Two weeks ago, key players from water-related NGO, government, business, and non-profit spheres converged on Marseille, France for the 6th World Water Forum. It was a massive conference with over 20,000 people in attendance. Throughout the week, there were daily sessions that covered a range of topics from global groundwater governance to international water law and water as a human right to corporate water stewardship. In addition to the talks, there was an exhibition hall full of pavilions with representatives from specific NGOs or government agencies (such as the Global Water Partnership and USAID) and a “Village of Solutions” where specific initiatives were highlighted, like World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct.
As the Water Policy Fellow for the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling, the WWF6 was a fantastic opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with people who are driving water policy and management decisions around the globe. Few scientists attended, which is perhaps one of the shortcomings of the conference because these “social science”-focused leaders were eager to link with and be informed by experts from the natural and technical science arena. For example, our work using GRACE satellite technology to monitor global terrestrial water storage trends was of particular interest to people working on global water security. This gap between the social and technical sciences has long been criticized. Both sides are making efforts to build bridges to link the two sides, but connecting through the WWF was definitely a missed opportunity!
During the WWF6, I was particularly impressed by efforts to actively share and discuss potential solutions. Yes, the theme of the forum was “Time for Solutions”, but the fact that practical strategies for water solutions were being discussed was very unique. The Groundwater Governance Project was one solution that was of particular interest to me and our work at UCCHM. The Project is led by UNESCO, FAO, IAH and the World Bank. A “Framework for Action” document outlines specific policy and decision-making recommendations for more sustainable groundwater management. The Framework has been and will continue to be applied in several World Bank projects. If adopted by key water policy decision-makers, the framework could have a profound impact to curb unsustainable groundwater abstraction, which is one of the major drivers of the negative trends we see with GRACE!
In addition to the serious talks during the day, I had the opportunity to attend Participant Media’s screening of Last Call at the Oasis, their new documentary about the global water crisis that highlights Jay and our research with GRACE. Although it was a small turnout, the screening was a perfect opportunity to reconnect with the folks at Participant, to meet some of the other people featured in the film, and to connect with new people who were interested in our work, such as Carl Ganter from Circle of Blue, which recently had a feature on GRACE. The previous night, I attended a reception by Coca Cola with my former colleagues from World Resources Institute, who we will be partnering with to provide groundwater storage trend data for their water risk tool, Aqueduct.
As I said, the World Water Forum is teeming with key leaders from the NGO, business, government, and media sectors. Ultimately, I believe that we, as scientists, must use our research to inform people involved in policy and decision-making. By communicating the importance of our results, we can provide the best available information to those who need it most: the people attempting to affect change in global water use and supply. The “Time for Solutions” is now, and only by connecting the technical and social science worlds can we balance our global water needs and available to truly achieve global water sustainability.