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Future of Water 2021

Five important water lessons after COVID-19

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Torgny Holmgren

Executive Director of SIWI

What can we learn from the global pandemic? COVID-19 has exposed the dramatic effects of unequal access to clean water, but also points to important trends for the future. Stockholm International Water Institute shares five lessons that we cannot afford to ignore.

SIWI has followed the global response to COVID-19 from different perspectives and witnessed some unexpected consequences. Here are five lessons:

1. Water can increase equality

SIWI and UNICEF have closely monitored how countries responded to COVID-19 from a sanitation perspective and found some inspiring examples. Many countries have saved lives by drastically increasing access to clean water for vulnerable households when the pandemic broke out. At the same time, it is increasingly clear that we need to pay more attention to gender perspectives.

2. Promote One Health

The past year has made more people aware of the links between human, animal, and environmental health.UN agencies now call on governments to increase protection of ecosystems since this will reduce the risks of future pandemics.

Here we see contradicting trends – more governments pledge to protect nature, but the economic downturn can mean less funding. At SIWI, we are encouraged by growing interest in our work to address the spread of antimicrobial resistance through improved manufacturing practices.

The world needs to work together to become more resilient and I hope we will see this happen in the coming year.

3. Boost resilience

More should be done to direct economic recovery funds to strengthen societies’ resilience. Water scarcity is one of the fastest growing risks. With global warming, disasters will also become more frequent and in 90% of the cases, they are water related. But there are solutions. Good water governance, improved landscapes management and smart, nature-based solutions help societies become more long-term resilient. World Water Week 2021 will be dedicated to identifying solutions.

4. Rethink food

One of the most important steps towards resilience is to transform our food systems. In Africa, we see a growing interest in green water management that helps smallholder farmers become more productive and food secure, something SIWI has long advocated for. The new debate is fueled by two trends. COVID-19 makes it difficult for countries to generate income from tourism, to be used to import food. More people also go back to farming after losing their city jobs.  

5. Protect the poor

COVID-19 has widened the gaps between and within countries, which in turn has made the pandemic more difficult to combat. More and more reports now show that we must reduce inequalities to be able to tackle future crises.

“Maybe the most important lesson that COVID-19 has shown us is how dependent we are on one another. The world needs to work together to become more resilient and I hope we will see this happen in the coming year,” says Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of SIWI.

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