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FEATURE: Water-climate nexus will be central to Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals and the climate change negotiations were high on the agenda at World Water Week, a global event celebrated in Stockholm, Sweden in late August. CDKN Africa’s Ronald Mukanya and Claire Mathieson write.

“Water and Development” was on the minds of some 3,000 participants representing government, business and NGOs at this year’s World Water Week, held in Stockholm. The theme, aligned with the conclusion of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and the subsequent adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), generated in-depth discussions. The debates touched on the forthcoming international negotiations at COP 21 in Paris where the world’s governments will come to an agreement on a new global climate deal. The discussions at World Water Week have looked at how the water-related goals and targets can be most effectively implemented, measured and monitored in these agreements.

In particular, the post-2015 agenda and SDGs – to be adopted at the United Nations next month – has seen a strong call for a dedicated water goal, something that the eight MDGs did not speak to specifically. In particular, the call is for a broad approach that recognises the following key aspects: drinking water, sani­tation and hygiene (WASH), water resources, water productivity, water governance, water quality, improved resilience, healthy ecosystems, mitigating water related disasters, managing waste­water and reducing pollution. The specific mention of water in the proposed SDG 6 “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” is a step in the right direction.

The need to highlight the role of water in other SDGs, such as those addressing food, energy, climate, health, and preferably including some specific targets, has also been raised.

The international event, now in its 25th year, hosted and organised by Stockholm International Water Institute, was once again the focal point for the globe’s water issues, with delegates representing 143 countries. But the biggest talking point has been around the goals and how the SDGs should build upon the MDGs.

The goals have for the past 15 years focused attention on the needs of poor nations, including boosting access to clean water and sanitation. Great gains have been made: extreme poverty was halved in 2010, undernourishment among under three-year-olds fell by nearly 7%, new HIV/Aids infections fell by approximately 40% and there has been a 58% decline in malaria-related deaths. However, the target to achieve improved access to key basic services during the first 15 years of this century will not be fully reached – these include universal access to clean water.

Water has been central to this challenge of development and in the context of climate change; water is central to the problem. Investment and planning is urgently needed to manage water resources and climate risks. For example, drought in sub-Saharan Africa is a dominant climate risk, destroying economic livelihoods and farmers’ food sources and has a negative effect on GDP growth. Floods are also highly destructive to infrastructure and transportation and can result in a potential increase of waterborne diseases. Projected climate and demographic changes reinforce the requirement for urgent investment in water security to improve Africa’s resilience to climate change.

The Sustainable Development Goals for the period to 2030 and a new global climate agreement, which will take effect from 2020, could set the course for development and sustainability for decades to come – both for the environment and for people in developing countries. The agreements together offer an opportunity to end extreme poverty, create climate resilience and avoid dangerous levels of climate change. A call for a high-ambition global deal is critical to achieving the SDGs – especially around water issues, which play a pivotal role in the achievement of multiple goals.

Our lives and well-being, and indeed that of the planet, depends on water. Without it we cannot produce food, energy or sustain a productive economy. This is why World Water Week in Stockholm has focused on these issues, and the vital role of water in addressing them, from ‘Water and Food Security’ in 2012, through ‘Water Cooperation’ in 2013 and ‘Energy and Water’ in 2014 to ‘Water for Development’ in 2015. And while great strides have been made in our discussions and some of our actions, the challenge remains to provide clean and safe water to the one billion people that still lack access to basic sanitation; the one billion without electricity and the one billion that remain hungry. It is hoped ambitious targets will be set by the end of this year and met in the next 15 years.

CDKN was represented at the event to help inform the building of climate resilience in the Limpopo basin, a CDKN project which will support the Government of Mozambique to incorporate climate resilience in the design and development of a dam in the Limpopo river basin. The projects aims to provide a significant long-term response to the challenges posed by climate change. In addition to the focus around the goals, it was clear that amongst other interventions like managing water demand, infrastructure also has a critical role to play around guaranteeing win scenarios like water security, climate resilience and adaptation.

Read CDKN policy brief: The impact of climate change on the achievement of the post-2015 sustainable development goals.

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