The place of water in a more inclusive and sustainable post-Covid-19 World

Friday, June 26, 2020
La place de l’eau dans un monde post Covid-19 plus solidaire et durable

Abdoulaye SENE

By Abdoulaye SENE, Executive Secretary of the 9th World Water Forum

Access to water is essential to the realization of all human rights, socio-economic development, health, peace and resilience, both at the country level and internationally. Water plays a key role in the causality, transmission and prevention of many diseases, while being essential to the health and maintenance of the ecosystems that provide our food and other essential goods and services.  

The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed deficiencies in access to water and hygiene policies, particularly in developing countries where weak water supply systems and limited access to basic social services call into question all  strategies for prevention, adaptation and resilience. This pandemic also reminds us of the long road that still separates us from achieving universal access to water, one of the major targets of the SDG’s by 2030. 

Improving access to water thus becomes a high priority for strengthening people's resilience, food security and stabilizing the Sahel, where the rise of violent extremism poses security, peace and development challenges. Thus, it is fortunate to note that the G5 Sahel has adopted a strategy based on a Priority Investment Program which aims, among other things, to reduce vulnerabilities through better access to water.

A fundamental element for the harmony and resilience of societies and ecosystems, Water is also vital to the global security of the planet. Indeed, the lack of political instruments and formal frameworks for cooperation for the management of water resources that are shared between several states, is a source of potential conflicts in many parts of the world, such as the Nile Basin, and in the Middle East.

Water diplomacy is now a key instrument to ensure water security, peace among countries sharing transboundary basins and for the effective management of cross-border waters, which must be a vehicle for cooperation and not for conflict.

As such, with its experience in cross-border cooperation, Senegal launched the first formal debate on the triptych "Water, Peace and Security" at the United Nations Security Council (UN) in November 2016.

Cooperation" certainly appears to be the path of salvation for a sustainable management of shared waterresources,  although 158 of the 263 shared international rivers still do not have a well-established framework for cooperation.

In addition, according to many experts, unequal access to water, water scarcity and inadequate management structures could be the main cause of future interstate and regional conflicts.

Already, in many conflicts, even if water is not the main reason stated, its control is nevertheless an important issue that can stoke conflicts. In other situations, water is simply used as a weapon to put pressure on vulnerable populations.

It should be noted in this regard that the construction of new dams in West or Central Africa, due to the political fragmentation of the region, will require close negotiations and create tensions around water sharing, also due to important environmental considerations that need to be taken into account.

The situation is delicate for the Niger River, which runs through ten countries. It is also complex elsewhere in Africa, particularly around the management of the Nile waters between countries located upstream and downstream, or around Lake Chad. The issue of water certainly remains at the heart of the agenda for peace and development.

As part of the strengthening of its political will to promote cooperation and hydro-diplomacy and from the perspective of preventive diplomacy, Senegal joined the 1992 United Nations Water Convention. It has launched the implementation of the Dakar Water Hub, which will help implement the recommendations of the High-Level Panel on Water and Peace. Senegal has also undertaken, with several financial institutions, the operationalization of a Blue Fund, an innovative financing mechanism, in order to strengthen cooperation and promote the construction of infrastructure of common interest to develop shared water resources, and universal access to water.

Shared basins appear to be privileged places to build inclusive and resilient economies. In the Sahel, climatic conditions are marked by great spatial and temporal variability, with chronic and catastrophic disturbances that prompted the states bordering the Senegal River to establish in 1972, the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River (OMVS).

Today, the successful example of OMVS is quite emblematic. Through activities around the Nexus Water-Energy-Agriculture, it has been able to build large-scale infrastructure and structural program that contribute to strengthening the resilience of the production systems of the four member states.

It is in light of its achievements, its leadership in the field of water and water diplomacy that Senegal was chosen to host the 9th World Water Forum in March 2021. The organization of the Forum in the post-Covid-19 era offers an opportunity to rethink how to address the vital issues of water, as part of the major project of the revival and the resurgence of the post-Covid-19 economy, where water will certainly occupy an important place

Water security, a key factor in resilience and peace, will be at the heart of the framework of action of the Forum, whose components are:

  • First, around an inclusive, multi-actor open process with all stakeholders, who will intervene in Working groups structured around 4 priorities: "Water Security and Sanitation", "Cooperation", "Water for Rural Development" and "Tools and Means."
  • Secondly, around a Summit of Heads of State, Government and major international institutions, to launch a message and a historic political initiative, with a view to drive actions in particular, for the rapid realization of universal access to water and sanitation.
  • Thirdly, around the implementation of the “Initiative Dakar 2021”, which aims, during the preparatory phase, to select relevant, innovative, reproducible projects, producing short-term results with lasting impact around the Forum's priorities.  

The Covid-19 pandemic reinforces the urgent need to mobilize the international community in all its diversity and at all levels, to make the "Dakar 2021" World Water Forum an effective Forum (socially, politically, economically), an innovative Forum, a catalyst for action for continental and global commitments so that water security for peace and development is ensured everywhere and for all, today and tomorrow.