The pandemic as a multifaceted challenge illustrated the imperative role of inclusivity, data, and building awareness and trust among communities. In addition, it showed fragility and flaws in the water sector worldwide. Thus, there is a key need to reflect on this experience and promote the water sector readiness by forging a new management approach that leaves no one behind, depends on harnessing water characteristics and technological advances, and foster intersectoral collaboration.
To what extent are we close to this approach?
Unfortunately, the water sector has a lot of barriers that we need to bring down together, so we can embark the road to a sustainable, smart, and secure water future.
Thinking in silos is still the main feature of the water sector where science, policy, technology, and industry are working separately with ongoing efforts to unite them under one umbrella with Europe as an example after the European zero pollution action plan. We can see this gap clearly while attending the water sector events where each event is designed according to the targeted audience, not all the audience in the water sector.
Nature is always our great inspiration, yet we try to overlook this fact. Humans tend to believe in their minds, so they usually depend on their engineered infrastructure and technological solutions. However, nature is the master which provides the integrated view of the water system, thus it is crucial to harness the lessons from the natural water cycle which is a great illustration of circularity. We need to stop classifying water into drinking water, industrial water, water for irrigation and wastewater, and start recognizing it simply as water that can be mobilized for different societal purposes. The need for this recognition is increasing with climate change becoming a fact and water shortage should be a priority on the agenda of the water sector. For example, the stressed European territory from droughts is expanding and almost reaches 60%.
An inclusive approach to tackle today’s challenges amid the climate change fact
Contrary to thinking in silos, the inclusive thinking comes as a compensation to engage all the relative stakeholders, foster intersectoral collaboration and solve water issues in a comprehensive manner. However, the first step to embark this road towards achieving this is first by building trust among the different stakeholders in the water sector as we need to acknowledge that water represents a diversity and gender issue worldwide. Bringing all the stakeholders to the table to discuss the water complex issues and its interlinkages represent a grand challenge because the first question that comes to mind: Who is the authority that is responsible for creating this coalition at different levels of decisionmaking?
Secondly, we need to raise awareness on the fact that water is intertwined with all aspects of our life and climate change manifests itself first in water. Water pollution and biodiversity loss are two examples of lacking knowledge and responsibility towards water resources. Thus, the water sector needs to invest in pointing out that everyone is accountable, and everyone should be onboard toward building a sustainable and secure water future. Water pricing, tariff settings and the polluter pays are fundamental concepts to start working with. For instance, farmers withdraw groundwater as there is no tomorrow simply because they take it for granted. While industry is the main polluter for water with no concerns or responsibility. If any of the suggested concepts above is applied, certainly the current situation will change.
The bottom-up approach presents itself as a potential tool to achieve this inclusivity in decision making, thus investigating its viability is crucial now. To what extent could this approach enable us to engage everyone starting with women and youth and convey their voices to policymakers?
The road map towards a water- smart society
Using the inclusive approach will transmit the water sector towards the concept of water-smart society. This vision may highly support bridging the gap between all the stakeholders, between reports, scenarios, and actual outcomes, and between practitioners and users. Changing our perspectives in managing water resources and start recognizing the true value of water are key towards this transition.
Designing a robust water system is a priority to combat climate change impacts and achieving the water-smart society. Most of the water infrastructures are old with massive amounts of leakages in the distribution systems. Thus, there are two key questions that show up here: what are the main features of this system? and how can we use the available agency and technology to exploit water smartly?
This system should be a combination of nature and the engineering solutions, thus the 3 REs concept would be a great one to start with: Reuse, Recycle and Recover, so we can also have clean water and work on biodiversity restoration as well.
Another feature of this system is utilizing the smart-data tools such as sensors and gauges. These tools represent key components in any decision support system that supports innovative solutions.
During the journey towards this society, two concepts should be considered: intersectoral collaboration and industrial symbiosis, so we can achieve the optimal resources efficiency, and boost resilience.
This discussion can go on and on, however what we can agree on so far is the fact that the water sector needs to change by replacing the current way with an innovative and integrated thinking. We need to start looking at the bigger picture where everyone is deeply impacted and responsible for the current situation, yet no one is ready to take the lead. The water risks are increasing, and yesterday’s solutions are no longer valid. Together we can make today the day for action and the commencement of the required change.