IWRA Webinar Nº 41

Water Management in a Post COVID-19 World

12 May 2021

Organised under IWRA’s 50th anniversary celebrations, IWRA hosted a new webinar on “Water Management in a Post COVID-19 World” on May 12th, 2021.

Discussions around this timely topic included IWRA members, Asit Biswas and David Molden, who have contributed actively to the water profession and to the work of the Association for many years. 

Prof. Biswas’ presentation focused, initially, on the on-going water management trends, and how the international water community is raising to this pressing challenge in need for prompt responses, globally. It was highlighted, before the Covid-19 pandemic, water in the world was not being managed sustainably since it was stacked in old paradigms, more appropriate 30 or 40 years ago. Today, these paradigms have become obsolete. For this reason, every continent is facing water security issues, with 40% of the global population without access to safe water and sanitation. 

Moreover, it was pointed out that after the pandemic, this situation has become even worst with a critical risk of not achieving the SDGs by 2030. Surprisingly, the world’s economically advanced countries were mentioned as not having access to water supply and sanitation for all its citizens, as is the case of the United States or Australia. In contrast, the case of developing countries was also emphasized, where access to clean water services can be considered a luxury. Although water is being provided clean, the perception of the population is that drinking this water may not be safe. Similarly, Singapore, Hong Kong or Western Europe, were identified as examples where households continue to boil water in more advance nations. Therefore, the need to bring behavioral economists, psychologists or scientists to help the current work of water professionals, and change practices and the use of this precious resource, were mentioned of key importance.

Another interesting aspect of this presentation, concentrated on the wrong framing for the use of water. Presently, it was stated water is not high-up in the political agenda but only in the case of flooding or droughts during exceptional days or weeks. Changing this issue is critical both at the policy and institutional level, as well as communicating assertively with politicians that can translate the benefits for agriculture, better standards of living, etc. of managing water resources in a sustainable manner.

Another paradigm that was challenged, was the common understanding of a global water scarcity issue. According to Prof. Biswas, mayor organisations reports indicate this reality, mentioning Singapore, for example, as a country with lack of sufficient water. However, this case is no longer valid as water harvesting, wastewater treatment and water supply of exceptional quality, are practices that refute the findings about Singapore in these reports. It was highlighted, hence, the world is evidently not facing a water scarcity problem, if water is managed correctly with good leadership in place and the use of available technology. However, the right amount of good quality, is a concerning aspect to keep an eye out, as there is moderate attention address to this topic, particularly in the developing countries and urban areas.        

Integrate Water Resources Management (IWRM), was another challenged paradigm. This is mainly because there is not a successful case of managing properly freshwater anywhere, expect in the Seine Normandy River Basin in France. Only in India, there are three national plans on how to manage rivers nationally with zero implementation plans. This was the reason for South Africa to rethink, currently, water rather as an economic driver and dispute IWRM.  

The need for new paradigms to be developed to improve sustainable water management was, therefore, emphasized. Important changes must occur, as it is the case in China, where agricultural water requirements today reduced significantly by 20% water consumption, and will do so by 2030 by 30%. It is evident implementable law systems and policies in place water resources use can, and should, be limited for a better future.

In addition, it was agreed, water challenges are solvable, and responses need to be applied now, particularly with rapid population growth. As panellists pointed out, the world has enough water for all activities, and also to reach the 2030 and 2050 horizons. However, the world’s population consumption, especially in developed countries, need to be reduced to 70 liters per capita per day for personal use. It was clarified, more than that is not necessary, with the United Kingdom as a leading case already on track to reduce its citizen’s consumption to half by 2030.

In sum, for panelists, the world has enough water for 2050, and even to reach 2100, but weak water management practices can be observed as the underlying cause for water scarcity. In order to correct these trends, new mind frames and paradigms need to be developed, including legal, administrative, leadership or behavioral issues, for water professionals and practitioners to help manage water sustainably for the benefit of all.

With nearly 290 registered participants, this was yet another very successful webinar. IWRA would like to thank again its panellists for their thought-provoking and insightful contributions: Asit Biswas, Distinguished Visiting Professor, University of Glasgow, UK; Director, Water Management International, Singapore; Chief Executive, Third World Centre for Water Management, Mexico; IWRA Co-Founder, President (1989-1991) & Honorary and Fellow member;  and, David Molden, Former Director General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD); former Deputy Director General for Research,  International Water Management Institute (IWMI); IWRA Board of Directors (2016-2018 & 2019-2021).

In case of any related questions you can contact us at office@iwra.org.