In March comes spring so it is fitting that we also celebrate World Water Day, a reminder that water is life.
Most of the year we take water for granted, but when droughts and floods come it reinforces that this precious resource remains chronically mismanaged, an undervalued commodity in which drinking water and sewage treatment do not reach the customers that need it the most: the poor and the vulnerable. Meanwhile national water reforms remain too slow in coming and pollution discharges continue unabated.
Poor communities depend on wetlands, rivers and deltas for drinking water, livelihoods and food security but their voice is too often not heard-- their needs still unmet. Continuing degradation of the water environment, wetlands, and downstream coastal areas reflects the lack of political will to improve water resource management. The worsening situation means that degradation and depletion is expanding beyond national borders to downstream countries and coastal areas that are starved of water and choked with pollution. Meanwhile the growing threat from climate change promises to make the global water crisis even worse.
With all these challenges in mind, the GEF mission on water is a special one. Our unique role as the largest multilateral environmental fund is to build trust and confidence among countries to collaborate on improved management of their large, shared water systems—specifically trans-boundary surface and groundwater basins and their linked coastal areas and oceans. The security and community sustainability of almost two-thirds of the people on our planet depend on trans-boundary surface and groundwater systems that cover 60% of our planet’s land area.
GEF is serious about water: we have so far devoted over $1 billion in grant funding along with $5 billion in matching funds over the last 15 years to encourage countries to collaborate and share benefits through collective management of these cross-border waters. To date 149 different GEF recipient countries are working with their neighbors on these shared water systems to reverse the decline and to sustain future benefits.
Results from a selection of these projects are contained in a GEF publication on water, environment, and community security "From Ridge to Reef".
These GEF-funded activities and successful local demonstration pilots have clearly illustrated that we must take a holistic approach that looks both upstream and downstream to serve these countries. For example, a land use decision is often a water use decision as well. More integrated approaches toward catchment management and consideration of downstream water uses must accompany our normal interests of water supply and sanitation if sustainable development is to become a reality.
The global water crisis represents a crisis of land, water, and natural resource governance as well as one of capacity, political will, and finance. GEF is scaling up our actions on integrated land and water resource management and we are incorporating considerations of climatic variability and change as well into country-driven requests for assistance. With the timetable for meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals seriously off track, the time for action is now. We should all start by looking upstream and downstream at the land, its biological diversity, and the water if we want to make progress.