For the past 32 years, an annual water conference has been held in Stockholm at the end of August. However, it does not last, as is usually the case, one or two days. True to its name, World Water Week, the event covers almost a full week. The conference is organized by theStockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), a non-governmental organization.
According to the organizers of World Water Week, it is “a non-profit event, co-created with leading organizations. World Water Week attracts a diverse mix of participants from many professional backgrounds and from every corner of the world.”
Every year, World Water Week has a different theme. In 2022. It was “Seeing the Unseen: The Value of Water” (“Seeing the Unseen: The Value of Water”). The conference focused on groundwater and the costs and benefits of using these resources. This year, talks on innovation were offered – “Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World” (“Seeds of Change: Innovative Solutions for a Water-Wise World”).
World Water Week – the scale of the event
I had the pleasure of participating in World Water Week for the third time. The scale of the event, even though it’s not my first conference, is very impressive. This year’s event, which concluded on August 24, was held at the Waterfront Forum, a seven-story convention center. All floors have been fully utilized. Each level featured booths from the event’s participating entities, such as the World Bank, Water Aid, the University of Arizona, WWF and many other NGOs from around the world. The organizers did not give the number of participants, but looking at the traffic during meals and breaks, there were probably several thousand of us.
It is not only the enormity of the people participating in World Water Week that is impressive. The program was also impressive. For 5 days there were panel discussions, talk-shows, presentations, high-level discussions or closed negotiation meetings. All equally on-site and online. The first events started at 7 a.m. and the last events ended after 7 p.m. At the same time there were 8 different open sessions, and that was only stationary. The program required participants to prioritize and be really well organized when choosing discussion panels and presentations. It is also worth noting that access to the online sessions, including those held on-site, was free.
World Water Week – what was discussed?
As I mentioned at the beginning, every year a theme is established for World Water Week. This year there were innovations, quite widely interpreted. The conference program included issues related to regenerative agriculture, blue-blue infrastructure for urbanized areas, WASH (Water and Sanitation Hygiene) technology, efforts to resolve conflicts over water, or the role of science in water policy-making.
A series of thematic sessions were devoted to issues of innovation from other sectors of the economy. There was a great deal of talk about the link between water and climate change. Here a significant role was played by representatives of Africa and Asia. Most World Water Week events included case studies of successful projects from around the world – from Chile to the Balkans to Uganda and India. After the sessions, it was free to talk freely with all presenters. This is a huge plus for this event. No one was in a hurry and for 5 days there were plenty of opportunities to discuss with selected people.
For me, the most interesting topics covered at World Water Week were digitization, artificial intelligence and data. There has been much talk about access to open data, both in the context of water policy-making and dispute resolution. An interesting example from the Afghanistan-Iran border was cited. Due to the creation of a reservoir in one of these countries, there was a water shortage in the other. So some agreements have emerged. However, the negotiated water volumes were not delivered. The parties blamed each other for failing to meet the terms of the agreement. It wasn’t until the release of satellite data on water resources that it became clear that the flow in the river has dropped as a result of climate change, and supplying established volumes is impossible.
A theme running through both the behind-the-scenes conversations and panel discussions was the issue of communicating water issues more broadly. Both aspects of fake news and the issue of building public awareness of water management issues were addressed. I particularly remembered a statement by UN Water’s Vice President Johannes Cullmann. He noted that there is no need to build a separate agenda for water. It is too horizontal an issue to be enclosed in a separate framework, as this will cause us to close ourselves off to specialists again instead of addressing water issues broadly.
Am I going to World Water Week next year?
The short answer to this question is yes! Both the organization and the wide range of topics at World Water Week in Stockholm make it an event worth attending. Of course, there are drawbacks – when you return you are really tired of the intensity of events. Not all sessions are held to an even standard, and sometimes the title is very much over the top for the content presented. However, the whole, despite a few shortcomings, is at a very high level of merit. The opportunity to speak with such a wide range of water professionals from around the world and learn their perspectives is well worth this final run-down.
I very much regret that the Polish presence at World Water Week is very truncated. We, too, have something to boast about and should be part of this global water debate. So I encourage readers of Water Issues to participate in World Water Week 2024. See you in Stockholm or at the online sessions.
You may also be interested in:“World Water Day.