Conversation with Dr. Zafar Adeel, Director, Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) at the United Nations University in Hamilton, Canada and new UN-Water Chair.
One such example, he believes, is progressive collaboration with its “sister mechanism”, UN-Energy.
“They are also taking the stance that they want to have universal energy coverage by 2025. “The two aspects of water and energy provision are not independent of each other. In fact, we can make significant gains by pushing initiatives that provide both at the same time. “Particularly with more innovative and green energy options, we can kill two birds with one stone. “So we need to convince policy makers and politicians that this is the way to go.”
Dr Adeel may have tough acts to follow, but his aims seem generally in the same direction as those of his predecessors, who include WHO’s Dr Jamie Bartram and Dr Steduto, head of water services at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).
“I believe the chair of UN-Water has two core functions: one is to be an impartial facilitator of dialogue while bringing a focus on many pertinent issues. I can add my perspective of where the global debate is going, but only as an input to direct the discussion. “The other is quite different: a bit of an advocacy role in connecting with stakeholders inside and outside the UN system.“That builds on the first role. What comes out of the consensus of the membership needs to be conveyed to various stakeholders/policymakers on the outside. “That is just as important. To be able to describe the collective thinking [of the UN system] on water issues is a role of that has evolved even more in the past few years. In particular, there is a much greater interest worldwide in looking at the role of water in societal development, and my expectation is that it will get even more attention in the coming years.”
However, where those parties involved with UN-Water may see a slight change is in its relationship with member states. “So far UN-Water has primarily focused on building processes and tools where members and partners can come together. “But there hasn’t been as much attention to how we are serving the member states through co-ordinated and cohesive services,” he says. “That is a major new direction where UN-Water has to play a significant role in co-ordinating actions by its members at country level.”
With UN-Water’s limitations in being a facilitator rather than implementer, there are many obstacles to be overcome to that end. But Dr Adeel is under no illusions about its value. “If at the end of the day UN-Water is not serving the needs of member states, we are probably not doing our job.”
The optimist in Dr Adeel tends to turn other potentially significant obstacles to progress into “challenges”.
Isn’t future water provision threatened by climate change, industrial development, urbanisation and population increases? “With urbanisation and population increase, there are trends that I believe are going to continue, regardless of what we do.”