This week over 2600 experts have gathered in Stockholm for the 20th annual World Water Week. They are covering a wide range of topics dealing with worldwide water problems, and we are presenting a few here.

These articles are taken from the daily digest at the forum Water Front.

Asia leads the world in water partnerships

Water partnerships in Asia are becoming models for the rest of the world to follow, particularly in Africa and Latin America, delegates heard at the Eye on Asia seminar.

“Despite the enormous challenges that Asia is facing with growing demand on water supplies, I see a fantastic future there,” said Paul Reiter, Executive Director of the International Water Association. “The most innovative things are happening in Asia in regards to water.”

As the country with the highest urbanisation rate in the region, China was showcased as a leader in building effective partnerships across all sectors, in agriculture, industry and between cities.

Using the economic benefits for cities of cleaner water was highlighted as a way to move mayors to invest further in this area. Andre Dzikus from UN-HABITAT said that in Nanjing, China, after two years of cleaning its river system, economic development through tourism and riverside activity had increased to USD 600 million.

“We say to mayors, you have this asset [rivers] right in front of you, look what can happen when you invest in water and Asia leads the world in water partnerships Leung, from the Asian Development Bank, stressed that despite this there are still innovative ways to adapt methods from high-tech to low-tech, including making use of the region’s vast human resources.

Reiter summed up the optimistic feeling on the panel by saying that the region is “showing there are new solutions to old problems and one way to promote this is to highlight, as we have seen here today, that there is money to made from this”.

“We say to mayors, you have this asset [rivers] right in front of you, look what can happen when you invest in water andsanitation,” said Dzikus. “In the last twenty years there have been great achievements in partnerships with water utilities, academics, peer to peer and national governments.”

Japan, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), has been assisting Cambodia and Vietnam through training for water distribution and management. With the support of JICA, Yokohama, Japan, has shared knowledge and experience with Hue, Vietnam, in water security. “This knowledge has now been redistributed by the newly trained Hue water operators to 13 other cities and municipalities,” said JICA’s deputy director general, Katusyoshi Sudo.

The need to link water provision with the food production industry was raised by Arjun Thapan, Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Council for Water Security. “People’s diets change when they become part of the urban environment, and more often than not, these new diets require more water to produce food,” said Thapan. “Technology is a key determinant in overcoming this.”

While technology is improving, the panel agreed that in many cases it is still far too expensive for developing countries. Amy Leung, from the Asian Development Bank, stressed that despite this there are still innovative ways to adapt methods from high-tech to low-tech, including making use of the region’s vast human resources.

Reiter summed up the optimistic feeling on the panel by saying that the region is “showing there are new solutions to old problems and one way to promote this is to highlight, as we have seen here today, that there is money to made from this”.

The challenge of financing sustainable water services

Speakers at the workshop on financing urban infrastructure stressed the importance for utilities to be able to recover costs sustainably in order to maintain service quality and extend services to the poor.

Gérard Payen, chair of the session and president of Aquafed, said: “Without sustainable costs recovery, the right to water is an empty promise.”

In the opening presentation, Anthony Cox, from the Environment Directorate at the OECD, emphasised that to improve financial stability for operators you need to agree on an adequate mix of the three Ts (taxes, tariffs and transfers). “Regulatory certainty is key and you also need to put a price on water and back it up with appropriate agreements,” said Cox.

Magnus Rystedt, Managing Director of Nefco, which specialises in investments in eastern European water and wastewater projects, said that for smaller municipalities, tariffs should at least cover operating and maintenance costs. “In some cases it may be necessary to join cities and service areas together but that is not always politically easy to do,” explained Rystedt.

When you are looking at financing infrastructure in municipalities, this needs to be tailored to the specific urban context, said Monica Scatasta of the European Investment Bank. “Municipalities vary greatly because of their social fabric,” said Scatasta.

In terms of setting tariffs, if the tariff level is too low, this harms the poor especially in areas of low connection rates. According to Scatasta, it is a misconception that poor people will not pay for services and they in fact end up paying far more. “To extend access to services goes well beyond the issue of sustainable costs recovery: it is a question of political will,” said Scatasta.

Reader comments welcome.