Blog.May 31, 2022

Water fundamental to a healthy planet and people

Ahead of Stockholm+50, SIWI’s Swedish Water House held a three part webinar series focused on water’s role in achieving a healthy planet for the prosperity of all. Each webinar focused on a specific aspect of water and its role in achieving security, resilient landscapes, and global health.

The climate crisis is a water crisis and is threatening the wellbeing of people and planet. Safe and reliable access to water in the face of rising temperatures and increasingly extreme weather is crucial to ensuring education, job opportunities, equality and much more.

The first webinar examined how water is crucial to ensuring the security and prosperity of young people and their communities, not least in the face of climate risk. Degraded water bodies, such as an ocean polluted with plastics, have a dire impact on coastal communities and the economic viability of local businesses such as fishing. This webinar was held in collaboration with the Swedish Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia.

SIWI’s Katie Goldie-Ryder kicked off the session by looking at how climate risk affects young people. For example, many water stressed areas have a younger population. Katie emphasised that youth are not passive victims and have the right to influence their own destiny. Using examples from Central Asia she shared stories of networks and initiatives which aim to ensure young people are given the opportunity to be actively engaged in the issues affecting their every day.

The next speaker, Victoria Mazee, demanded action from decisonmakers: “a lot has been said already”. She listed the many impacts of climate change that youth experience in Liberia such as disease related to unreliable water supply and deaths cause by climate related disasters. Victoria also raised the important point of climate action and education needing to move out of urban centres and into rural communities.

The final speaker, Abigail Coker, told the audience about a marine litter initiative Conservation International Liberia are driving, which empowers young people to take concrete action. She also highlighted the importance of a healthy environment for the prosperity of people. Prompted by an audience question Abigail also explained how they see the plastic pollution problem: a problem that must be tackled at its source. This involves contact with local factories producing plastics to explore waste reduction possibilities.

Youth are heroes, advocates and champions of Climate Action. Recruiting young people and partnering with existing organizations for youth driven solutions to environmental challenges is critical to Stockholm+50, the Sustainable Development Goals and the prosperity of people young and old.

The second webinar focused on how water can help achieve mosaic landscapes, and the importance of people to any attempt to restore landscapes.

Landscapes are crucial to the water cycle, and as the cycle is increasingly disrupted by climate change how we manage landscapes will affect attempts to protect the water cycle. SIWI’s Dr Anna Tengberg started the webinar with an introduction to mosaic landscapes and how their management can reap benefits directly linked to several of the sustainable development goals. She emphasised the importance of engaging with and involving local communities in landscape work both for their knowledge and also to ensure they have a say in decisions made that will affect them.

Next, SIWI’s Lotta Samuelson introduced the Locally Controlled Forest Restoration ( project and explained how many restoration projects are hindered by unrealistic or too hard to measure-goals. Those that are successful often struggle to ensure sustainable results after the project ends and the impact on water resources can sometimes outweigh the positives. LoCoFoRest intends to remedy this trend.  One important aspect of goal setting for success is ensuring local communities are part of that process so the goals are both realistic and relevant.

SIWI’s Xanani Baloyi then introduced the Transforming Investments in African Rainfed Agriculture (TIARA) project. Currently, while nearly 95% of Africa’s agricultural land is rainfed, 95% of public agricultural water investment is pumped into irrigated agriculture, making TIARA crucial to ensuring future food security. Xanani dived deeper into the people perspective of Anna and Lotta’s presentations and in her capacity as SIWI’s gender focal point, she highlighted some of the ways in which TIARA not only ensures but is improved by gender equal participation on all levels.

The third and final webinar took a closer look at a human rights based approach, WASH case studies, and the importance of both to safeguarding global health. Stockholm+50 marks fifty years since the first global environmental meeting took place, and fifty years since the notion of a right to a healthy, clean environment first emerged. Almost fifty years later, in 2019, The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, the first formal recognition of this right at the global level.

Stockholm Declaration, 1972

Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.

SIWI’s Dr Jenny Grönwall helped to set the scene with a quote from the 1972 Stockholm Declaration, which introduced the notion of responsibilities or obligations in relation to rights. Jenny also explained how the goal, process and intended outcomes of a human rights based approach works.

After Jenny covered what the State’s role and obligations in realizing the human right to water and sanitation are, SIWI’s Dr Ricard Gine introduced the case studies by exploring how the human right to water and sanitation looks off paper, in real life, in several spheres of life beyond the household.

Henning Goransson Sandberg, SIWI, presented the first case study which focused on how schools are working to ensure a safe return for students after pandemic-induced shutdowns. Education was one of the most impacted sectors with most countries closing educational institutions for many if not all ages. Henning explained how several improvements to WASH services provision in school have, when mapped, shown themselves to be focused on Infection Control versus general sanitation needs as well as temporary.

Dr Laura Vargas, SIWI, presented an ongoing study into toilets in public spaces. She explained what the ‘provision’ of toilets entails from accessibility to availability and more. Those who depend on access to toilets in public spaces are often vulnerable groups within society making factors such as pricing and opening hours important to consider when assessing provision of toilets.

One of the three Stockholm+50 leadership dialogues will focus on an inclusive recovery from Covid-19. These cases provided food for thought not only in terms of how governments and duty-bearers can ensure sustainable recovery but also in the interlinkages between Sustainable Development Goals such as Health (SDG5) and Education (SDG3).

The topics covered in these webinars made one thing very clear: water has key role in achieving each and every one of the sustainable development goals. Water encompasses social cultural political and economic values. Stockholm+50 is a pivotal stepping stone in the build up to the landmark UN 2023 Water Conference which will take stock of how far we have come in achieving SDG6. The role of landscapes, youth, human rights, water and sanitation, peace and security are all fundamental to ensuring a healthy planet and prosperity for all. None of this can be achieved without water.