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Water, ecosystems and human development: fostering cooperation and building trust to cope with water scarcity

August 24, 2018

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The GEF International Waters Focal area fosters transboundary cooperation and builds trust between countries, helping to reduce marine resource and/or freshwater-use conflicts.

From August 26 to 31, experts, practitioners, decision-makers, business innovators and young professionals from a range of sectors and countries will meet in Stockholm, Sweden, for the World Water Week that this year focuses on 'water, ecosystems and human development'.

Freshwater is a prerequisite for human and ecosystems survival, underpins many economic activities and is fundamental to achieving most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Increasing water scarcity in many regions of the world along with pollution of these waters threatens human health and economic development. Likewise, water is directly interwoven into national economies through the provision of water for human settlements, agriculture, energy via cooling water needs and hydropower plants (see GEF energy, food, water, and ecosystem nexus video). 

The GEF International Waters (IW) focal area attends to a unique mandate in the global water agenda: fostering transboundary cooperation and building trust between countries, to help reducing or avoiding complex and long-lasting conflicts over marine resources and/or freshwater-use. With assistance from the GEF IW, countries are better able to use resources and share benefits from shared water systems, be they fresh or marine systems. 

Due to the nature of its mandate, GEF IW's work often spans significant time periods, first focusing on building basic trust and achieving cross-country agreements on a set of priority actions, followed by GEF assistance for the implementation of policy, legal and institutional reforms and investments needed for sustainable use and maintenance of ecosystem services. Over the past 27 years, the GEF IW portfolio has grown to more than 350 projects with about US$1.9 billion of GEF grants and $12.6 billion in co-financing invested in more than 170 recipient countries. 

Setting effective policy goals, coupled with investments, requires working at all scales, with a range of stakeholders, in the public and private sectors and across the watershed from source-to-sea and beyond. These principles are fundamental to the GEF-7 IW investments. The new GEF-7 strategy features three objectives, which together address key strategic actions across the fresh and marine realms, while factoring in the complex the source-to-sea interconnectivities: 1) advance information exchange and early warning; 2) enhance regional and national cooperation on shared freshwater surface and groundwater basins; and, 3) invest in water, food, energy and environmental security. 

In line with the World Water Week 2018 theme, the third GEF IW objective deals with the enhancement of water security in freshwater ecosystems. By applying an ecosystem approach and creating national and regional capacity to deal with extreme events that exacerbate water scarcity - like floods and droughts - the GEF IW investments aim at dimishing potential risks that may lead to destabilization, violence and migration, as well as radicalizing or spurring further conflicts.  

Detailed information on all GEF approved projects can be found here. Furthermore, additional information, news and a portfolio overview of GEF IW investments can be found on the IW-LEARN website and in the following GEF publications: “From Ridge to Reef”, “From Community to Cabinet”, “From Coast to Coasts” and “Water for our Future”, which describe experiences based on two decades of IW investments through the lens of the Nexus as driver for cooperation to achieve energy and food security, for the provision of essential ecosystems services and to contribute to regional integration, stability and peace.