Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, GWP’s Knowledge Management Officer, wrote this blog after attending GWP’s Expert Group Workshop on Water Security Indicators, November 20-21, 2012, at the GWP global secretariat in Stockholm, Sweden.
How do we know when water security has improved? That’s a challenging question for policy makers who are responsible for making well informed decisions about national development. It’s also an important question for investors and financial institutions so they can tailor investments to the best financial options.
Water security has been a subject of academic research for more than two decades. It is also GWP’s vision. It is easy to visualize what a water secure world looks like: reliable water supply and sanitation services, free from floods and droughts, and enjoying nature along clean beaches. A water secure world integrates a concern for the intrinsic value of water together with its full range of uses for human survival and well-being. The simplest indicator of water security is that people have access to water. But what does it mean in practice?
GWP gathered 26 experts to look at developing water security indicators. Even though there were different approaches to what the indicators should be, one conclusion was inescapable: improving the way we manage water resources is a pre-condition to water security which is a prerequisite to other securities, be it food security, energy production, poverty reduction, economic growth, human health, and even national security.
Water and development planners at the Asian Development Bank recently developed the Asia Water Development Outlook that assesses five key dimensions of water security. These include satisfying households with water and sanitation needs, providing water for productive economic growth including food production, providing satisfactory water management services for cities including flood protection, restoring ecosystems, and improving communities’ resilience to changes including climate change.
The presentation of the Overseas Development Institute emphasized the need to adopt meaningful metrics when it comes to water security. It is a challenge to balance political aspirations and technical feasibility. It was shown that measuring the level of water security is a game of numbers: sophisticated statistical methods are employed to illustrate different facets of water use and water services and tag them to other indicators such as GDP and the Human Development Index. Thus, indicators have a strong political dimension.
The University of Brasilia presented experiences from a watershed sustainability index as the indicator of water security in basins. Hydrological, environmental, livelihood and policy indicators were analyzed and calculated in several basins in Brazil that were simulated for different scenarios of economic and social development.
Other presentations showed experiences from the Canadian Program for Water Governance made by the University of British Columbia regarding nine indicators ranging from water quantity and quality to ecosystem and human health, infrastructure and governance. A Wageningen University presentation focused on flood security that might be an undervalued aspect of water security. Madrid Polytechnic University presented the results on an assessment of good water status as ruled by the EU Water Framework Directive. Global and regional organizations such as UNECE, UN Water, and OECD have also developed several approaches to assess diverse aspects of water resources performance.
How much water security can we afford? This question, and others, led to animated discussion. Should tools of risk assessment and impact assessment used by banks and insurance companies tell us what the next development decisions should be? Are ambitious legal frameworks and robust water institutions a guarantee that we will improve water security? Can we – should we – reduce a long list of indicators into one or two that get buy-in from governments, especially in light of the post-2015 agenda working its way through the UN system? How do we influence that agenda now that there is a ‘thematic consultation’ on water?
The workshop did not answer any of these questions definitively. Rather, it said that more research, discussions and brainstorming are needed to have a better understanding of the multi-dimensional character of water security.
Which leaves me with one suggestion: work fast, time is running out!