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No. 29 (326) December 2017


International workshop on water scarcity

On December 11-12, 2017, International Workshop on Water Scarcity was held at UNECE Headquarters in Geneva with the focus on actions taken in transboundary basins and mitigation of health impact. The measures to prevent water scarcity and mitigate its consequences taken at transboundary and national levels were considered during the workshop.

The workshop was opened by representatives of UNECE, Italian National Institute of Health, and Federal Office for the Environment (Switzerland).

The keynote speech on “Water scarcity trends on a global level” was delivered by Mr. Michel Jarraud, former Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and ex-chair of UN-Water. He mentioned that though there was no generally recognized definition of drought, it should not be confused with water scarcity. Drought is a natural phenomenon, whereas a range of social and economic reasons may cause water scarcity (population growth, inefficient water management, etc.). Mr. Jarraud focused on importance of availability and proper use of data. Annual data are not enough, seasonal and ten-day data are of great value. This issue is becoming particular critical in light of climate change impact. According to scientific forecasts, the temperature growth by 1°C may result in 20% reduction of water resources.

Mr. Oliver Schmoll, WHO Regional Office for Europe, made a report on “Water scarcity and health”. He focused on three types of impact of water scarcity on health:

  • Impact as a result of decreased water quantity (dehydration, poor hygiene, and physical damages). 20 liters is an absolute minimum for basic requirements.
  • Impact as result of deteriorated water quality;
  • Possible negative health impact from measures undertaken to combat water scarcity (re-use of improperly treated water).

He concluded that basic human needs for water and integration of health issues in the general issues of water management should be set as indisputable priority.

During Session 1 the participants addressed “Policy and institutional setups to address water scarcity”. Mr. Frederik Pischke, Global Water Partnership (GWP), presented an Integrated Drought Management Program (IDMP): guidance on drought management plans and tools, which is implemented in cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization. This program was initiated at the High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policies in 2013. This resulted in the development of the Handbook of Indicators and Indices. Currently, regional programs to combat droughts are developed using the approach by WHO and GWP, which generally calls to shift from emergency situation response to proactive and risk management.

It is impossible to quit droughts; however, we can end hunger. Mr. Ruhiza Jean Boroto, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), spoke on resolving water scarcity in agriculture through the Global Framework on Water Scarcity in Agriculture (WASAG). Mr. John Kabayo, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), introduced the IGAD Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI). There also were presentations on addressing of water scarcity in the Alpine region and drought management in Spain.

During Session 2 legal aspects and practices were discussed in addressing water scarcity through transboundary cooperation. Mr. Owen McIntyre, Cork University, reviewed basic provisions of the international water law regarding issues of drought. He mentioned that only few agreements directly address drought-related problems, i.e. less than 40% of them deal with water scarcity and droughts and less than 5% - with measures taken in case of droughts and water scarcity. At the same time, basic principles and norms of the international water law, such as equitable and wise use and maintenance of environmental flow, suggest the adoption of necessary measures to take into account the needs of population and ecosystems in various contexts. As part of the European Water Directive, member states should also develop specific plans to combat droughts if basin plans do not fully address this matter.

Mr. Adrian Schmid-Breton, International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine, told about the work undertaken under conditions of low water level in the Rhine basin. Ms. Aram Ngom Ndiaye, Organization for the Development of the Senegal Basin, told about “How drought has triggered creation of a river basin organization in the Senegal basin”. Detailed presentation on how droughts were addressed under transboundary water cooperation between Mexico and the United States was made by representatives of these countries. Particularly, they informed that Minutes 323 was signed in October 2017. It extended Minutes 319 until 2026, setting key provisions on the Colorado River management to maintain desired environmental flow, restore the river delta, and jointly address water scarcity.

Mr. Kawa Sahab from the Afghan Ministry of Energy and Water presented key provisions on water allocation in the transboundary agreement on the Helmand basin shared by Afghanistan and Iran.

Practical measures to address water scarcity from the health perspective were discussed at Session 3. Ms. Kate Medlicott, World Health Organization (WHO), presented an approach based on sanitation safety plan (SSP), which is a practical tool for managing health risks from wastewater reuse. This tool has been developed to help local water suppliers and currently is used in more than 93 countries worldwide.

Regulatory aspects of wastewater reuse and SSPs were highlighted by Ms. Ghada Kassab from the University of Jordan. Mr. Enrico Veschetti, Italian National Institute of Health, presented preliminary results of research conducted in Italy to assess the impact of droughts on water quality. Particularly, he presented the Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) developed by Vicente-Serrano et al. on the basis of climatic water balance in 2010. SPEI shows deviations from the norm.

Two reports were presented during Session 4 “The enabling environment for addressing water scarcity”. Mr. Andre Oosterman, European Investment Bank (EIB), informed on policy and projects of the Bank on financing drought management measures. This direction is a part of water security projects. Mr. Paul Sayers, WWF Consultant, highlighted issues related to drought risk management and safeguarding ecosystems. He called to apply strategic approaches to efficiently address these sensitive matters. Then panel discussion was organized with participation of representatives of the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality of Spain, Ministry of Water and Sanitation of Senegal, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador, African Development Bank, and Ministry of Agriculture of Kazakhstan. They shared experiences of their countries in drought management and financial problems. Particularly, they focused on how to attract attention of the banks to projects on improvement of environmental infrastructure, not only to technical projects aimed at construction of structures.

