Mashiri Zvarimwa, Ambassador for the NextGen Ag Impact Network (NGIN) and Technical Assistance Facilitator for the Southern and Central Africa Regional Innovation Hub, examines the key role of water and partnerships in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals – especially Zero Hunger.
Halfway into the International Decade for Action and the world is significantly behind in meeting many of the goals for sustainable development and climate. To drive progress, accelerated action is needed. As the United Nations Water Conference concludes, occasions such as these highlight the opportunity for cooperation.
Water is both a unifying and divisive resource. People can find fellowship around a water source or create conflict over access. It can foster greater food security or hinder it. It is for these reasons that Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6: Clean Water and Sanitation must always be in alignment with SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals and SDG 2: Zero Hunger for any of them to be achieved. After all, without water, there is no food security, no end to poverty and increased exposure to climate risks.
Partnerships for water
Effective partnerships must remove siloes that exist between policies on water for domestic and economic use, like irrigation. This requires developing data-driven water resource management strategies that foster cooperation. Technology now exists to accurately map groundwater resources, enabling equitable distribution of this precious commodity upon which people and the planet depend.
Partnerships also require alignment on strategic objectives, as misalignment may result in forces pulling in different directions, tearing apart the coalition. While all these challenges are real and often complex, they are surmountable, particularly when pitted against potential accrued benefits.
Strong cooperation and partnerships can yield extraordinary results, as evident in collaborations around transboundary water resources. Numerous economic benefits can be derived from such partnerships, such as the co-development of hydropower projects and irrigation schemes, increased trade and investment, as well as the creation of employment opportunities. This has been seen in a number of collaborations around water, for instance, the Mekong River Commission, an intergovernmental initiative for the cooperation and sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) – an international partnership amongst riparian countries along the Nile River – has also yielded promising results. Additionally, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) has brought together different countries to oversee the sustainable utilisation of water in the Danube River Basin in Europe.
At the same time, by 2030, the population of people between 15 and 24 years of age globally will reach 1.3 billion. This reality is a reminder that young people must be included at the centre of all negotiations and actions. Youth should contribute to the planning and development of the future they will experience. Platforms like the NextGen Ag Impact Network (NGIN) are already working with networks of young people to drive action-oriented partnerships that amplify youth voices. Young people, too, must work to accelerate action towards achieving the SDGs.
However, these partnerships face significant and often complex challenges relating to the establishment of trust, particularly where a history of conflict exists. When partner countries disagree over the use of resources, they risk derailing progress and success. As the UN Water Conference comes to a close, therefore, stakeholders must work to resolve such conflicts and promote peace by setting up mechanisms for mediation to de-escalate tensions and re-establish trust.
Water and the SDGs
Water security as well as equitable water management and distribution contribute to global peace and food security. The socioeconomic pressure caused by water crises can easily flare up into conflict and instability. Recently, Brazil experienced its worst drought in over 90 years. This created water shortages that caused low hydropower generation and high energy costs, as well as an increase in food prices. Water, energy and food are interlinked, and therefore developing solutions to such complex and sensitive challenges requires nexus thinking. Importantly, stakeholders from the three sectors must be fully involved in designing solutions to these challenges. Through these interlinkages, the UN Water Conference stakeholders must promote actions that leverage cross-cutting innovations to produce more food with more efficient water and energy use.
Given that we are halfway into the International Decade for Action, the UN Water Conference offers the opportunity to take bold steps to amplify action going forward. This is only possible when all stakeholders play their part. Siloes delay impact and may offset the progress made to date. The window of opportunity is only getting smaller and young people have a huge role to play. While the task at hand is daunting, the power of cooperation can drive progress towards the attainment of SDG 6.