From March 22-24, the UN 2023 Water Conference took place at the UN Headquarters in New York, the first global UN freshwater conference in nearly 50 years, co-hosted by Tajikistan and the Netherlands. The conference comes at a moment when climate change is exacerbating a global water crisis that is severely affecting half the world’s population, and presented an unparalleled opportunity to advance water on the global sustainable development agenda.
“Water is a critical resource for managing the great societal challenges of today. Thinking more strategically about water will be essential to combat climate change, secure human well-being, and preserve national security”, HCSS senior strategic analyst and climate security expert Laura Birkman stated, on the importance of the Conference.
“Thinking more strategically about water will be essential to combat climate change, secure human well-being, and preserve national security”
HCSS senior strategic analyst Laura Birkman
Over 500 side events were organized in connection with the Conference, both in-person and virtually. HCSS is proud to have hosted and co-hosted a number of these side events, together with our partners. The events attracted wide participation from around the world and left the participants feeling invigorated and inspired. Or, as HCSS special strategic advisor Tom Middendorp put it: “On the third day of the UN Water Conference we ran out of water quotes and one-liners, but we did not ran out of sense of urgency.”
At the closing ceremony, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that, “The commitments at this Conference will propel humanity towards the water-secure future every person on the planet needs”. Water should be managed as a common good, not as a commodity.
Side Event | Water, War, and Peace
HCSS strategic analyst Irina Patrahau participated in a panel on “Water, War, and Peace”. The official side event brought together experts from the frontlines of global water security to explore deep and growing links between water and conflict, and the essential strategies to reduce the risk of water-related violence and find paths to peace.
Water and energy systems are regularly targeted in the Russia-Ukraine war, Iraq, Africa, and elsewhere. Access to water has often been a catalyst for tensions and violence, and water itself has long been a target and tool of war. How are the links between water and security changing? In an increasingly water-stressed world, what essential strategies can reduce the risk of water-related violence and what are the paths to peace?
As Irina Patrahau stated: “Water security is not just about water – it’s about food, energy, health and human security. Water-related security risks must be addressed through comprehensive cross-sectoral strategies.”
“Water security is not just about water – it’s about food, energy, health and human security.”
HCSS strategic analyst Irina Patrahau
During the panel, organised by the Pacific Institute, together with HCSS, Circle of Blue and the World Resources Institute, Patrahau presented the work of the Water, Peace and Security (WPS) consortium on water security in Iraq.
“The Water, Peace and Security approach combines early warning tools with causal models and participatory analyses in order to alleviate water-related security risks in vulnerable areas,” Irina Patrahau explained.
Rewatch the full event here:
Side Event | Nature-based Solutions for Water and Peace
HCSS senior strategic analyst Laura Birkman presented the HCSS security assessment framework at a panel discussion organised by The Weather Makers, in collaboration with HCSS, Anthesis and Tamatta, at the UN Headquarters.
The panel on ‘Nature-based Solutions for Water and Peace’ used a practical and well-researched case-study for the Sinai Peninsula to demonstrate how we can turn the tide of soil degradation and water scarcity while taking into account the social, economic, political and security dynamics of a region.
“To manage the vicious cycle between water scarcity and instability, it is critical to develop adaptation solutions that are nature-based and conflict-sensitive, so that efforts to improve a situation don’t lead to further strains and stresses at local and community level,” Laura Birkman reflected on the panel.
“To manage the vicious cycle between water scarcity and instability, it is critical to develop adaptation solutions that are nature-based and conflict-sensitive.”
HCSS senior strategic analyst Laura Birkman
Other high-level speakers in the panel included:
- Juliette Kool, Water Resource Engineer at The Weather Makers
- Bianca Nijhof, Moderator, Associate Director at Anthesis Group
- John D Liu, Member of the Advisory Board of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration
- Tom Middendorp, Chair of the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS)
- Dennis Kerkhoven, Co-founder at Tamatta
- Lara Muller, Director Public Sector at Invest International
- Robert De Bruin, Director Corporate Affairs at Van Oord
Topics addressed include the opportunity for the offshore industry and water sector to play a leading role in the regeneration of ecosystems worldwide; how data, science and technology can be redirected to support the design ecosystem-based management approaches; novel blended finance arrangements; and future-proof investment strategies for Nature-based Solutions.