Saturday, 18 April 2015 02:00

7th World Water Forum in Korea: Sustainable Cities

Local and global actors reinforce capacity development efforts and collaboration to build a sustainable future.

Just six months before the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, the challenge to participants of the 7th World Water Forum that took place last week in South Korea was to propose sustainable solutions to water and sanitation service provision and send a strong message to the global community as it begins its transition from the MDG towards the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

For water and sanitation operators, the stakes in the forthcoming sustainable development agenda are high. Operators are on the forefront of basic service provision and the challenges of urbanization, climate change and resource scarcity are placing enormous stress on their capacity to deliver. To make sure their voices were heard during the Forum, the Global WOPs Alliance network was mobilized to participate in the thematic, regional and political preparatory processes, leading up to and during the Forum.

GWOPA was an active player in the forum design and organization, co-convening four sessions to promote WOPs, support regional cooperation between operator associations in the Pacific and Caribbean, call for inclusive Integrated Urban Water Management and endorse a multi-stakeholder approach to service provision in collaboration with local and regional governments.

GWOPA’s biggest contribution was in the Local and Regional Authorities Conference, which it led together with international partners ICLEI, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the World Water Council (WWC) and the Daegu-Gyeongbuk Development Institute. The 2-day long political programme focused on the essential roles of city governments and institutions in local water management. During the conference, over one hundred of elected officials from municipalities around the world shared strategies and actions for more inclusive and sustainable local level water management.

A dedicated session on Peer-to-Peer exchange within this conference showcased a diverse sampling of WOPs practice within the Global WOPs Alliance. Committed partners such as Eau de Paris, the utility in the French capital, and eThekwini from Durban, South Africa talked about WOPs in which their local governments played prominent roles. Donors also shared their views on where peer support was working to transfer and adapt local solutions to other locations. The main messages of the session reinforced the Water Action for Sustainable Cities and Regions’ call for more exchange between cities to speed up the adoption of innovative practice.

The LRA conference culminated in the endorsement of the Daegu-Gyeongbuk Water Action for Sustainable Cities and Regions. Building on the Istanbul Water Consensus, the Action calls on local governments to spearhead local sustainable water management by hastening the adoption of appropriate local solutions and entering into targeted alliances with local stakeholders. The Action also calls on national governments to embrace local innovation and leadership by creating enabling environments for sound local-level water management. The endorsement, which was backed by the hundreds of local authority representatives present and the consortium of global networks of local authorities and water stakeholders responsible for its drafting, was a major step forward towards more integrated, sustainable and equitable urban water management.

An Inter-regional session between water associations in the Pacific and Caribbean resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to increase collaboration and formalize the exchange of information, good practices and support between the regions. Identifying the many similar challenges faced in sustainably providing water and sanitation services in both Pacific and Caribbean small-island states, GWOPA supported this partnership which provides a framework for the associations and their member operators to exchange tools and approaches.

Together with the International Water Association, UN-Habitat also co-led the Water and Cities Theme, a series of discussions tackling aspects of water management in an urban era, including the role of planning, capacity development, natural infrastructure, recycling, resiliency building and smart technologies. These sessions led to a roadmap of action that calls on cities to shift tracks from linear, sectorial ways of managing water and resource flows in cities, to circular approaches that employ the ‘5Rs’ of Reducing, Reusing, Recycling, Recovery and Replenishment.

Within this theme, GWOPA organized a session focussed on developing the capacity of institutions to manage water in an urban era. The growing imperative to stop wasting water and resources calls on operators to rethink aspects of traditional service provision and to invite innovation. At the same time, collaboration with other local water institutions is essential for identifying and taking full advantage of the synergies possible in urban water, energy and resource flows, in order to ensure the sustainability of water services. The implication of these trends on operators’ capacity needs and the way they are met was discussed. Highlights of this session included the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the public operators of Amiens (France) and Santa Caterina (Cabo Verde), officially launching their WOP. The focus of the partnership will be on management of water supply networks, wastewater treatment plants and the improvement of the billing system. Updates and progress from this WOP will be shared on the GWOPA website.

As the world’s largest water and sanitation event, GWOPA used the opportunity of the 7th World Water Forum to make operators, donors, development agencies and other stakeholders aware of WOPs and the role they stand to play in our sustainable water future. In addition to raising awareness of the importance of operator capacity development, the Forum provided an opportunity to establish new partnerships with stakeholders in service provision and operator capacity development.

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