Water played a major role at the World Economic Forum, in Davos 2012. There was the launch of a new initiative, the Water Resources Group, a public-private partnership tasked with supporting developing countries facing water scarcity with water reforms. The WRG, initiated in 2010, has engaged several countries, including India, Mexico, Jordan, China, and South Africa in a process summed up by the nifty acronym ACT (analysis - convening - transformation).
The World Economic Forum is taking water seriously. It’s initiated the WRG and it’s produced two compelling reports: Charting Our Water Future and Water Security: The Water-Food-Energy-Climate Nexus. This is a good thing, despite fears of water privatization, so long as a balance between business, public, and environmental needs are maintained. A glance at the WRG export advisory committee indicates the potential for such a balance.
Water security (whether it be the challenge of too little water over long periods of time, or too much water all at once) is one of the most tangible and fastest-growing social, political and economic challenges faced today. It is also a fast-unfolding environmental crisis. In every sector, the demand for water is expected to increase and analysis suggests that the world will face a 40% global shortfall between forecast demand and available supply by 2030.
This outlook bears potential for crisis and conflict since water lies at the heart of everything that is important for human life: food, sanitation, energy, production of goods, transport and the biosphere as such; water ensures not only mere survival of humans, but also social well-being and economic growth. In addition, water is a renewable yet not inexhaustible resource – it cannot withstand constant over-extraction and being depleted faster than being renewed. What is more, water cannot be substituted.
Local Water Crises - a Global Issue
Furthermore, and because of the interlinked global economy, accelerating stress on the world’s water will affect food and energy systems around the world. Within the next 15-20 years, the worsening water security situation risks triggering a global food crisis, with shortfalls of up to 30% in cereal production.
Water resources are local, but with this scenario, water shortages turn into a global issue. At the same time, fast-growing regions such as in Asia will need to access much more freshwater for their energy sectors. Annual water withdrawals must be brought back to what is naturally renewed over the same period. Without a marked change in how available water resources are managed, these trade-offs create an impossible demand-supply conundrum for governments to resolve.
While the government must be the ultimate custodian of the national water resources and plays the key role in setting frameworks and strategies, many other stakeholders also have a role to play in delivering solutions. Proper coordination within government-set strategies requires sound facts and an approach that supports cost-effective solutions. The resulting need for multistakeholder engagement means that coalitions are required; public-private-civil society coalitions focused collectively on addressing the water security issue, each leveraging its own comparative advantage towards meeting the challenge within a common policy framework.
ACT: Analysis - Convening -Transformation
Recognizing these needs, a concept to align the fact-based analytical toolkit developed by the Water Resources Group with the multistakeholder convening power of the World Economic Forum Water Initiative was presented, discussed and agreed upon last year at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2010.
The goal of the alignment is to build a demand-driven public-private platform to support governments that want to engage in water sector reforms by pursuing the ACT-Process.
In short, the ACT-Process can be described as undertaking analysis to help convene and build coalitions to develop transformational policies and programmes as well as public-private projects and partnerships in the water sector. The innovative ACT-Model is now underway in India, Mexico, Jordan, China and South Africa.
The objective of WRG Phase 2 is to illustrate by the end of 2011 through these country examples that the ACT-Model can work and is endorsed by governments.
This “proof of concept” will help the design and launch of a new public-private entity to undertake such work in the long run. Furthermore, learning from the country-level engagement, a database that can provide global as well as regional, country-based and even river-basin specific catalogues of best practice, networks and good ideas shall be driven forward.
The 2012 World Economic Forum on Africa will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 9-11 May 2012.
Ethiopia is the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa and a prime example of the continent’s fast-growing economies. Home to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa will offer an exceptional opportunity to bring together global and pan-African leaders to shape the region’s transformation.