STOCKHOLM – For five days, over 3,000 participants representing 130 countries gathered in Stockholm for the annual World Water Week conference. Hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the yearly conference is a prominent forum for global water issues, drawing experts and leaders from many sectors of the world’s communities. This year’s World Water Week concentrated on the balance of water and energy, discussing the economic and environmental clashes that arise from the conflicting thirsts for energy and water in a world that’s increasingly drying up.
Water is the world’s most important resource, but in the developing world, some 750 million people still do not have access to clean drinking water while a whopping 2.5 billion lack an adequate toilet. One of the planet’s top priorities is to provide proper access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation to the poorest communities of the world.
Stockholm itself is an inspiring example of a remarkable turnaround. Until the 1860s, the now-wealthy city sourced its water from ponds and wells, and many children died from diarrhea and pneumonia, while frequent outbreaks of cholera claimed thousands of lives. Responding to public outcry, Stockholm massively transformed its sanitation management in a mere thirty years. According to Stockholm University’s Bo Burström, it “developed from an almost medieval system to a hygienic standard acceptable for the 20th century.”
All around the world, developing nations face hurdles on the water front. The large majority of the world’s freshwater withdrawals are used for producing food and energy. Manufacturing in countries like China, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa will heavily stress water demand. Simultaneously, around 90 percent of the world’s power generation demands intensive water use—in the United States alone, half of the total water used daily is used by the energy sector.
Though Illinois has merely a fifth of the population of South Africa, its levels of electrical generating capacity are the same. Almost all of South Africa’s electricity is powered by coal, a means that burns through water in enormous quantities. Out of South Africa’s 51 million inhabitants, one in 10 of them lack access to clean drinking water. Additionally, over one in 10 are still missing electrical access. South Africa is now a thirsty nation that is struggling to reconcile quickly dwindling water supplies and growing energy demand.
From August 31 to September 5, participants exchanged views and formed partnerships to advance the world’s progress on issues of water, health, environment and poverty reduction. The conference concluded with a plea to the agricultural and energy industries to limit water waste and improve efficiency, just weeks ahead of the upcoming United Nations Climate Summit.
A major concern is the fact that in less than 40 years, said the Stockholm International Water Institute, “we will need to produce 70 percent more food to feed the global population. And we’ll need to double our water efficiencies in order to do it–800 million people around the world are still undernourished. Water resources are likely to reduce significantly due to climate change.”
– Annie Jung