Report of main proceedings for 16 October 2019

Budapest Water Summit (BWS) 2019

The 2019 Budapest Water Summit resumed discussions in four plenary sessions on Wednesday, covering: water stress and mass migration; investments for water security; technology to avoid crises; and science in water crises.

A series of side events and a Digital and Nature-based Sustainable Solutions Expo took place in parallel. In the evening, participants attended a reception and cultural programme at the Millenáris Park Conference Center.

Hungarian President János Áder attended the session on science for water crises.

Session 4: Water Stress and Mass Migration – Is There a Way to Prevent Crisis?

This morning session was moderated by Ahmet Saatçi, Turkish Water Institute.

Bekir Pakdemirli, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Turkey, discussed consequences of hosting an estimated 3.6 million refugees, primarily from Syria, noting Turkey has spent US$40 billion to date, 5% dedicated to water-related services for refugees. Reflecting on his family’s experience with the trauma of migration, Pakdemirli stressed the importance of a humane approach, stating this has enabled Turkey to resettle more than 98% of refugees in local populations, with significant investments dedicated to upgrade water and sanitation infrastructure in host cities and provinces.

Nizar Zaied, Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), drew attention to the estimated 18.8 million people migrating for environmental reasons, noting the clear convergence between migration movements and water scarcity hotspots. He emphasized three key messages for policy: migrants move for a multitude of reasons; the bulk of refugees move to urban areas within their own countries; and mobilizing resources to reduce vulnerabilities of populations at risk for environmentally-induced migration.

High-level Panel Discussion: Wambui Gichuri, African Development Bank (AfDB), highlighted the “livlihood approach” used in allocating grants, reporting US$35 million provided to Sudan to build resilience through financing infrastructure. Underscoring the link between water services and development, she named water as both a contributing and compounding factor for crises. Zaied proposed “integrating actions” to address water challenges along with health and education to stimulate increased resource mobilization.

Ciarán Ó Cuinn, Middle East Desalination Research Center, asserted that while banks have an important role to play, the best solution is a “return to a rights and justice based international order.” On the water cycle, Cuinn explained that while desalination is critical for human life, the option to use wastewater over sea water is more affordable and efficient, driven by high energy demand. Zaied shared a vision for the future where renewable energy could be employed in desalination.

Charles Iceland, World Resources Institute (WRI), introduced the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas which uses indicators to understand risks and opportunities such as: chronic water risks; episodic risk; lack of water services; infrastructure problems; and poor utility performance. He described a new model soon to be released, aimed to predict risk, prevent conflict, and stabilize migration, highlighting demographic indicators as most closely intertwined with conflict.

On migrants entering the work force, Isidro González, Union for the Mediterranean, raised the challenge of providing job opportunities for migrants. Iceland added that politicians can help shape a positive narrative regarding incoming migrants, welcoming them to the work force as “win-win solutions.”

Questions from participants spurred discussions on capacity building, ethics of both policies and businesses in times of crises, and the need to create a new model for economic development.

Session 5: What is Needed for Doubling Investments?

This session took place in the morning and was moderated by Xavier Leflaive, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), requested panelists to not only consider how to mobilize more resources, but how to use available financing more effectively.

Miguel da Moura, National Agency for Water Sanitation (ANAS), Cape Verde, discussed institutional and market reforms that have placed the country on track to meet its water-related targets, including securing a minimum per household daily water supply of 40 liters and ensuring that households do not spend more than 5% of their income on water. He highlighted initiatives to, inter alia: create a revolving fund to “spread the gains at very low cost”; incentivize the tracking of non-revenue water to reduce water losses; and explore technical innovations such as desalination.

Pierre Victoria, Véolia, discussed business models that address water-related risks for investors. He highlighted: a project in Durban, South Africa that recycles municipal waste water for use by both private companies and lower-income communities; a Rockefeller-led partnership exploring how to support cities in the US to cope with flooding; and securing new investment following successful rehabilitation of public infrastructure in California. Concluding that good governance, rather than the lack of finance, is the key challenge in achieving scale, Victoria stressed the role of policy in providing a clear vision, and clarifying roles and responsibilities.

