World Water Day 2016

News Date: 22 Mar 2016

Water is essential for life. An adequate supply of water is also essential to guarantee a decent quality of life.

But more than 700 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water, and some two billion people require access to improved sanitation.

Indeed, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) no. 6 focuses on clean water and sanitation. SDG 14 also focuses on life below water – in other words, our aquatic ecosystems.

During the 2000-2015 period of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), IAP made significant contributions to the water issue, and is continuing to do so now that national governments and the international community are focusing on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Much of this work has been done through IAP’s regional affiliated networks in Europe (EASAC), Africa (NASAC), the Americas (IANAS) and the Asia/Pacific region (AASSA).

In 2010, for example, EASAC published a series of reports on the importance and status of ‘Groundwater in the Southern Member States of the European Union: an assessment of current knowledge and future prospects’, focusing on France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

In addition, a project led by the Polish Academy of Sciences, ‘Water, Ecosystem Services and Society’ looked at establishing collaboration between European academies of science and the European Long-Term Ecosystem Research Network.

During the past few years, AASSA has also focused on the water issue in different regions of Asia. In 2011, representatives of Asian academies of science convened in Bishkek as hosts of the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic. While there, they deliberated on ‘The Roles of Academies of Sciences in Water and Energy Problems in Central Asia and Ways for their Solution’.

The Asian network of science academies followed up on this activity with other workshops held in 2014, in Yerevan, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, and in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where they discussed the ‘Sustainable Development Goal of Water and Sanitation after MDGs’.
For the past several years, IANAS has maintained a very active water programme. Indeed, it was on World Water Day two years ago that IANAS released the English language version of its publication, ‘Diagnosis of Water in the Americas’ – a translation of the original Spanish version, ‘Diagnóstico del agua en las américas’, released in 2012.

IANAS complemented these publications – which have been downloaded thousands of times – with their ‘Urban Water Challenges in the Americas’ – which assesses the water resources of 15 countries across North and South America and the Caribbean. Again, a Spanish version is also available.

IAP then used the expertise of analyzing water issues developed by the pan-American academies to assist the African continent. In a pair of reciprocal meetings, African experts first attended a workshop in Ciudad de Saber, Panama, from 14-19 October 2014. The findings and recommendations emerging from the discussions are available as ‘Bridging Science and Policy to enhance water security in Africa and the Americas’.

With support from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), the Royal Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, in October 2014, NASAC published the book, ‘The Grand Challenge of Water Security in Africa: Recommendations to policymakers’. Key themes include access to safe water and sanitation, managing trans-boundary systems, global change and risk management, as well as economic perspectives. The book was officially launched on 15 October 2014 at a special event during the 2nd Ministerial Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in Africa, hosted in Rabat by the Government of Morocco and organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB).

And IAP’s work does not stop there. Led by the Academia Nacional de Medicina, Brazil, IANAS, in collaboration with national academies in the Americas, is currently investigating the issue of water-borne diseases in the Americas, with a full report and recommendations to policymakers to follow.

On the occasion of World Water Day 2016, UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, has said of global water issues: “Moving forward requires action across the field – by governments, by civil society and by the private sector. The challenges we face from climate change, water scarcity and the displacement of low-skilled workers are enormous. But promoting high-quality jobs, while preserving the environment and ensuring sustainable water management will help to eradicate poverty, promote growth and craft a future of decent work for all.”

As outlined above, over the past few years, IAP has focused significant energy and expertise on water issues – distilling the most up-to-date scientific knowledge, typically at national and regional levels – to provide advice and recommendations to policymakers. Through these activities, it is clear that academies of science are contributing to the ideals expressed by UNESCO’s director-general and the targets set out in the SDGs.

Peter McGrath; 19 March 2016