«2013: the year it was possible to pinpoint the global water crisis»

Article, 23.12.2013

Interview with François Münger

The International Year of Water Cooperation draws to a close at the end of 2013. François Münger, head of the SDC Global Programme Water Initiatives, takes stock of what has been achieved.

François Münger: The blue ampersand has been used as a symbol of water cooperation in 2013"

The whole of 2013 has been dedicated to the theme of water. What has been the year's most important result?
More than anything else, greater visibility both in Switzerland and internationally. The International Year of Water Cooperation has made it possible not only to highlight the importance of water for the 21st century but also to pinpoint the global water crisis: the world's population tripled during the 20th century while average consumption increased sixfold. The demand for water is expected to increase by a further 30% by 2030. According to current forecasts, in 2030 almost half of the world's population will live in regions that are short of water.

Has political attention grown this year?
Yes, the water issue, in particular water management and cross-border cooperation has attracted more attention. Previously, water management received less attention than the issues of access to drinking water and waste water treatment. Now, to think that water is an inexhaustible resource is a thing of the past. On the other hand, the international conferences in Dushanbe and Budapest created opportunities for cross-border cooperation in water management - an issue that is as sensitive as it is important at a time when humankind has never built so many dams, and demand for water continues to rise.

Switzerland is committed to making water one of the prime objectives of post-2015 sustainable development. In a nutshell, what does Switzerland want?
In particular, Switzerland wants the water issue, especially access, management as well as a reduction in and the treatment of waste water to feature among the objectives of the post-2015 development agenda. It is convinced that given the diversity and the number of future challenges linked to it, water must become an international priority.

What role can Switzerland play?
Together with the Netherlands, Liberia Jordan and Mozambique, it has coordinated global consultations on water that have brought together many different actors, particularly states, international organisations and representatives of civil society. This process of unprecedented scope produced a consensus on the importance of a development objective on water and on its constitutive elements. From a situation, in October 2012, where a "water objective" was practically non-existent, we have progressed to a state of global awareness. In the coming two years Switzerland will work to ensure that this objective is adopted within the framework of the post-2015 agenda.

And in Switzerland, what has the SDC done in 2013?
We have taken advantage of timely opportunities this year to raise the visibility of the water issue and to encourage Swiss actors to commit themselves. In Switzerland, our own development depends on water coming from elsewhere: it is important to bear in mind that more 80% of water used to produce goods and services consumed in our country comes from abroad, often from countries affected by shortages. During 2013 we used the blue ampersand as a symbol of cooperation in the water sector. It was our way of raising awareness among Swiss actors.
Moreover, the SDC supports various platforms through which social entrepreneurs, municipal authorities and water services, as well as the public and private sectors, NGOs and academic circles can be active. Particularly noteworthy organisations include Swiss BlueTec Bridge and Cewas which work with start-ups, "Solidarit’eau" which promotes the payment by municipalities of one "solidarity centime" per cubic metre of water sold, and Swiss Water Partnership which, without pretending to blurr differences, encourages dialogue between the public and private sectors.

What concrete support does the SDC provide these platforms?
This varies. Sometimes it acts as an initiator, other times it supports emerging structures. In any case, it provides much more than just financial support. We bring our strategic vision and our specialised skills in development. We want these structures to grow and to be able to exercise some influence on the response to challenges caused by the water crisis.

Do you also work in the field with other Swiss actors?
Yes. The SDC Global Programme Water Initiatives works in several countries with large companies, in particular Swiss companies, helping them reduce the quantity of water they use in their production chains. At the same time we support a structure set up by the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) that is responsible for developing an ISO standard on corporate water footprints.
We are also working for example with Swiss higher education institutions on a pilot project in Tanzania which will later be extended to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. This project aims to facilitate the collection of data that are of absolutely fundamental importance for the sustainable management of water resources, especially for government ministries. The World Bank is a major partner in this project. We have maintained close contact with it since the start: it is part of our strategy to work with actors capable of making use of our innovations once they have proven their worth.

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation. The objective was to raise awareness, not only among the general public but also in specialised fields, of the need to improve cooperation and to clearly define the global challenges of water management. Between the launching and closing ceremonies in Paris and Mexico, this theme has been at the heart of in-depth discussions for the entire year.

Founded in 2008, the SDC Global Programme Water Initiatives addresses major global challenges linked to the management of water resources, in particular access to drinking water and waste water treatment, water for agriculture and industry. Current initiatives contribute to risk reduction by focusing on economic and social disparities and poverty.

The SDC has supported activities in the water sector for more than 30 years.

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