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Water fundamental to achieving global goals, say leaders as Stockholm summit opens

World leaders, water experts, development professionals, policy-makers, and one astronaut, have gathered in Stockholm, the Swedish capital city, for a week-long meeting focused on finding ways to better use, and reuse, the world’s increasingly scarce fresh water.

Torgny Holmgren

Executive Director, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), Torgny Holmgren

The term “water scarcity” is becoming increasingly common. As more countries, and cities, experience the effects of high population pressure and less available freshwater, the interest among policy-makers, businesses, and citizens grows. The realisation is there. We need to become more efficient water users. We need to make some drastic changes.

“World Water Week is a key meeting place for the water and development community; it is here that we come together and make sure that the very best ideas are brought forward,” said SIWI’s Executive Director, Torgny Holmgren.

World Water Week is said to be the world’s biggest global annual meeting focusing on water and development. It is organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). The Week draws over 3,000 participants from nearly 130 countries, who come to Stockholm to learn about new research results, share experiences, discuss progress in the implementation of the Global Goals, and together try to find new ways to meet the world’s growing water challenges.

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The President of the United Nations General Assembly, Peter Thomson, called the world’s climate and water resources the “fundament of our existence”, and said that “Without proper stewardship of that fundament the 2030 sustainable development agenda obviously goes nowhere. Because without the fundament we can’t exist.”

“Together with the Paris Climate Agreement, implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals represents the best chance our species has to achieve a sustainable way of life on Planet Earth before it is too late,” he added.

Sweden’s Minister for Environment, Karolina Skog, said: “Sustainable and efficient management of our water and wastewater (…) has a profound effect on all aspects of human life; economic growth, sustainable development, sustainable city planning, circular thinking in industry and in production, energy saving, good quality of our water and, last but not least, it is crucial for health and for a sustainable environment.”

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Astronaut and Member of Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science, Christer Fuglesang, described the intricate water reuse systems that are necessary during space missions, enabling food to be grown on board, and ensuring a drinking water supply – both helping to inform research, and optimise methods for increased water use efficiency on earth.

Another central aspect of efficient water use, is to use less. In his welcoming speech Holmgren pointed out that it will be challenging but necessary to change large-scale water consumption patterns: “The Week’s theme, Water and waste: Reduce and reuse, really touches the very core of our daily lives. To reduce, some drastic changes will be necessary – especially by the main water users, including industries, energy producers and the agriculture sector.”

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He added that changes are also needed in how we think about reuse of water: “I think that it is very important to try and change the mind-set around waste. Rather than presenting us with a problem, we can view waste as an asset also becoming a business opportunity.”

Stephen McCaffrey, 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate and a Professor in water law, spoke of the need for water cooperation and water diplomacy. He told participants that although the ingredients for potential water conflicts exist, such as higher population pressure, climate change, and much of the world’s fresh water being shared by two or more countries, studies show that water sharing is much more likely to lead to cooperation than conflict.

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