The Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) Manuel Sager presented Water Management at the agency's annual press conference held recently as the agency's priority for 2019 and its main focus on international cooperation for 2021–2024.
Water management he said is at the heart of the SDC's mandate to provide assistance to the very poor, preserve natural resources and create sustainable economic opportunities that would address the challenges of managing the world's water resources.
Fresh water is a limited resource. Climate change, global population growth, new patterns of consumption and ever increasing productivity are putting pressure on the world's water supplies. Today, 844 million people lack access to clean water. According to the World Health Organization, 1,000 children under the age of five die every day because they lack access to clean water and sanitation. Lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation is a global problem that should concern everyone. How can we take good care of this common good, ensure an equitable distribution of water and prevent disputes over shared freshwater resources from escalating into conflict?
Water management is a particularly complex challenge which is now on the international community's agenda: 153 countries share rivers, groundwater resources or lakes with one or more neighbours. Switzerland has extensive know-how in this field. Thanks to its considerable experience in transboundary water management (two of Europe's biggest rivers, the Rhone and Rhine, cross the country and several Swiss lakes straddle international borders), Switzerland is well positioned to find solutions in other parts of the world. The SDC also has a long tradition of water-related cooperation projects. It promotes access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation for people in rural areas, small towns and peri-urban areas. The SDC is helping to implement innovative, effective political and technical solutions for sustainable water use worldwide, and works at various levels to ensure that everyone has access to water over the long term. In Jordan's Azraq refugee camp, for example, it funded the construction of a water supply system that now provides some 35,000 Syrian refugees with access to safe drinking water.
Danilo Türk, professor emeritus at the University of Ljubljana and former president of Slovenia, attended the conference at the invitation of the SDC, underscoring the urgent need for action and noting that "the only alternative to water is water". Professor Türk presented Switzerland's Blue Peace initiatives, describing it as an instrument to prevent potential conflicts over water, and praised Switzerland's important work in this area.
To ensure that everyone has access to clean water, governments, civil society and the private sector must work together. That is why the SDC is developing links with policymakers and facilitating exchanges of technical knowledge. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development underlines the need for all stakeholders (industry, agriculture and households) to commit themselves to making better use of water resources. The SDC is therefore also working with the private sector to find solutions.
To this end, the SDC is supporting cewas, a Swiss startup business incubator specialised in improving business practices in water and sanitation. In the last three years, cewas Middle East has helped 65 startups and companies to launch innovative solutions for the water, sanitation and waste sector in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. These companies have created over 200 employment opportunities to date. Clean2O, a startup founded by three young chemical engineers, took part in the cewas training programme and developed a portable water filter which helps people obtain clean drinking water during humanitarian emergencies and other crisis situations. This product, presented at the press conference, illustrates how partnerships with the private sector can make a difference. For the SDC, involving young people in the Blue Peace initiative is essential: first because young people have innovative ideas to improve access to water and sanitation and, second, because it creates forward-looking jobs and thus also future prospects in regions afflicted by crises and high youth unemployment.
The next dispatch on international cooperation (2021–24) will not only prioritise poverty reduction and human security but also place a greater emphasis on economic issues and on harnessing the potential of the private sector more effectively. Efforts will also be made to consolidate strategic links between migration policy and international cooperation. The upcoming dispatch will also place the geographic focus of the FDFA's bilateral development cooperation work on four priority regions: North Africa and the Middle East; sub-Saharan Africa; Central, South and South-East Asia; and Eastern Europe.