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Since 1991, Stockholm World Water Week has been bringing people together to find solutions to the planet’s water-related challenges. This year, the conference focused on Building Resilience Faster and saw more than 16,000 participants from 170 countries attend 418 digital sessions, with topics ranging from climate resilience to urban sanitation to marine biodiversity.
Among the many subjects discussed, one central theme quickly became clear to attendees: these issues cannot be addressed in isolation, either geographic or sectoral. Just as water-related challenges and solutions are often transboundary, affecting multiple countries, they are also frequently multi-sectoral, with complex and dynamic links to energy, food security and ecosystem sectors.
Financing multi-sector projects
The complex interlinkages between water, energy and food security (WEF) were addressed directly in the World Water Week session, “From risks to returns: WEF Nexus solutions for climate resilience”. Held on Tuesday, August 24, this dialogue event was co-organised by the Nexus Regional Dialogues (NRD) Programme, co-financed by the European Commission and the Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). It saw policy-makers, project developers and finance experts from around the world come together to discuss how policies and projects in the water, energy and agricultural sectors can be reframed to capture the intrinsic links connecting these resources with each other and with the environment. The session offered a simultaneous translation from English into French and Spanish.
Central to this discussion was the issue of finance. How can funding for integrated natural resources projects be leveraged? And can the WEF Nexus approach facilitate access to much-needed investment in such projects?
Lucia de Strasser, Environmental Affairs Officer at UNECE, opened the session with inspiring words from the perspective of the Water Convention that supports transboundary cooperation around the world. She underlined that those decisions related to WEF impact, need political visions and commitment. Drawing from the outcomes of a recent global survey by UNECE, de Strasser highlighted one key fact that emerged: The economic case for WEF Nexus investment is not clear enough. Furthermore, the link between existing initiatives of integrated solutions and policy planning is missing. In order to tackle existing
policy and investment silos, stronger cooperation is quoted as the biggest factor of success for WEF Nexus implementation.
Dipak Gyawali, former Minister of Water of Nepal; Albert Bokkestijn from the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development; Monica A. Altamirano, Public-Private Partnerships specialist at Deltares; and Luca Traini from the Renewable Energy Solutions for Africa (RES4Africa) Foundation discussed these issues. Together they identified a number of obstacles to securing funding, including the strength of investment silos, risk aversion among donors and the difficulty of financing projects in non-convertible currencies. They all agreed that the economic case for the WEF Nexus approach needs to be strengthened to attract investment.
Answers in the Andes
The event also suggested ways in which integrated natural resources projects can overcome these challenges and encourage donors to help mainstream the WEF Nexus approach. Cristina Mecerreyes, a senior water and sanitation specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank, presented the emerging results of a multipurpose drinking water and irrigation project in the Bolivian highlands that is doing just this.
The project area is the Katari and Lago Menor Basin. Situated in the west of the country, this basin is sandwiched between the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, the shores of Lake Titicaca and the outskirts of El Alto, Bolivia’s second biggest city. The diverse geography means that it is home to a wide range of habitats, including meadows, rivers and bofedales, a type of high-altitude wetland unique to the Andes. These habitats, in turn, support numerous ecosystem services for the inhabitants, many of whom live and work among the rivers, fields and forest plantations of the region.
However, climate change presents a very real threat to the region’s sustainability. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense, and higher temperatures are causing glaciers to melt earlier each year. By shifting the local water supply, these changes are reducing the available water not only for drinking and irrigation but for habitats such as the bofedales and the ecosystem services they provide. As a result, in recent years the region has seen rising poverty, conflict and internal migration, as well as declining food security and health.
In such a complex and dynamic basin, it was clear to Mecerreyes and the team that any attempt to improve and expand drinking water and irrigation must also address other interconnected sectors. They, therefore, added a component to the project with the explicit aim of establishing integrated watershed management and land use planning in the region. Following extensive research, including consultations with locals to understand their traditional water management knowledge, the team developed a multipurpose, participatory and gender-focused plan that will lay the groundwork for a productive, climate-resilient water supply system for the region – a plan that understands the water sector as part of a much broader and interlinked landscape.
Investing in the WEF Nexus approach
Financing such an ambitious scheme was a daunting prospect, but by aligning project aims with local, national and international initiatives, the Bolivian team were able to build a strong strategic business case that generated significant investment. Donors included the Climate Investment Funds’ Pilot Program for Climate Resilience, Bolivia’s National Climate Change Programme, and EPSAS, the state-run water operator for the region.
The event panel agreed that the Bolivian project provided an important demonstration of the value of the WEF Nexus approach. By highlighting the interdependencies between various sectors – and aligning these links with local, national and international initiatives – the project team were able to use the WEF Nexus approach to present a complex, multi-sectoral project as a worthwhile investment for donors. Finally, the hope is that this success can be widely replicated as donors and project leaders around the world look to improve the management of shared water resources.
La version française de cet article est disponible ici.
La versión en español de este artículo está disponible aquí.
Watch the recorded session here:
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