High-level Panel Discussion: Andreas Proksch, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), expressed that subsidies are necessary to achieve universal goals on access to water and sanitation, specifying they must reach target populations, be financially sustainable, and focus on sanitation. Miguel da Moura added that subsidies should aim to improve the quality of water services and address the external costs of water.

Nikolay Kosov, International Investment Bank (IIB), identified water finance challenges as a lack of “coordination, collaboration and courage.” Describing a need for specific guidelines to preserve and finance water, he shared a vision for a “new player” apart from banks, and involved in science, to mobilize resources for water safety without the limitations of geopolitical influences.

David Tyler, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), shared experiences working in collaboration with other multilateral banks to use blended finance instruments in water projects. He shared the example of the Green Cities programme as a successful collaborative approach, engaging various sectors with sustainable infrastructure investments and policy measures.

Ákos Szalai, National Bank of Hungary, discussed efforts to meet priorities of the government to strengthen economic competitiveness, leading to the Bank’s analysis of, and recommendations on, Hungary’s energy and water infrastructure. He said the Bank’s green bond portfolio can be an effective tool for financing water investments, particularly for central banks.

Prithvi Raj Singh, Jal Bhagirathi Foundation, discussed how to build capacities at the community level to reduce consumption and costs, and build resilience. He stated that India’s experience with water subsidies seemed to help wealthy and urban people use more water, rather than minimizing the number of poor people with inadequate water access. Singh said the water problem is not about money but rather about cooperation, and stressed the importance of collaboration, decentralized water governance and community driven water management.

Pio Wennubst, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN Rome-based agencies, discussed how to influence the perception of risk and return of investment (ROI). He underlined significant financial value in investing in collaboration, often overlooked. He outlined innovative efforts of the Blue Peace Financing Initiative on investments, considering water as an entry point for financing. Motivating different sectors to collaborate on investment plans can yield high ROI as well as establish governance mechanisms that reduce risks of conflict, he concluded.

In a final round of discussion, participants highlighted, among other issues: how subsidies can be used to ensure more equitable access and lower the cost of water investments, and the role of citizens in pushing governments to deliver on their responsibilities. Discussing the role of government leadership, panelists highlighted the opportunity provided by the ongoing review of the EU Drinking Water Directive to enhance access to safe drinking water, as well as the need for support to national authorities to create an enabling environment for the consistent application of subsidies across different jurisdictions and sectors.

Session 6: Technology to Avoid Water Crises - What is Missing?

During an afternoon session, moderator Carlo Giupponi, Dean, Venice International University, stimulated discussion on technology, on how to make “what is available implementable,” and how to connect technology with the SDGs.

Underlining a paradox between the abundance of global fresh water and the three billion people facing water scarcity annually, Sam Cheptoris, Minister of Water and Environment, Uganda, identified the need for water efficiency. He highlighted a number of technologies, including: leak detection; pre-paid meters; waterless toilets; rainwater harvest; and purification and recycling. Reiterating that technologies already exist, he called for: increasing promotion of and investment in innovative solutions; improving management of water resources; and supporting awareness among water users to improve efficiencies and recycling opportunities.

Johannes Cullman, World Meteorological Organization (WMO), questioned why people are not prepared for the occurrence of droughts, floods, and other water crises. He identified communication gaps throughout the hydrological value chain as the main source of failure, sharing that 40% of WMO members lack established flood forecasting and warning services. He highlighted the World Water Data Initiative as one solution for the lack of access to quality hydrological data. On how to enhance resilience to water-related crises, Cullman called for a stop to financing “partial solutions” that do not benefit people. He recognized the need to make the human right to water access more prominent.

High-Level Panel Discussion: Joe Manous, United States Army Corps of Engineers, highlighted the broad range of technical solutions that can be harnessed to address water crises, noting, inter alia, how to balance fluctuations in hydropower systems through solar technologies, digital monitoring of leaks in water infrastructure, and the use of regulations to promote nature-based solutions, such as aquifer recharge. Framing the challenge as how to translate “the state of the art to state of the practice,” he underscored the role of education and awareness raising for different groups of stakeholders.

