The 2016 Water Scarcity and Drought Summit

The Water Scarcity and Drought Summit brought together over 150 leading policymakers, practitioners, and opinion leaders to discuss how to promote the building of resilience to water scarcity and drought. A new initiative to develop a multisectoral action agenda on water scarcity and drought, The video ‘DroughtAction’ was launched during the summit. Through keynotes, roundtables, and plenary discussions, the Water Scarcity and Drought Summit focused on the following:

  • Climate preparedness and resilience: focusing on effective policy, planning; instruments and incentives; evaluating existing institutions; and how to enforce adaptation to increasingly water-scarce situations.
  • Portfolios of water supply and demand management: discussing approaches and technologies that reduce water demand and system losses; reuse wastewater and stormwater; replenishing groundwater and diversify water supplies, including climate-independent supplies such as desalination. The application of these approaches and technologies spans all water use sectors — agriculture, cities, energy, industry and the environment.
  • Best practices and solutions: sharing information, knowledge and practical experiences necessary to create resilience to water scarcity.

In his welcome address, Dr Gary Jones reminded delegates of Australia’s long history of living with water scarcity and drought. For much of the 20th century, the focus had been only how and where to build new water infrastructure. But the final decades saw the focus shift to caps on water use, more effective water allocation policy, integrated basin planning, and management and to massive improvements in water use efficiency.

“Australia has put into practice the principle that water must be managed as a scarce economic good, to be allocated and used wisely for the benefit of all people.” Dr Gary Jones, CEO of the Australian Water Partnership

During the Summit’s plenary address, Mrs Sue Murphy shared the example of climate change in the city of Perth, Western Australia. She highlighted how the WA Water Corporation has been at the forefront of tackling climate-change induced water scarcity. She emphasized how the Water Wise programs have resulted in greater diversity in the sources of water supply, and in major reductions in demand through better community engagement and education. Sharing the Perth story was a perfect way to start discussions at the Summit, by focusing on real actions and successes in response to a drying climate, and stressing that both supply and demand-side solutions are essential for building resilience for scarcity and drought.

“We have a weird business model in a way, trying to make our customers use less of our product, but this is essential to long-term sustainability” Sue Murphy, CEO Water Corporation, Australia

The Summit continued with presenters, panellists, and participants sharing their experiences and thoughts across three main topics:

  • The scale and extent of the challenge and the demand for solutions
  • Practical solutions and policy approaches to water scarcity
  • Looking forward -— actions to deliver real impact at scale

Summit participants agreed that the problem of water scarcity and drought is real and growing for much of the world. The causes and situations identified were four-fold:

  1. naturally arid regions with low water availability per capita and growing populations.
  2. where climate change is increasing the frequency and duration of droughts in regions where drought was once rare or absent.
  3. rapidly increasing rates of urbanization that create city water shortages and pressure to divert water from other water sources and users, especially from food production.
  4. where a lack of suitable supply infrastructure and/or poor water allocation and use practices have created ‘policy-induced’ scarcity.

To become more sustainable and resilient, countries need to manage water resources and services more wisely: combining well-coordinated strategies, building on sound science, robust communications, and stakeholder engagement. It was broadly agreed that a country cannot be ‘drought-proofed’ but through a combination of innovative supply and demand-side actions, the challenges can be tackled. Resilience to scarcity and drought can be built over time so that the economic and social impacts and shocks are minimised.

The inter-disciplinary challenge was exemplified through reflections on, and practical examples of, the water, energy, food and environment nexus. Effectively managing this nexus requires efficient water use while seeking the minimisation of energy use, across all water-use sectors. The adoption of smart technologies was seen as one of the options to realize gains from efficiency and optimization for all actors involved.

The adoption of new economic instruments — i.e. valuation and pricing, markets and trading; efficiency incentives, regulatory frameworks — i.e. caps and restrictions on water use, statutory water sharing plans and educational campaigns — i.e. urban consumer awareness, farmer irrigation training were all seen as important tools in building resilience, alongside more traditional supply-side approaches to infrastructure development and system modernisation.

The need for public and private investment in new infrastructure was recognised as being essential, as was the broader involvement of civil society and industry in driving changes to water use policy and practices. Major multinational companies such as Coca Cola are implementing water stewardship programmes to catalyse local investment and to drive water gains in their supply chains.

“As demand for water increases and stress on water sources intensify, our business and the communities that host our facilities may face serious challenges. We focus on conserving water in our operations and returning the equivalent of water we use back to communities and nature. Paul Bowen, Director of Sustainable Operations, the Coca-Cola Company

The role and value of public-private partnerships were demonstrated through an example from South Africa. Here a social pact with the mining industry enabled a reduction in mining water demand in return for access to treated wastewater.

