UN-Water Summit on Groundwater

WCI Director Karen Villholth giving the opening keynote at the UN high-level side event on “Groundwater: An Invisible Cross-Sectoral Fundament for Implementation of the Water Action Agenda”, organized by Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, UNESCO, UN-WATER, and may others (Photo credit: Renée Martin-Nagle).

The water community has made significant strides towards getting groundwater higher on the global development agenda. The year 2022 was particularly pivotal as the UN system, through UN-Water, and its many Member and Partner organizations, elevated the topic of ‘Groundwater – Making the Invisible Visible’ to the center of attention. This was achieved through a dedicated campaign, centered around the World Water Day and the World Water Development Report of the year with the same overarching theme, both launched in March at the World Water Forum in Dakar, Senegal. This has leveraged significant attention, activities, and spin-off, as groundwater was further pushed to the top of the agenda in many key water events and webinars internationally. The major final and culminating event in 2022 was the global UN-Water Summit on Groundwater in Paris, France, Dec 06-08, coordinated by UNESCO and the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC).

However, work is not done, and in 2023, the ships are put in the sea to arrive at the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York, Mar 22-24 to further promote and refine the integration of groundwater into the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 and subsequently for the broader 2023 SDG Summit in New York, 19-20 Sep, 2023.

Water Cycle Innovation, proud to have provided significant support to these processes since its inception, plaid a key role in supporting the Groundwater Summit by: 1. Moderating the high-level plenary session on ‘Governance’, 2. Drafting and finalizing the Joint Message and Call for Action on Groundwater in consultation with UN-Water Member and Partner organizations. The Call will act as a strategic contribution to the UN 2023 Water Conference; and 3. Presenting main messages of the Groundwater Summit sessions and side events in the Closing Ceremony.

Related to water cooperation, which is increasingly acknowledged as imperative and gaining incremental attention by countries as water scarcity and climate change put water-sharing countries under pressure, Water Cycle Innovation contributed strongly to the recent UNESCO publication ‘Transboundary Aquifers: Challenges and the Way Forward’. It highlights selected papers presented at the International Conference on Transboundary Aquifers, Paris, France, Dec 6-9, 2021, which was the 2nd ISARM (International Shared Aquifer Resources Management) Conference since the first was held in in 2010. Further, in preparation for the UN 2023 Water Conference, Water Cycle Innovation presented and participated in discussions on Transboundary Aquifers of Africa at the African Regional Consultations in  Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jun 13-14, 2022. This was in preparation for the Mid-Term Review of the International Water Action Decade ‘Water and Sustainable Development’, 2018-2028. Finally, Water Cycle Innovation gave input to the Interactive Dialogue on Water Cooperation feeding into the New York meeting in March 2023.

Water Cycle Innovation is partnering with UNESCO and its scientific network on developing a ‘scientific blueprint’, which will support a science-based roadmap to help countries and regions accelerate achievement of SDG 6 and other water-related SDGs. This blueprint will be presented at the UN 2023 Water Conference for further discussion and stakeholder engagement.

Other events that pushed the groundwater agenda in 2022 were the World Water Week, Stockholm, Sweden, Aug 23-Sep 01, 2022, which ran a number of hybrid seminars and several sessions related groundwater. Water Cycle Innovation contributed to the session on ‘Groundwater: Bridging Science and Policy’, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia, UNESCO, Water Science Policy, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the Australian Government, and the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH). As a very relevant steppingstone towards the Groundwater Summit, it addressed how to bridge the gap between groundwater science and policy.

Acknowledging the criticality of sustainable groundwater resources in serving water supply globally (almost 50% of the global population depends on groundwater for drinking water), another large event that embraced groundwater widely was the International Water Association’s (IWA) Congress & Exhibition in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sep 12-15, 2022, with the title ‘Shaping Our Water Future – Water for Smart Liveable Cities’. It was much awaited after postponements due to COVID-19. A dedicated Groundwater Forum, to which WCI was invited to give the opening talk, was organized by the Danish partners and the IWA Groundwater Management Specialist Group, highlighting the need to expand the cooperation and a ‘dual-track’ approach between developing and developed countries on the topic of groundwater. With Denmark relying 100% on groundwater, and working hard to protect it, there is a good scope for taking such initiative further.

In Southern Africa, SADC-GMI (the Groundwater Management Institute of the Southern Africa Development Community) hosted its 5th SADC Groundwater Conference – for the first time outside of South Africa, this time in Windhoek, Namibia – Nov 16-18, 2022, with the title ‘Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible for Socio-economic Development’. Here, Water Cycle Innovation contributed with an invited keynote talk on ‘Groundwater and Dependent Ecosystems – Co-Management and Protection for Sustainable Development in SADC and Beyond’, making the point that ecosystem conservation is key to sustainable socioeconomic development of the region but that this should not take place at the expense of local communities and their livelihoods.

Very pleased with the progress and outcomes of 2022, we thank our partners for the great collaboration and look forward to further fruitful joint endeavors in 2023 to push for more integrated water resources management where groundwater has a prominent, conspicuous, and properly attended-to place ensuring water security and resilience to all.

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