István Kenyeres, Biopolus, discussed emerging ideas on applying the notion of circularity to build integrated systems that mimic “how the human body delivers air, food, energy and circulates waste” within urban settings. He described the sustainability challenges as finding the equivalent of an “algorithm” to drive a dynamic and intelligent operating system, allowing users to “download” available solutions to manage their water-related problems.

Giovanni De Santi, Joint Research Centre, EC, underscored the need for interdisciplinary scientific programs to develop a range of contextualized technical solutions.

Discussing how to make better use of existing technologies, Pierre Victoria, Véolia, remarked that “SDG 6 (on water) needs SDG 17 (on implementation),” and suggested that the challenge for the water community is to be more open-minded and learn from other sectors.

Responding to the “what next” question, panelists highlighted the need to: incorporate circular economy principles in water initiatives; promote a new understanding of territorial approaches to stimulate targeted investments; better integrate nature-based solutions with artificial intelligence; and address social and political factors that influence technology uptake.

Session 7: Science Against Water Crises - Do We Know Enough?

János Bogárdi, University of Bonn, moderated afternoon session, for which Hungarian President János Áder was in attendance.

Charles Vörösmarty, City University of New York, set the stage for understanding scientific gaps in SDG 6 and then outlined “next generation” products that could address those gaps. He compared available science on water and sanitation targets, which has long been a component and goal of civil engineering and public health, to that on the other SDG 6 targets, which is not well developed, and, in addition, requires broader interdisciplinary perspectives to be effective. He described the untapped potential of: real-time Comprehensive Water Assessments (COMPASS); machine learning, such as Google Earth categorization of gray and green infrastructure; geospatial analysis that compare tradeoffs in the water-energy nexus; and interdisciplinary studies with historians, architects, and hydrologists to learn from ancient technologies and rehabilitate infrastructure. On cueing private sector involvement, he stressed: developing clear traceable metrics showing investments will have positive net sustainability benefits; and verification via a block-chain type of tracking of water resources.

Claudia Sadoff, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), reflected that “science, like art, is never finished,” explaining that while there is enough science to address water crises, there is also a need for more. Stating over 70% of global water is used for agriculture, she listed food as a research priority. She added that water is the way which most people will experience climate change and science can support adaptation. She noted the need to improve communication to translate “data to information and science into policy.”

Zhang Zhongyi, Ministry of Water Resources, China, explained that large populations in China stress existing water supplies, compounded by disasters and pollution. He described a number of efforts aimed to improve water governance, such as: prioritizing water conservation by promoting a water-saving society and improving efficiencies across all sectors; improving and balancing the distribution of water resources, and fostering synergies between governments and markets to decrease water use.

High-Level Panel Discussion: Moderator Bogárdi invited panelists to ponder whether science is ready to deliver its mandate to develop, package, and communicate relevant knowledge for informed decision making and action.

Taikan Oki, Senior Vice-Rector, United Nations University,  and UN Assistant Secretary-General, highlighted “asking the right questions to ourselves and the UN system,” led research that helped explain how progress in China and India contributed to attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target for drinking water five years ahead of schedule. He said related analyses that highlighted weaknesses of the MDG approach informed the more ambitious and aspirational SDG focus on “leaving no one behind.”

Discussing how science can help decision makers to manage competing demands, Klement Tockner, Austrian Science Fund, described freshwater ecosystems as a blind spot in the Paris Agreement, stating, for example, that it contributed to a view of hydroelectric generation as a “climate neutral” energy solution. He emphasized the importance of enhancing collaboration between ecologists, social scientists and engineers to address such gaps.

Discussing the role of science in a “post-fact world,” Robert Varady, University of Arizona, stated science faces two major existential threats: increased questioning of what constitutes objective truth; as well as the unintended consequences of technological advancements, such as the rise of internet platforms that share misinformation.

Discussing consequences of declining public funding for research, panelists noted the danger of not sufficiently examining the social impacts of new technologies. Panelists suggested that solutions could strengthen partnerships with the private sector and explore open source alternatives, such as the Open Data Cube for Africa.

Exploring the role of science in enhancing monitoring of the SDGs, Vörösmarty underscored the importance of developing new interdisciplinary tools to enhance understanding of complex processes and encourage scientific collaboration to develop the fundamental data needed.

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