million-strong population, 17 million face water stress this summer. Sand and dust storms exacerbate the problem, with major health and economic impacts. Hydrological data services can help with forecasting, warning management of water-related events.
Khaled Abdelhay Ramadan Mohamed, President of National Water Research Center, Egypt, said that the impact of climate change on river catchments is causing variants of floods in some places and droughts in others and so must be factored into any water management plan. Egypt is located in an arid region with very limited freshwater resources. All its ground and surface water comes from neighbouring countries. “The Nile is life. Without the Nile we can not live,” he said. Population increase is adding to the water stress and the government is working on plans to improve water efficiency and recycling.
Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, referred to the Blue Marble planet of which 71 percent is oceans, and yet only 0.4% can be used. “It looks like there is an abundance of water, but it is actually very scarce,” he said. “We have to manage water on every scale much better than we do now,” said Ovink, summing up the take-home message of the conference.
Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva said water management is a high priority for FAO, which takes action on a daily basis to promote more ways for food systems to use less water.
Andrey Vasilyev, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe said that trans-boundary cooperation on shared river basins and water resources was key to achieving the sustainable development goals.
The HydroConference was co-organized and supported by WMO, UNESCO, the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery/World Bank Group, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Global Water Partnership, the international Centre for Water Hazard and Risk Management, the UN Economic Commission for Europe, the International Association of Hydrological Sciences, USAID and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
The HydroConference website is here
The WMO Bulletin special issue on Water is here