WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas opened the event by providing a global overview of what’s at stake, noting the effect of climate change on rainfall and water resources. “We are very much interested in building better operational services to handle water resources and to deal with these issues. We have to adapt to climate change, and a very powerful way to adapt to climate change is to invest in weather, climate and water services,” said Prof Taalas. He noted that the WMO reform will boost the importance of water in the WMO framework. “This is a highly important issue for us. We are also very eager to cooperate with humanitarian organizations which are dealing with the consequences of the shortage of water or excess amount of water,” said Prof Taalas.
François Münger, Director of Geneva Water Hub, set the scene for the day’s discussions and said, “The clashes over access to freshwater are a real stress to peace and prosperity, but it is also an extremely powerful tool for cooperation. Freshwater data and monitoring are central to this cooperation.”
Danilo Turk, Chair of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace, in his keynote speech emphasized the need for prevention to keep vulnerable regions from sliding into armed conflict over water resources. He noted that upstream prevention, in particular, requires water data and monitoring to help manage this precious resource. “Peace is not just the absence of conflict. It is about sustainability—and we cannot have sustainability without the proper management of water resources,” said Mr Turk.
A panel discussion on the need for water data in the context of peace followed, moving in the intersection between policy, technology, diplomacy and awareness. Australian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN Sally Mansfield stressed how globalization exacerbates what might initially seem like a national problem, using the millennium drought that affected most of Australia from 2000-2010 as an example. “That matters, not just for Australia, but for you as well because Australia is one of a handful of countries that is a massive net exporter of agricultural goods. If our production goes down, the price of [the commodities we export] goes up,” said Ambassador Mansfield. Panelists agreed on the importance of speaking the same language when it comes to data, as well as of building and keeping trust, and understanding behavior and complexity. The discussion ended on a hopeful note that we have the initiatives that we need; we just need to better organize the tools at our disposal and improve understanding to make the political process work.
WMO then presented three initiatives that can contribute to the peace and 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The Global Hydrometry Support Facility (WMO HydroHub) focuses on enhancing and innovating hydrological monitoring systems worldwide, as well as facilitating the free and open exchange of data. The Global Hydrological Status and Outlook System (WMO HydroSOS), meanwhile, uses available water data and modelling results to create global reference information on the current and future status of freshwater systems. The World Water Data Initiative supports countries in water-related policy development to improve access to and use of water data by decision-makers.
In the open discussion that followed, participants expressed their willingness to work on the issues discussed, emphasizing the importance of the multi-stakeholder dimension to address the water data and peace nexus.
To close the meeting, Johannes Cullmann, Director of the Climate and Water Department at WMO, highlighted three key ideas from the day’s discussions: building trust, creating meaning and bringing impact. “We have the chance to do things differently,” said Mr Cullman. “We can do it if we create a community that gives joint messages and influences policy, politics, society and business. It’s a big task but it can be done if enough people pull the same strings.”