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Reflection on Rivers

By Katharine Cross, IWA Programme Manager

Reflection on Rivers

Rivers are the arteries of our planet, and have played an essential role in the history of humans for thousands of years. Human settlements have always had the necessity of being close to water bodies, which is why many of the word’s cities are along rivers. Cities are the engines for growth, and they rely heavily on the resources that rivers and their catchment areas provide including as a source of water, for food, for transport, for recreation, as defenses, as a source of power to drive machinery, and as a means of disposing of waste.

Numerous challenges face river basins and their cities. Over 1.4 billion people currently live in river basins where the use of water exceeds minimum recharge levels, leading to the desiccation of rivers and depletion of groundwater. There is increasing demand and competition between multiple users (e.g. cities, industry, agriculture, environment environment). Increasing risks of extreme climate events include floods and droughts are growing due to a number of factors including land degradation, climate change and increased pressure on water resources from competing sectors.

I recently attended two very different events in two different continents, both focusing on improving the management of rivers.

The first was the European River Symposium which took place in Vienna on March 2nd and 3rd, 2016 focused on Partnerships for Rivers and Water and targeted actions which are being taken to build positive relationships between key organizations and sectors that influence rivers and water management.

The event had both water service providers (utilities) and basin organizations, which was exciting as this reflects the IWA approach of linking stakeholders from catchment to tap. It was also an opportunity to showcase the Basins of the Future programme which promotes sustainable management of  basins and their water bodies, while addressing climate risks (e.g. flood and droughts) for urban and industrial areas through actions at the catchment level.

The second event was the Myanmar World Water Day Celebration in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw on March 13-14th, 2016. Understanding the institutional landscape and engaging with Myanmar organizations was an opportunity for IWA to take some of our existing knowledge and experience to this emerging economy.

The aim of Myanmar World Water Day was to increase efficiency of water sector performance for poverty alleviation and sustainable development in Myanmar, as well as connect and cooperate with the international world water community. The first day focused on the Ayeyarwady River Basin which is the largest basin in Myanmar and is undergoing rapid development. And the second day had a broader view of integration in action for sustainable development across the water sector in Myanmar.

Both events had a variety of stakeholders presenting their views and sharing their experiences from across basins. However, a noticeable gap was the active link to cities and industrial value chains in catchment areas. Through the Basins of the Future programme, IWA has the opportunity to influence and activate actors in urban areas, especially urban and industry leaders, to connect with basin and catchment organisations, as well as other relevant stakeholders with interest in water management. For example, utilities providing water for their cities need to work hand in hand with the basin stakeholders to ensure water security for their cities. Beyond water security, the city relies on resource flows from its catchment area for food, energy and recreation.  City leaders and the water utilities leaders have enormous stakes at developing a healthy catchment.

With this in mind, the upcoming World Water Congress will host the first Basin Leaders Forum which provides an opportunity for basin organizations, catchment authorities as well as water resource managers from sectors across river basins (e.g. mining, energy, industry, agriculture, cities etc) to share knowledge and experiences and explore viable pathways for sustainable economic, social and environmental development of catchment areas.

The Forum will have the unique approach of convening multisector stakeholders who are developing and sustaining water resources at the catchment level while also connecting with cities and industries. Furthermore, the Basin Leaders Forum will be a stepping stone for development of a “Charter for Sustainable Basin Management” which will provide guidance to better manage water resources across scales especially for urban and industrial areas through actions at the catchment level.

Watch this space for further developments, or contact Katharine Cross – Katharine.cross@iwahq.org