A more holistic approach to dealing with water scarcity was widely considered to be essential. This implies a better understanding, or even restoration of, a whole local or regional water cycle. Japan shared its experiences in addressing both supply and demand-side inefficiencies. With growing urbanization, it was seen as essential to decouple water consumption per capita from rising income per head. It requires raising citizen’s awareness and educating key groups about the local actions needed to tackle water scarcity and create water security at all levels.

At a wider scale, better-informed policies and planning are critical to preparing water sharing and adaptation plans. This requires continued investment in the gathering and use of robust data and communicating information with regulators, industry leaders, politicians, and communities. Without such information gathering and sharing it will be impossible to create effective alliances that have a common knowledge base and understanding on which to build society’s resilience to water scarcity and drought.

The summit concluded by agreeing that a broad, pro-active approach is needed to tackle water scarcity and drought, one that addresses water demand and use efficiency, while appropriately augmenting supply with both traditional and innovative supply and reuse options. Diverse actions are needed, ranging from institutional reforms and new regulatory frameworks to new legal and economic instruments, as well as the adoption of new technologies across all scales — from the house, factory and farm to city, basin and country.

The building of an action agenda on water scarcity and drought, ‘’DroughtAction” provides the much needed public impetus. This is important for building upon the positive stories; sharing lessons from challenges and implementation, and for building a coalition of committed actors willing to coordinate actions across sectors and countries for building resilience to water scarcity and drought. <blockquote>“DroughtAction will enable participating countries, organizations and water-dependent companies to discuss and agree what needs to be done in order to meet key elements of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals” <cite>Dr Ger Bergkamp, Executive Director, International Water Association</cite></blockquote>

Key outcomes

The Summit reiterated and highlighted some of the points below:

  • Water scarcity will worsen in many countries where it is already a significant problem and will extend to new areas as a result of climate change as well. There will be more frequent and/or severe droughts accompanied by worsening economic and societal shocks, unless planned for and mitigated well in advance.
  • Changes in human populations, settlements and consumption will exacerbate challenges related to water scarcity and drought, as will poor decisions on water allocation and use.
  • Building resilience to scarcity and drought needs to be seen as an integral component of water security planning for economic growth, with innovative allocation and demand-side policies complementing the traditional approach of building additional, or more reliable, water supply infrastructure.
  • In many countries and regions, options to build new water supply infrastructure will be necessary but also constrained by hydrological and ecological limits and growing unreliability due to climate change.
  • Water scarcity planning has to form an integral part of any long-term water management strategy. It needs to build on improved water scarcity-related hydro-meteorological data and forecasting. It further requires diversifying water supplies, re-assessment of their reliability and sharply increasing the efficiency of water allocation while improving the efficiency of water use. To make progress on these one has to address entitlements and governance issues.
  • Seeking multi-benefit and multi-stakeholder solutions will be key to build resilience. This will require us to get all sectors onboard — water, environment, energy, agriculture, industry, health, local government, to better plan to adapt to the adverse impacts of water scarcity and drought. To do so will require a focus on strengthening effective communication to inspire behavioural change across all sectors.
  • To move to action will require identifying short term and long term measures and implementing these in a time-bound manner. This needs to build on fostering motivation and imagination to innovate and find adaptable scalable solutions. Indeed, adaptation to climate change can be a critical entry point for water-related ingenuity and practicality.

List of Speakers and Panelists

  • Sue Murphy, CEO, Water Corporation, Western Australia
  • H.E Ronald Kibuule, Minister for Water Resources, Uganda
  • Toshio Okazumi, Counsellor, Water Cycle Policy Headquarters, Japan
  • Heidi Snyman, Technical Director, Golder Associates, South Africa
  • Dato Yew Chong Tan, Deputy Secretary-General, Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water, Government of Malaysia
  • Asma El Kasmi, Director of Cooperation and Communication, National Office of Electricity and Portable Water, Morocco\
  • Marie-Ange Debon, Group Senior Executive VP, Suez, France
  • Paul Bowen, Director, Environmental Sustainability, The Coca-Cola Company, USA
  • David Parker, Deputy Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Australia
  • Hongmei Wu, Chairman, Beijing Scinor Water, China
  • Sylvain Usher, Executive Director, African Water Association
  • Michael Spencer, Alliance for Water Stewardship, Australia Barbara Frost, CEO, Water Aid, United Kingdom
  • Yasmin Siddiqi, Principal Water Resources Specialist, Asian Development Bank, Philippines
  • Mark Smith, Director, IUCN Global Water Programme, Switzerland
  • Gary Jones, Chief Executive, Australia Water Partnership, Australia
  • Ger Bergkamp, Executive Director, International Water Association
  • Helmut Kroiss, President, International Water Association
  • Ganesh Pangare, Regional Director, Asia-Pacific, International Water Association
  • John Dore, Senior Water Resources Specialist, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Tom Williams, Programmes Director, International Water Association
Skip to content