Earlier this week, a new UN report issued a dire warning saying that 3.6 billion people, or half the world's population, already live in areas where water can be scarce for at least one month a year. Projections are that this number could go up to 5.7 billion people by 2050 if business as usual continues.
The World Water Development Report 2018, entitled “Nature-based Solutions for Water,” was launched in Brasilia in advance of UN World Water Day, an event celebrated every year on March 22. This year’s theme is nature based solutions (NBS): the answer to reducing pollution, droughts and floods lies in nature.
To address these urgent challenges and to share ideas and help identify solutions to the growing water crisis, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) joined other organizations at the 8th World Water Forum (WWF) in Brasilia - the largest gathering on freshwater issues worldwide.
Speaking at the meeting, Gustavo Fonseca, GEF Director of programs said: “The GEF has a long history through its International Waters portfolio of focusing on the interactions between freshwater and marine ecosystems. It’s increasingly evident that cooperation across countries and sectors is necessary to achieve water, food, energy security and conserve ecosystems functions. Going forward we hope to expand our portfolio in this area and I have no doubt that nature based solutions will play a growing role.”
Writing in the Guardian’s GEF partner zone for World Water Day, Carl Ganter and Eileen E. Ganter, co-founders of Circle of Blue, said: “We’ve missed crucial cues and profound threats to the stability of global resources - drought, floods, groundwater depletion, persistent pollution by plastics and pharmaceuticals. We are discovering how far we can push the limits of our finely-balanced ecological foundations before feedback loops become disastrous and unstoppable.”
The GEF International Waters Program
The GEF is among the largest grant investors in multi-country collaborations on shared water systems. Since its inception, primarily through its International Waters focal area, it has been financing transboundary water cooperation across shared fresh and marine water systems.
Focusing on transboundary freshwater, the GEF has together with its implementing and executing partners financed a total of 101 projects, in 44 distinct rivers, 9 aquifers and 14 lakes. These investments totaled $567 million USD in grant financing, leveraging $2.66 billion USD in co-financing.
The following examples from its project portfolio illustrate the GEF’s interconnected and comprehensive approach to shared water systems:
The Amazon is the single largest repository of biodiversity on the planet while also supporting more than 33 million people living in the Amazon watershed, deriving their livelihoods from its forests, rivers and tributaries. A new GEF project, launched at the World Water Forum this week will build on the existing GEF Amazon Sustainable Landscape Program. With an investment of USD $120 million, the new “Strategic Action Programme” will enable countries to fully integrate the management of the water and land resources of the Amazon Basin.
The GEF/WWF Danube River Basin Hydromorphology and River Restoration (DYNA) project is an example of GEF support to the nature based solutions approach. The project plays a key role advancing flood risk management across the East European non-EU member states. The conservation and the restoration of the natural functions of wetlands and floodplains, produces benefits at the transboundary, national and local levels related to protection of quality of drinking water, groundwater supplies replenished by floodplain ecosystems, biological diversity in restored floodplains and adjacent rivers, and additional floodplain wetland ecosystem goods and services.
Restoring forests, grasslands and natural wetlands, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, creating buffers of vegetation along water courses – these are all examples of NBS that help the management of water availability and quality. Most NBS, including in urban landscapes, essentially involve the management of vegetation, soils and/or wetlands, including rivers and lakes. NBS are not a panacea to the critical water-related challenges we face as the global population grows, but they can provide innovative and cost-effective options for supplementing insufficient or ageing water infrastructure
Through its knowledge management program IW:Learn, the GEF ensures that lessons learned from such projects are being shared globally among GEF international waters projects, country officials, CSOs, international organizations and other partners.