Unprecedented Water Crisis Demands Urgent and Innovative World-Wide Actions

We live in a changing world that is quickly becoming water scarce. Rapid urbanization, coupled with population growth and changing consumption patterns are redefining societies across the globe. So also their relationship to water: a driver of economic growth and human well-being. Today, “water” is considered to be one of the highest global risks: a risk of high impact, likely to negatively affect human health and wellbeing, environmental sustainability, regional stability and economic performance.

Cities, industries, agriculture and nature now compete increasingly for ever more scarce water resources. Strikingly enough, places and times of scarcity are mirrored by moments and areas of extreme abundance. Floods and droughts are threatening economic growth, global supply chains and human security. Climate change and variability and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, call for more awareness and attention to water security. In particular urban areas as centers of population and economic growth, need to become more resilient to cope with future shocks from floods and droughts. Investing in urban resilience is more than coping with a challenge. Building water sensitive cities is an opportunity for economic growth and creating a sustainable future. Wisely managed water resources and reliable and affordable water services, together with the related infrastructure and technologies, form a critical aspect of creating the green economy of tomorrow. Accelerating innovations in water resources management and water and waste water service delivery are essential to deliver on this opportunity around the world.

In many ways, the future is already here. At the World Water Congress & Exhibition (Lisbon, 21-26 September),  more than 5000 leaders from the water, urban, industrial and environmental sectors come together to exchange leading edge experiences and debate the new frontlines in the quest for sustainability. Coming from more than 90 countries worldwide, they will debate how we can shape the global water future.

Around the world, leading examples are emerging of how water resources can be managed more wisely. In many countries water supply services are becoming more safe and reliable. And leading practice shows that waste water cannot not only be treated safely, but actually become a source for recycling water, nutrients and other materials.

Dealing with wastewater differently and focusing on water reuse and resource recovery twill be critical to realizing the circular economy. Water, organic matter, phosphates, cellulose, and precious metals in wastewater are becoming new sources of drinking water, energy, fertilisers, bio-plastics, paper and other products. Leading examples indicate that the future can be, and must be, radically different.

Reducing energy consumption along the water value chain and producing energy from water supplies and waste water can make a significant contribution to mitigating climate change. Reducing energy demand, diminishing carbon emissions and recovering precious resources all contribute to lower energy costs for utilities and consumers alike.

The threat to stable freshwater supplies posed by climate variability and change is significant. It challenges water managers and decision makers to change ‘business as usual’ and truly stimulate innovations in how water is managed and used. A key aspect of this is to look into the ‘new sources’ of water that are derived from gaining water efficiencies, reducing water loss, re-using water and desalination. This will provide new sources of water without impacting on those existing sources that are most adversely affected by climate change.

Water and the way we manage it will determine our future. The World Water Congress will create new insights into how pioneering science, technological innovation and leading practices are shaping the transformation in water management that is underway. The global water leaders gathered in Lisbon have set themselves the task to make water security, safety and sustainability a reality by 2030. A challenge that will require all of us to make our contribution!

Ger Bergkamp

Past IWA Executive Director
Ger Bergkamp is the former Executive Director of the International Water Association. He held the post between the years, 2012 and 2017. Connect with Ger Bergkamp on IWA Connect.   Read full biography