During discussion, Ms. G.Yusupova, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, presented the experience of her country in this direction, with focus on transboundary problems. She highlighted the activities of bilateral working groups on water issues between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. She also underlined the initiative of the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia on maintaining regional dialogue and developing draft conventions on the Amudarya and Syrdarya Rivers.

In conclusion, the participants shared opinions on the workshop and identified issues which need to be considered in detail in the forthcoming events. Those are transboundary impact of water scarcity on health, the role of joint river commissions in health issues, regulation of wastewater, and transboundary impact.

9th Meeting of the Task Force on Water and Climate

On December 13, 2017, the 9th meeting of the Task Force on Water and Climate under the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention) was held. The meeting was aimed at discussing, planning and providing guidance to the implementation of the activities on water and climate under the program of work for 2016-2018 of the Water Convention.

The first item of the agenda included the program of pilot projects and activity of the global network of transboundary basins working on adaptation to climate change. In 2013, the global network of transboundary basins working on climate change adaptation was created by UNECE, in cooperation with the International Network of Basin Organizations (INBO), with the aim to promote cooperation on adaptation in transboundary basins, compare different methodologies and approaches for adaptation and promote a shared vision between the participating basins. The network members meet and share opinions at their annual meetings and regular workshops. By present, the following transboundary basins are included in the network: Chu-Talas, Dniester, Neman, Sava, Rhine, Dauria, Niger, Congo, Senegal, Mekong, Drina, Meuse, Lake Victoria, Sixaola, as well as the Sahara and Sahel Observatory. In four of these basins (Chu-Talas, Dniester, Neman, and Sava River basins), pilot projects are implemented with the support of UNECE, UNDP, OSCE, International Office for Water and others.

The Task Force was informed about the progress of the global network of basins. Representatives of transboundary basins of the global network informed the participants about their activities, challenges and lessons learned, and got a number of comments. Particularly, it was mentioned that the network activities duplicate those of other platforms; however, substantial experience was accumulated and can be shared. At the same time, the participants underlined that the activity of the Water Convention for 2019–2021 may be enhanced by:

  • establishing basin commissions
  • developing international management plans
  • supporting policy-making on adaptation, including Directives on Droughts
  • working on general approaches to water management and adaptation
  • classifying water quality indicators.

Representatives of the Chu-Talas Commission told on adaptation carried out in three directions, including the development of strategic document on adaptation, demonstration of some adaptation measures, and strengthening capacity on adaptation. Close coordination of various projects on adaptation to climate change significantly improve work.

Other transboundary basins were invited to become members of the global network.

The next item of the agenda was preparation of a “Words into Action” guide on water and disasters. The Task Force was updated by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction on the latest developments with implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030. Particularly, they focused on three main achievements after its adoption:

1) UN General Assembly approved indicators to assess 7 global targets in February 2017. Development of indicators and their monitoring includes preparation of technical guidelines for accountability and minimum standards for data. The UN Statistical Committee approved Sendai indicators for SDGs 1, 11, and 13. Such alignment of indicators on various platforms allows harmonizing their implementation and monitoring, as well as lessening burden on the countries in terms of accounting.

2) The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun in 2017, which gathered more than 5,000 participants and called on assessing risks of critical infrastructure by 2019 and investing in new infrastructure only after assessing all risks

3) Working on task (e), including

  1. Development and update of national and local strategies and policies by 2020
  2. Improvement of legislation and national databases and risk assessment
  3. Technical support of member countries
  4. United Nations plan of action on disaster risk reduction for resilience is a key tool to ensure convergence and coherence at the national level

The speakers also underlined that water-related problems are fully addressed in items 34(e) and 33(c) of the Sendai Framework Program.

Mr. Jos Timmerman informed the Task Force about the progress in preparation of the Sendai Framework “Words into Action” Implementation Guide for Addressing Water-Related Disasters and Transboundary Cooperation. The Task Force was invited to provide feedback and comments, including proposals on case study of the draft document until January 15, 2018.

Under Item 3 “Contribution to global processes on water, climate and disasters” the Task Force was informed about the latest developments with regards to water and climate under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), namely the outcomes of the 23rd UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (Bonn, 6 - 17 November 2017), the Nairobi Work Program, the Adaptation Committee, etc. The outcomes of the “International summit of the great rivers of the world: "taking action for water and climate" (Rome, 23-25 October 2017) were also presented.

Then the Task Force was informed about the progress with regards to financing adaptation in transboundary basins and the newly started cooperation with multilateral development banks in this field. Representatives of these banks informed the Task Force about the outcomes of the training on how to prepare bankable project proposals for financing adaptation in transboundary basins (Dakar, 21-23 June 2017), as well as called to express an interest in similar training workshops in the future.

Ms. Dinara Ziganshina, SIC ICWC, informed the Task Force about the outcomes of the Anniversary Conference of ICWC held on November 23-24 in Tashkent. The final Resolution of the Conference outlines directions for further activities to strengthen cooperation and improve water management. One of the measures is strengthening adaptation capacity in the water sector.

Then discussions were held in small groups on further work for adaptation to climate change in transboundary basins. The group represented by the Central Asian states and Afghanistan prioritized issues related to reconstruction of gauging stations, implementation of joint pilot projects and assessments, focus on water allocation under climate change, dam safety, and aquatic ecosystems.