What decision makers need to know about water
If you are a decision maker in any sector attending G20 in Argentina, take a moment to think about water. How does water shape the decisions you make? There is a great deal of data that links safe, reliable and accessible water with economic growth and development. But this doesn’t happen through a single causal path – it happens through countless streams embedded in nearly every sector. Water is needed for crops to grow, for industries to run, for health burdens to be overcome, for students to learn, and much more.
Water shapes development
With water being so central to so many development efforts, decision makers have directed investment into water resources for many years – indeed, throughout history. Yet water shortages, risks and inequalities demand as much action now as ever before. Both disparity and uncertainty cloud water’s future. At the same time, increasing demands on water resources are coming up against scarcity, pollution and a changing climate.
Adapting to climate change is a water question, too. Water is part of flooding, drought, ice melt and weather patterns, and it is singled out as a key concern in more than 93% of the nationally determined climate contributions that governments have submitted to the UN. However, water shortages and floods, even when linked to climate change, often reveal problems that already exist: weak water resources management, governance or infrastructure. Improving these means improving resiliency; they prevent change from becoming disaster.
Therefore, I am especially encouraged this year by the Argentina G20 Presidency’s promotion of the systematic development of climate-sustainable infrastructure. The new Climate Sustainability Working Group, under the Argentinian priority on Infrastructure for Development, is guiding the way to closing the infrastructure gap and enabling climate-ready, inclusive growth in G20 economies.
Infrastructure concerns and climate concerns meet through water. This is not surprising; water has a way of bringing things together. It unites economy, society and the environment, and offers greater synergies with every voice that is brought into decision making. Human settlements, agriculture, industry, energy, transport, conservation: all benefit from water security. And all benefit from understanding that water security is not only a chance outcome of rainfall and snowmelt; it is determined by robust institutions, investment, regulatory frameworks and policies.
This can be seen in the design of multipurpose infrastructure that meets the demands of different water users. Such infrastructure offers immense synergies, and a large evidence base now exists on the multi-stakeholder processes of decision making that can produce it. What is required is investment. Water systems account for 15–30% of the trillion-dollar gap in annual infrastructure investment, and everyone who could benefit from better multipurpose infrastructure is paying the price.
This year the residents of Cape Town faced a water security crisis together, in a highly developed city of a G20 country. Many other urban centers are water-vulnerable, and Cape Town will not be the last shocking example of severe urban shortages we will see. In fact, in Argentina and the rest of Latin America water security is very strongly connected to urbanization, and closing the water infrastructure gap will also mean perfecting the governance of urban water services. The stakes are high in the world’s thirsty cities.
We must act together for water security – and we are
All water problems and solutions are local. Parts of Argentina, for instance, are under threat from the retreat of Andean glaciers, a complex phenomenon of a unique geography. Water security depends on such specific conditions, and on the needs of specific water users. Many decision makers have parts of this map – fine-grained data, local perspectives, or sectoral understanding. This is good, as long as we act together in full awareness of the ways water connects us.