What is World Water Week, or simply ‘Stockholm’ as the regulars now call it.
It’s a 6-day whirlwind of tightly stacked panel debates, workshops, lectures and events attended by 3,000 people from all corners of the world, who discuss every issue imaginable (and there are many) around water.
It’s also an important temperature gauge on how what’s to come next on key challenges and research around water. This year especially, which marked the 25th anniversary of ‘Stockholm’, there were many good reasons to look back what has been achieved and to see what’s ahead.
Some might say ‘nothing new on water’ and that is true in many ways: we still have 2.1 billion people suffering from a lack of safe water or basic sanitation, too many children dying or sick from water-borne diseases, women spending unproductive hours fetching water and farmers stuck in the rut of using either using too much (70% of all water used) or too little water (failing harvests due to drought).
We hear the familiar arguments – that business and industry isn’t doing enough and that governments need to do more. We still need more collaboration and better governance, more finance and greater scale.
Underpinned by all of this is the stark realisation that we might not have enough water to go around nature, people and the economy if we don’t change something fundamental about the way we manage and allocate water. Current droughts in California, Brasil and India being on top of mind.
However – and I can’t emphasise this enough – this year’s World Water Week really gave us a reason to feel proud of what we’ve achieved and optimistic for what we can achieve working together in the future.
Since the global agreement on the Millennium Development Goals in Johannesburg in 2000, which aimed at halving the number of people without access to water or sanitation:
- 2.6 billion more people have access to improved water services,
- 2.1 billion more people have access to proper sanitation, and
- Child mortality rates have gone down by half.
It’s rewarding to think that Coca-Cola’s initiatives like the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), which is providing access to water for more than 6 million people, have made a contribution to these global numbers.
Working together to achieve results
Over the years we’ve seen an increase in diversity of organisations taking part and this year there were many new faces from the energy sector too. On the governmental side, there is a clear sense of optimism that the upcoming agreement on the new UN Sustainable Development Goals brings new momentum behind the cause of water.
Our announcement of 100% replenishment five years ahead of schedule is a great example of what is possible with collaboration and serious commitment.
There were several examples of innovation that really inspired me.
One session I attended looked at the how to improve the financial viability of water services, and ensure the maintenance of them. You might think it strange in the context of water, but it seems that big data and mobile banking will be playing an ever greater role in providing basic services.
It’s clear there needs to be a rally around improving sanitation and hygiene behavior, and the benefits of green infrastructure (as opposed to grey infrastructure) for managing water resources better, as well as the need to focus on improved water management in agriculture (water use and water pollution).
There’s still a lot to be done, but progress is being made. I see these messages as a signal of positive change on how we think and act on water and development issues, and it’s encouraging to know that we can play our part in this.
Ulrike Sapiro is director of Sustainability for Western Europe at The Coca-Cola Company