On World Water Day (22 March 2021), the Geneva Cities Hub and UN Habitat organized the first of a series of “Geneva Urban Debates” (GUDs) which highlight the role of cities in relation to global issues that lie at the heart of the International Geneva ecosystem, and their capacity to adopt multi-stakeholder approaches to put forward local solutions. The first GUD was co-organized together with the Geneva Water Hub and dedicated to the one of the most critical issues that affects everyone and is on the top of city leaders’ agenda: water & sanitation.
Water has been instrumental in the history of human development and it continues to be central for food/health/energy security and human security overall. Access to water is crucial to reduce poverty and inequalities and it constitutes a powerful vector of peace and stability. But water resources are scarce and climate change is likely to compound the situation in the years to come. Additionally, the threats from pollution from cities poses a significant risk to health and the environment.
However, “while the availability of resources is central to water issues, it is above all a question of investment and management”, as stated by François Münger (General Director, Geneva Water Hub). During the GUD, speakers all touched upon the importance of sustainable management of water and emphasized that this refers as much to the water infrastructure (building, maintenance, reparation) than to the protection of the environment, the water usage by farmers, business and industries, households, as well as to its price, its pollution, its supply, etc. Indeed, sustainable management of water is complex, multi-faceted and interrelated with many other issues.
At the event, Sami Kanaan (Mayor of Geneva and President of the Geneva Cities Hub) underlined that “the solution to address water scarcity due to limited resources or poor management must be centred on cities”. Cities have the expertise and capacity to build solutions at local level, gathering all sectors of society which bear responsibility in preserving water resources. Cape Town, South Africa, which experienced its worst drought crisis in 2018, was mentioned as an example where a “whole-of-city” approach enabled to avoid turning off the taps at that time. City leaders are well placed to communicate with the communities they serve, and to convene partners from a broad range of sectors to design collaborative solutions around complex issues, such as water. As rightly pointed out by András Szőrényi (Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Hungary), “we need to move away from a shareholder mentality towards a stakeholder approach where everyone see the global picture and work towards collective solutions”.
Local solutions designed at city level need then to be embraced at multilateral level, in international fora where countries and cities facing similar challenges in relation to water management can share knowledge and good practices. It was suggested that regional fora could be convened to facilitate discussions on the issue. In the case of cities, “regions” could be defined in a creative manner, such as “regions” of coastal cities in the Pacific or Atlantic basin, for instance.
This first GUD also provided the opportunity for the Geneva ecosystem to link up to the field and to focus on four case studies of public-public and public-private partnerships in the cities of Nouakchott-Mauritania and Lausanne-Switzerland, Nairobi-Kenya, Dar es Salaam-Tanzania and Dhulikhel-Nepal. These partnerships all demonstrated that an integrated “whole-of-city” approach had succeeded to yield results in improved water security and management, as well as in improved access to sanitation which is often left behind. Engaging all stakeholders, acknowledging their responsibilities, acting “upstream” in an innovative way and seeking to influence all the dimensions of water management, have been key to ensure the success of these four partnerships and their sustainable funding. In addition to these points, Andrea Aeby (Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Switzerland) also underlined “the importance of long-term thinking, investment and solutions, shared governance, trust and above all the commitment of municipalities and people”.
The Geneva Cities Hub and UN Habitat will continue to organize Geneva Urban Debates on topical issues for cities and the International Geneva ecosystem (such as housing, climate change, post-Covid economic recovery), so as to facilitate closer linkages between cities and Geneva-based stakeholders.
Working Groups Presentations
The event also discussed public-public and public-private partnerships in cities in Mauritania, Tanzania, Nepal and Kenya. Following the presentations of these case studies, participants were divided in working groups to discuss:
- Whether these cases were successful or not? Why?
- What was the specific role of cities/Mayors/local community management?
- What could have been done differently by cities/mayors to improve the outcome?
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