Canada today announced a CDN$10 million extension of core funding through 2025 for the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), a research institute at the forefront of pressing global water challenges.
Hosted by McMaster University, UNU-INWEH has contributed important insights on world water issues, including water-borne diseases and how to meet the expected large increase in global water demand — almost 50% by 2030 — a need impossible to meet as conventional water sources diminish and if current ways of doing business prevail.
"As a long-time supporter of UNU-INWEH, Canada recognises that equitable access to safe water and sanitation is critical to protecting human life. Since the lack of water and sanitation disproportionately affects women and girls, and is being exacerbated by climate change, renewed support to water management enhances women's leadership and increases resilience to climate change,” says the Honourable Karina Gould, Canada’s Minister of International Development.
The funding announcement coincides with World Water Week, and the United Nations’ 75th anniversary.
Says UNU-INWEH Director, Vladimir Smakhtin: “Available freshwater per capita has declined more than 50% worldwide since 1960 and today the scale of the global water crisis is stunning, with four in seven people regularly experiencing some form of water scarcity."
"The coronavirus pandemic is just the latest illustration of how vitally important water is to health and well-being,” he adds. “Hundreds of millions of people lack access to clean water to wash their hands, making control of the current coronavirus outbreak, and potentially other similar outbreaks in the future, even more challenging."
"The institute recently embarked on its new five-year strategy to help the world achieve water-related Sustainable Development Goals,” notes Dr Smakhtin. “Canada’s strong support for UNU-INWEH has never been more important. We are deeply grateful for its generous and continued commitment. Canada has not only been the institute's home and principal source of funding since it began, Canadian expertise has greatly contributed to improving the management of world water issues."
“The Institute’s link to the United Nations brings privileged access to global policy debates on water,” says Michael Small, chair of UNU-INWEH's International Advisory Committee, a Distinguished Fellow at the Asian Pacific Foundation and Fellow at Simon Fraser University’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue. “As a hub for world-class expertise on water — spanning academia, industry, and governments — the Institute is uniquely positioned to advance practical solutions to water-related challenges that achieve impact globally and nationally.”
UNU-INWEH works to bridge the gap between the wealth of evidence and research that exists on water resources, and the practical needs of political leaders and decision makers, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries.
The new UNU-INWEH strategic plan places primary focus on four interconnected areas:
Helping countries implement water-related Sustainable Development Goals
Data and evidence in the water sector are often hard to come by in many countries making it difficult to plan and measure progress. The institute has created a Policy Support System that helps national governments use existing and emerging national and international data to automatically build a reliable baseline of evidence for use in policy making and planning for effective and equitable water management.
The UNU-INWEH Policy Support System automatically synthesises and evaluates the data against the Sustainable Development Goal's targets and indicators for safe and affordable access to clean water and sanitation by 2030. In this way, users can view in one summary their strengths and gaps remaining to achieve the SDGs.
The platform has been validated and accepted in five pilot countries and is now being rolled out to 50 more.
Bringing unconventional water resources and technology revolution for future water security
Projections show over 60% of humanity will experience water scarcity by 2030. Conventional water resources — rain and river runoff — are not expected to meet growing water demands. UNU-INWEH has applied its focus to and become a go-to-source for research and information about unconventional water resources: desalination, treated wastewater, atmospheric water harvesting, and others.
In one recent study, for example, UNU-INWEH forecast a 24% increase in wastewater worldwide by 2030. Already a vast resource, the global volume of wastewater, properly treated, is enough water to fill Lake Ontario every four years. It contains enough energy to provide electricity to almost 160 million households, the study found, and enough nutrients to meet 13% of world’s fertilizer needs.
In an earlier study, the institute’s experts reported that the world’s roughly 16,000 desalination plants discharge 142 million cubic meters of brine daily — 50% more than previously estimated — and enough in a year to cover Florida under a foot (30.5 cm) of chemical-laden brine.
The institute also evaluates the most appropriate digital technologies for adoption in water management in developing country contexts. Artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and other 21st century technologies can be put to a wide range of uses from accurate mapping of flood risks using open data sources to monitoring water quality in refugee camps.
Women — Key to Effective Water Management — and Migration
Water and sanitation management are more effective if women are involved, and UNU-INWEH therefore works with governments to identify opportunities for greater inclusion, representation, knowledge generation and training for women and girls.
Over the next five years, UNU-INWEH aims to enhance the capacity of national governments to obtain and evaluate baseline gender-disaggregated water data to support SDG implementation. Byequipping policymakers and practitioners with gender-related information on the delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene services, UNU-INWEH can help unlock the potential for more effective water management and use.
UNU-INWEH will also aim to identify conditions for enhanced participation of women in community-based water conflict resolution and how to create them. Future work will pay specific attention to minimising the impacts of water-related disasters on the health of women and girls in humanitarian crises contexts. The institute, in partnership with University of Kinshasa, is already studying large-scale migration of communities in the Congo River Basin over the past two decades, the associated conflicts that followed, and the impacts on women and girls.
A recent UNU-INWEH analysis suggests that the world will see up to one billion people migrating due to water- and climate-related reasons. Future work will focus on unpacking water-migration-gender interlinkages and aim for the formal recognition of migration as an adaptation strategy for water and climate crises.
Managing water- and climate-related risks
UNU-INWEH synthesises information and suggests new ways to alleviate various chronic and emerging water-related risks, as well as climate-related risks that propagate through water.
As climate-induced floods and drought become more frequent and severe, the institute analyses the efficiency of the world’s existing early warning systems, with a particular focus on response capabilities of the exposed populations. It is important to comprehensively categorise such systems to make further investments in their development much more effective, and to clarify the overall pathway to their improvement.
UNU-INWEH also evaluates emerging climate change-related risks to cities in the Global South, ranging from increasing frequency of extreme climate events to impacts on aging water infrastructure, for example. This knowledge will help city authorities take informed actions for increased resilience.
Undertaking research that gauges potential risks from pharmaceuticals and other contaminants of emerging concern to the environment and human health will be another UNU-INWEH priority. In parallel, UNU-INWEH continues on its path to help countries eradicate chronic water-related health risks, such as arsenic contamination of groundwater, which affects some 140 million people globally. UNU-INWEH recently summarised existing knowledge on arsenic-removal techniques and suggested a four-step plan for the complete eradication of arsenic from drinking water in affected countries by 2030.
The institute is also in the process of developing a water-related disease vulnerability and surveillance tool that can measure and visualise the vulnerability of populations and regions to help health authorities anticipate and prevent these diseases, a major issue in many developing countries, exacerbated by climate change.
UNU-INWEH will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2021.