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.
Dr Adeel points to indications that the global population is levelling out at something between 9 billion and 12 billion. “So in the medium term the population curve is going to flatten out.”
He believes the answer may lie in better management of demand and rethinking agricultural production and food-distribution policies.
On climate change, he prefers to focus on adaptation rather than mitigation. But he declares: “The biggest challenges are the perceptions in both political and policy circles. “In many developed countries there is the attitude that we have the resources and the technology to overcome any problem, and we have plenty of water anyway, so why worry? “In developing countries people say we must go through an industrial or agricultural development process at any cost.
“Both perceptions are incorrect. It is a fallacy that you can only achieve industrial or agricultural development without taking into consideration the availability of natural resources. And water is at the centre of both.
“Changing perceptions is a big challenge.
“The other challenges you were talking about can be addressed through correct investment of resources, correct delineation of policies.”
Dr Adeel believes his environmental-policy experience, involvement in water-pollution issues and work as director of UNU-INWEH in forming a bridge of knowledge between the scientific community and policy processes will stand him in good stead for his new role.
He also believes his Pakistani background will help. “Because I am from a developing country myself, I have a better sense of the kind of challenges people have in those countries, and also the institutional shortcomings that often lead to inaction or difficulty in achieving goals.”
The UN-Water members that appointed him for two years as successor to the well-respected Pasquale Steduto appeared to agree.
So how will he want to be judged when those two years are up?
“I don’t expect in two years’ time we would have done everything,” he admits. “I believe there are two kinds of measures. Within UN-Water, how were the meetings managed; how many initiatives were there; how much new funding was brought in through various donors; how many activities were generated?
“Outside, how does the UN interface with the outside world – both the UN system and other partners and processes; we have agreed to engage in various policy processes and provision of services at country and regional level.
“The establishment of relationships in these various ongoing dialogues where UN-Water has a significant input into these policy processes would be a very good indicator of success.”