Kevin Watkins - Director, ODI
Rajendra Singh - 2015 World Water Prize Winner, Chairman, Tarun Bharat Sangh, India, and International Partner, The Flow Partnership, UK
Professor Tony Allan - King's College London and SOAS, winner of 2008 Stockholm Water Prize
Professor Barbara Evans - Professor of Public Health Engineering, University of Leeds
Today, in many parts of the world, water is a scarce resource – and this is by no means a problem confined to low-income countries. The governor of California has imposed mandatory water restrictions as the state suffers its worst drought in 1,200 years. From farmers in Queensland, Australia to energy companies in Brazil, concerns about water - too little, too much, who gets what - have risen up the political agenda. Governments, businesses and communities want reliable supplies and protection from droughts and floods. They seek water security.
Yet on a local level, people are finding ways to tackle these threats. Combining traditional techniques passed down through generations with innovative new approaches, they are addressing problems from the bottom up. But can these local efforts achieve results at scale? In an increasingly thirsty world, how can we ensure water reaches those who need it the most?
Our event ‘A thirsty world: making local action global’ brought together representatives of the civil society, academia, media and the government to discuss solutions to ensure that water reaches those who need it the most.
In his keynote speech, Rajendra Singh, 2015 World Water Prize Winner, highlighted the importance of community-based and decentralised water resource management; more than rich people, the poorest can take action to protect the nature and avoid pollution and scarcity.
Professor Tony Allan, also World Water Prize Winner in 2008, argued that solutions to instances of water scarcity should be searched in the food supply chain, changing the rules of the markets in which we operate.
Professor Barbara Evans highlighted the importance of investing in sanitation especially in growing urban areas; local governance can play a key role in pushing for the right policies and a process of social transformation.
Finally, Roger Calow of ODI noted that, although it acts as a threat multiplier, climate change alone cannot be blamed for water scarcity. Water scarcity is the result of physical scarcity but also and fundamentally of unequal access and development patterns that privilege a few at the expense of many. We need to move beyond idealistic models of water resources management and to invest in the institutional plumbing that is required to transparently and fairly allocate water resources amongst the different economic uses and groups of people.
In conclusion, Kevin Watkins lauded the event’s focus on the importance of reconnecting to nature for dignity and social justice. He urged to start thinking of water as a precious resource, and to change our behaviours and attitudes that get in the way of transparent decisions about who gets what and on what terms.