Abu Dhabi International Water Summit - Interview with M. Jarraud, Chair of UN-Water
Abu Dhabi | 16 January 2013
UN-Water participated to the International Water Summit (IWS) 2013 that took place in the framework of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week and was co-located with the World Future Energy Summit. UN-Water highlighted the links between water and energy and the need for integrated approaches. Mr Jarraud answers the questions asked by the organizers of the Summit.
What are the main regional issues you expect to highlight at the International Water Summit?
The Middle East is characterized by natural water scarcity and arid climate. Average rainfall is less than 100 mm a year in parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Climate changes and variability are adding stress on the limited water resources and make the supply even less reliable.
The population of the region is growing rapidly, with a 61 percent growth between 1990 and 2010. As a result the average annual internal renewable water resources per inhabitant have decreased.
Countries of the Middle East region have traditionally sought to achieve food security through domestic agricultural production, thereby exerting greater pressure on the already limited water resources. About 83 percent of inventoried withdrawals are by agriculture, which is higher than the value for global agricultural water withdrawal of 70 percent.
The economy of the region has also been very dynamic until 2011. Economic and social development has led to higher demands for water for food production, energy, industry and domestic uses.
Another important challenge relates to the high dependency of countries in the region on shared water resources, with large parts of their renewable water resources coming from outside their borders. This high dependency, coupled with the increasing level of water scarcity in the region, has contributed to regional conflicts.
In recognition of the importance of reducing conflict, countries in the region have tried to conclude international agreements and establish shared water resources institutions. However, despite efforts to establish formal agreements, those that exist require increased capacity and improved institutional and legal frameworks to support the integrated management of shared water resources, particularly when political will and commitment are absent or insufficient, as highlighted by the 4th World Water Development Report.
Reliable data and information necessary to make informed decision for water use and management are also largely inexistent.
How important is IWS in the context of regional water challenges in the Middle East? How can a platform such as IWS help address these issues?
As we have seen, the region faces many challenges related to water. Water cuts across all social, economic and environmental activities. As such, its governance requires cooperation and coordination across diverse stakeholders and sectors.
The IWS offers a platform for policy and decision makers and stakeholders – practitioners, research institutes, the private sector, financers and business leaders - to meet, discuss pressing issues related to water, share experiences, exchange technologies and cooperate to meet the needs of sustainable development in the region.
The IWS can also offer a venue for addressing the complex question of shared water resources and help build the necessary cooperation among stakeholders and countries. This happens at a fortunate moment in time since the United Nations have declared 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation.
The organization of the IWS in the broader framework of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week and co-located with the World Future Energy Summit and the International Renewable Energy Conference is remarkable.
Water is indeed at the heart of sustainability. The relationship between water and energy for example is reciprocal: water is needed to produce energy, and energy is needed to lift, treat and transport water. This relationship between water and energy illustrates the centrality of water in relation to other developmental sectors.
It is therefore important to address water and energy challenges together to simultaneously expand access to energy while also increasing access to water for both personal and productive uses, as well as improve the efficiency of its use.
What do you hope to gain from attending the IWS?
As the United Nations coordination mechanism for all issues related to water, UN-Water aims to bring to the Summit the expertise and knowledge of its 31 UN Members and close to 30 external international Partners concerning water issues and the water and energy nexus.
By participating in the IWS, UN-Water hopes to gain insight to the most up-to-date "water and energy" discussions and debates in the region and globally, and to reach out to decision makers to promote integrated approaches to water resources management and use.
What might be the long-term impact of holding an event like IWS that focuses specifically on water issues?
The region is going through a period of unprecedented and profound political and social changes. Platforms such as the IWS can represent an opportunity for the regional and international community to provide technical and policy advice, and ensure that reform agendas in the region don't miss out the sustainability dimension.
Building greater collaboration between countries of the region will require time and sustained efforts. Again, the IWS can provide an avenue to build durable cooperation and integration in the region, and support the development of regional strategies and frameworks to cope with water scarcity.
Since co-located with the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the World Future Energy Summit and the International Renewable Energy Conference, the International Water Summit can indeed help "bringing the water energy nexus to life".