CWS: Water, food security solutions must be linked to climate change

August 29, 2011

STOCKHOLM — Water, food security and the effects of climate change are now inexorably linked and need to be at the top of the global agenda, say participants at last week’s international World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

In Africa alone, by 2050 half of the continent’s people will be living in urban areas, experts say. But most African countries will be caught unawares if planning isn’t hastened now to deal with vital clean water, sanitation and food security needs, in tandem with dealing with the effects of climate change.

Among those attending the conference were Church World Service Senior Advisor for Global Advocacy David Weaver and Mary Obiero, water program coordinator for CWS’s East Africa office.

The conference’s focus was “Water in an Urbanizing World,” and during a full-day seminar on Africa and its water, food security and climate change challenges, African and global leaders and experts gathered to deliberate the continent’s water agenda as put forth in the Africa Water Vision.

CWS’s Obiero, who attended the session, reports that a new Water, Climate and Development Program was launched during the session by the African Ministers Council on Water, known as AMCOW, and the Global Water Partnership, known as GWP.

“The discussion was about promoting African water security as a key part of sustainable development and a key part of generating climate change resilience,” Obiero said. “To treat water access and resources as part of economic growth and human security is quite inclusive, if these issues can be taken care of within the African continent.

“To truly take care of the issues of water and climate change,” she added, “we are then talking about improved lives for people.”

Obiero said CWS is encouraged that stakeholders at this year’s Water Week sessions also have made Africa and its water problems priorities as they look ahead to COP17 in Durban, South Africa this November, the annual conference convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“That’s a clear voice for Africa. Last year was the first year that the COP [Conference of the Parties] had a focus on Africa. With this year’s Africa focus, they have a larger responsibility,” she said, and need to put water issues squarely on the table.

Non-governmental organizations such as Church World Service have an important role in trying to solve the world’s water dilemmas, Obiero said.

“We can do two things: One, we can lobby the local or national governments where we operate on issues of climate change in a manner that leads to policy formation and implementation.

She added: “On the grassroots level, we’ve done much through our development programs, but we need to do more in getting out the word to all sectors on the effects of climate change in our countries, what is already happening to them, and what the governments and authorities need to do. And we need to increase climate change-related activities even more within our own development programs.”

“We can use our various water programs as a showcase to lobby local governments and the national government to encourage them to take on best practices.”

Church World Service’s programs in Africa, as well as in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are integrating awareness of these different concerns as the agency works to provide access to clean water and sanitation — a core priority for CWS, both in its development and advocacy work.