Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Energy-Water Discussions at The World Water Forum 2009

The 5th World Water Forum (WWF) was held in Istanbul between the 16th and the 22nd of March 2009. Held every three years, this is the biggest conference related to. Almost 25,000 participants from over 170 countries participated in this year’s forum. . I had the opportunity to attend the Forum over spring break.

The WWF is the brainchild of the World Water Council, a multi-stakeholder international platform for the governance of world’s water resources. The forum was structured to have various tiers of discussion. There were centers for political process which engaged ministerial delegations from 140 countries, regional discussion that involved government agencies from the Americas, Africa, Arab, Turkey, Europe and Asia Pacific, expert panels and thematic sessions based on six broad themes. Apart from this main stem there were avenues for dialogue between major groups and side events organized by a host of different stakeholder groups.

There was an entire thematic session on the intertwined policy implications of energy and water.

Session on Energy and Water

Take Away:
• No mention of water for cooling needs of thermo and nuclear power plants
• No consensus on whether to construct policies on a river basin or counties/state level

The session fell under the larger theme of “Advancing Human Development and the MDGs.” Unfortunately, they were behind the curve in identifying the multiple connections between energy and water. One of the biggest missing links was water use for cooling by thermo and nuclear power plants. This limited the vision of the sessions only to water consumption for growing bio-fuels and hydroelectric generation. Also invisible in the discussion was any focus on the economics of water and energy nexus.

While the panelists included highly experienced professionals from the World Bank, the Pacific Institute and the International Commission on Dams the session to highlight some of these crucial issues in the water and energy nexus.
However, one take away from the session was the lack of consensus between experts on whether analysis and planning should be done for a river basin or a political entity such as a county or a state or a district. While it is efficient to devise policies for a river basin from an engineering perspective, such planning can almost never be politically feasible. This is so because a river basin or an aquifer almost always cuts across several counties/states. The technical experts in the panel seemed to overlook this fact as they advocated the use of a river basin as a unit of analysis.

Overall, it was a missed opportunity because this was a confluence of the most experienced experts and policymakers who are working on the cusp of energy and water. But the discussion was superficial and failed to address some crucial pieces of the puzzle.

1 comment:

Toby said...

What a great opportunity for you to attend the World Water Forum in Instanbul. I am sorry that the session did not produce the discussion/consensus/results that you envisioned, but I am not surprised this did not happen. I will tell you why I think so (not because you asked, but because this is a blog and that is what I am suppose to do).
Managing water resources by using natural aquifer boundaries and the extent of surface water basins seems obvious. However, political, cultural, religious, and economic differences inhibit such a management apparatus. Water brings power. Water is used to justify wars and is also a political leverage tool. At broad international conferences like this, true commitments, participation, and consensus is hard to come by because every country has their own interests first. Also, how would commitments be enforced?
Remember, even the U.S. (the world's strongest democratic republic, which values the opinions of every stakeholder) has had unsavory experiences with Mexico concerning her water allocations and aquifer/watershed management.

In my opinion, the world can talk all it wants to about the what, who, when, how, and where of managing water. Countries should (and do) take care of water management issues internally. Where transboundary water issues arise, those should be taken care of on a case by case basis involving the countries concerned.