Water – joint responsibility, joint solutions

Article, 12.03.2018

Technical and political solutions to sustainable water management are more important than ever. Water has become one of the key elements not only in the fight against poverty but also for peace and political stability. Because of its long-standing expertise and experience in the water sector, Switzerland is taking part in the largest international meeting on water in Brasilia, where it will present its approach to sustainable water management.

Women walking over a bridge in Peru.
Building bridges – Switzerland works to increase cooperation in the water sector – across borders and generations. © SDC

“Day Zero” is the day when the taps in Cape Town are predicted to run dry for the city's 4 million inhabitants. And it is approaching fast. Similar prospects are looming in other parts of the world too. Today’s estimates alone put 2.1 billion people without access to clean drinking water and 4.5 billion without access to properly functioning sanitation facilities. There needs to be action. In keeping with the ‘Sharing Water’ motto of this year’s World Water Forum in Brasilia, Switzerland will share its many years of experience and the concrete results that have been achieved through its development cooperation.

Putting it into practice

Despite a diverse range of feasible solutions, running water and adequate sanitation facilities can no longer be taken for granted in many regions. Just ask Reynaldo Quispitupa from Siusa, a rural community in the south-east of Peru. He remembers how they didn't have any toilets and had to put up with poor quality drinking water.

Now, thanks to a comprehensive basic sanitation programme (SABA, which stands for saneamiento basico) initiated by the SDC in Peru 20 years ago, the entire population of Siusa has access to sanitation facilities. The SABA programme focuses on developing water infrastructure, which includes building toilets, and involves everyone concerned. In addition, the municipal authorities receive training and the local communities take part in identifying which services need to be guaranteed in order to maintain the infrastructure. Trained local staff monitor water quality, add the required amounts of chlorine into the reservoirs and maintain the ­pipes.

With projects like SABA, which include political dialogue and knowledge exchange with Peru’s neighbours, the SDC’s Global Programme Water is working to increase the pace at which the right to clean drinking water and adequate basic sanitation is put into practice. Recognised as a human right in 2010, it is both essential to satisfy basic human needs and to fulfil the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SABA programme has since been extended throughout Peru. The project’s approach has also been adopted in neighbouring Colombia.

Switzerland will present this SDC programme at the World Water Forum, where the factors for its success and the challenges that it has faced will be discussed, as well as how the same integrated approach can be applied in other countries to create access to water and sanitation in rural areas.

Interview with Michel Mordasini, Swiss Special Envoy for Water Central Asia

Portrait of Michel Mordasini.
Michel Mordasini, Swiss Special Envoy for Water Central Asia. © SDC

Water is a precious resource that must be sustainably managed to meet increasing demand and minimise losses. Switzerland plays an important role in this area and provides assistance with its expertise, particularly in the political dialogue on managing transboundary water resources.

Public and private sectors joining forces

In order to achieve the ambitious target of ensuring access to clean water and sanitation facilities for all by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 6), the private sector must be included alongside governments.

That’s why the SDC’s Global Programme Water supports social entrepreneurs who are generating new and fresh ideas on sustainable water resources management. An example of this is in the Middle East (Lebanon, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territory), a region seriously affected by water shortages. Here, the SDC is backing a programme that supports start-ups in the water sector.

Training entrepreneurs on how to create a start-up in the water sector.
The SDC helps entrepreneurs in the Middle East create start-ups looking to market socially responsible approaches in the water sector. © CEWAS

Turjumaa is one such start-up. It specialises in translation services and creating content on water and sanitation in Arabic. The thinking behind this start-up was that water projects in the region rely on access to knowledge and communication materials in the Arabic language. Since only a limited amount of material in Arabic is available however, raising awareness and capacity building is restricted. Turjumaa is looking to close these gaps. “We're aiming to improve environmental norms and practices in Jordan and throughout the region by providing materials and content in Arabic on water management and building sanitation facilities,” explains Turjumaa founder Owice Hammad. The programme also includes an analysis of human habits regarding water use and interactive awareness campaigns for children. “The start-up programme enabled me to put my idea into practice, test it out on the market and get my business connected,” says Hammad.

Young start-up founders standing outside next to an irrigation system and talking.
The projects presented by the start-ups range from irrigation systems to translation services. © CEWAS

At the World Water Forum, Switzerland’s country pavilion will be used as a platform for the SDC’s partners, showcasing the innovative technologies being developed by these start-ups and fostering exchange with global actors on challenges and approaches for the water sector.

Blue peace –  water is key

“Initiatives in conflict-torn regions like the Middle East – where there is both water scarcity and high youth unemployment – help create jobs and, in so doing, contribute to social stability and peace”, says Mufleh Alalaween, the SDC’s programme officer in Jordan.

Factors such as demographic growth, economic and urban development, environmental pollution and climate change are putting greater pressure on resources like water, which are limited and distributed unevenly throughout the world. This can easily lead to tensions and conflict. But in many parts of the world, water can also be a starting point for cooperation and help resolve conflicts, contributing to stability and peace. This is the vision of the Blue Peace Movement, a global water movement that promotes the water and peace agenda. As part of the movement, Switzerland and 14 other countries carried out an analysis of the most pressing challenges faced today. They also set out new approaches and formulated specific recommendations on how countries that border the same water resource could work together to ensure sustainable management. The results were published in a report by the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace last September.  Switzerland is particularly committed to three of the recommendations:

  1. Step up water diplomacy particularly with a view to promoting dialogue, thereby reducing tensions surrounding water management between neighbouring countries;
  2. Encourage the exchange of data on water reserves and water consumption;
  3. Fund studies in support of transboundary water infrastructure that is both economically viable and environmentally sound.

Switzerland will take part in a meeting of the high-level panel in Brasilia and host Blue Peace Talks at the Swiss pavilion throughout the week. Young people from Switzerland have also been invited to present their initiatives and ideas to the experts and high-level decision-makers at the World Water Forum.