Photo/Sun Yuting (NBD)

Only 0.5 percent of water on Earth is useable and available freshwater and climate change is dangerously affecting that supply, according to the World Meteorological Organization's report 2021 State of Climate Services: Water. Besides, water-related hazards are increasing at an alarming rate. Since 2000, floods have increased by 134%, and the duration of droughts has increased by 29%. The scarcity of water resources and the deterioration of water quality caused by climate change have significant impacts on food security, human health, ecosystems, and socio-economic development.

On June 27, the first day of the World Economic Forum's 14th Annual Meeting of the New Champions (also known as the “Summer Davos Forum”), leaders from various countries, experts and scholars, and representatives of social organizations had in-depth discussions and exchanges on the impact of climate change on the world.

In the context of global climate change, what are the main challenges we face in water resources? And how should we cooperate with different countries and regions to respond to the impact of climate change on water resources? NBD had an interview with Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

NBDWhat are the main challenges and opportunities for international water affairs in the context of climate change?

Henk Ovink: We are losing our freshwater resource every minute you could say, because of over-exploiting pollution and on top of that climate change. And that means because water is critically important for food, for energy, for health, for biodiversity, for our economies, all the sustainable development goals reaching them are at risk. We have to rethink how we treat our natural water resource, start to revalue it accordingly and manage it in the same way. Very inclusive, comprehensive, and sustainable future-oriented. We are losing our freshwater resources. And water is hitting back at us with more droughts, longer periods, harder and tougher rain events, and sea level rise storms.

90% of all climate disasters are water disasters, so we have to get this right. The water crisis is a crisis that we have to solve.

NBD: How do you coordinate and collaborate with different countries and regions to address the water-related impacts of climate change, such as floods, droughts, water scarcity and quality?

Henk Ovink: Water knows no borders or boundaries. Groundwaters are shared, our rivers, lakes, and oceans are shared. But more and more we have atmospheric rivers that cross continents, not only countries. So the only way to deal with water is through collaboration. That is true for a community scale where farmers, businesses, and communities have to work together to secure water. It is true for the scale at a country, especially a river basin, whatever water you take out or anything you put in will be felt downstream.

So partnerships and collaborations are true, but also if we look at the dependency, if you take a river, there's mining, there's agriculture, there's industry, there are communities, there are health issues. If all those partners that have an interest in water can join hands and forces to work together, we will reach water security by collaboration and innovation.

So I think partnerships and collaboration, formal and informal, are critical across every scale from the very local to the very global. That is also why we hosted and organizes the Netherlands together with Tajikistan.

The UN 2023 water conference, the first in 46 years water conference, to propel water security issues to the global scale and ensure we put a spotlight on all those solutions and opportunities at the local scale and find a way to mix policies and practices and finance across all those games.

So collaboration is of critical importance for water and security.

NBD: What are some of the best practices or innovative solutions that you have seen or supported in the field of water and climate adaptation and mitigation?

Henk Ovink: Investing in water trickles down across every sustainable development goal, but also gives all these opportunities. They can be more technological.

The World Economic Forum together with HCL, started the UpLink Freshwater Challenge to support young entrepreneurs and there innovations. Here in Tianjin we had two winners, David Pong with Wateroam’s work on water filters that can be tailored to post-disaster context, Snehal Verma with NatureDots, developing artificial Intelligence, setting up digital twins for a coastal environment.

NBD: What are some of the best practices or innovative solutions that you have seen or supported in the field of water and climate adaptation and mitigation?

Henk Ovink: What are solutions? They are numerous. There are cross scales and they are connected to nature, to health, to our economy, to finance, to the cities and the communities at risks as well as to the infrastructure and the opportunity that come with them. They're soft and hard at every scale. So we have an alternative for the world from water to really propel it towards sustainability, equity, and resilience.

NBD: What are your priorities and goals as the special envoy of international water affairs for the next year?

Henk Ovink: After 8 years and the first in 46 years, UN 2023 water conference, where we brought 11,000 people across sectors to New York. That awareness, you could say, is building up, but we have to ensure that that awareness leads to better practices, better policies, and better finance.

So I think the focus now is really towards implementation, scale, through partnerships. We know what needs to be done. It's tough to get it done. So developing the alternatives, the pipelines and programs to allocate the funding, implementing solutions and scaling, scale them across the world is one.

At the same time, we still have to work very hard on the policies, the practices, and the economics around water. That is also the reason why we set up the Global Commission on the Economics of Water that presented their first provocation at the UN Water Conference and that will work in the next year and deliver its final report in 2024.

So there is a lot to do to harness water in sustainable development and climate and to focus on partnership in moving this forward.

Editor: Alexander