“Getting good data on the many issues related to freshwater has long been a challenge.” The World’s Water
Water think tanks provide a means of gathering data and understanding of global water issues. Like the many issues surrounding water, the organizations that research it have varied focuses and issue areas. Some describe health related to water, others promote sustainable usage for an environmental perspective, and some promote new water technologies to support a diverse means of tackling future problems. Though they may come from different perspectives, think tanks devoted to water generally have one goal in mind and that is better utilization of water systems to solve real world crises.
Three organizations that I will discuss in this post are the Pacific Institute, UNU-INWEH, and cewas (International Centre for Water Management Services). The Pacific institute is a think tank devoted to natural resources utilization with a significant focus on water. UNU-INWEH is the United Nations research centre for water. Cewas is a new institute that trains and develops start up businesses in the field of water.
The Pacific Institute seeks to promote sustainable use of natural resources in an environmentally friendly manner. Water is a major focus of this think tank which enables a better understanding of water and its underlying relationship to the environment and humanity. The Water and Sustainability Program has a threefold approach to water which includes efficiency gains, improving access to water, and protecting the environment.
The water program touches on many facets of water and is a good place to begin any search for information. The topics covered range from the global water crisis to bottled water to the human right to water and the website provides easy access to related publications. One of the topics that I find very interesting is the section on water and conflict. Though water is generally not the sole cause of conflict it has a very complex relationship with security. Noting that, the Pacific Institute has compiled an interactive database called the Water Conflict Chronology. Not only is the database in searchable list form, but there is also a timeline and map which have the same information in user friendly formats.
The Pacific Institute funds research and post publications for those seeking to understand water issues. The most notable publication is the biannual report entitled The World’s Water which describes the current state of this resource. Each report in this highly informative series details different issues and cases within the global water landscape. For example, in the most recent report, the Pacific Institute lists the top per capita bottled water users by country which are Mexico, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates (see table below). It also established a website called Circle of Blue. Circle of Blue is a leading news source on water and combines the leading experts and journalists to an understanding of the current water crisis.
I discussed UNU-INWEH as it pertains to education but it also serves as the ‘UN Think-Tank on Water’ and provides research and support to a number of different UN projects. It does this through three core functions: capacity development, knowledge enhancement, and research-policy bridging. It is hosted at McMaster University in Canada.
UNU-INWEH seeks to research and provide actionable intelligence on the global water crisis with 4 areas of focus Freshwater Ecosystems, Coastal Ecosystems, Dryland Ecosystems, and Water-Health Nexus. Within each of these focus areas there are dedicated teams that work on a variety of projects. An example of an interesting project is the Water Associated Disease Index which seeks to map regions vulnerable to disease (see below).
UNU-INWE also has a list of publications that it has developed. They range from policy briefs to long term intensive studies. An interesting report released ahead of Rio +20 described the discourse on water at the UN over the past 40 years. An example of the changing discourse is the growing emphasis on women: “Later declarations offer some of the strongest, most robust language on gender-related water issues by acknowledging the specific hardships faced by women and children.” Through the growing list of publications UNU-INWEH provides interesting research that promotes capacity development.
Cewas aims to develop businesses in order to bring market forces to bear in tackling the global water crisis. It provides a new approach through training recent graduates on how to start a business, with the focus being on solving water problems. These students take a year long course where they develop skills to navigate the pitfalls of starting a new business and are given access to a network of water practitioners.
A key within this training is cewas’ think tank which is comprised of experts that assist in both the understanding of the problems and development of solutions. It stays on the forefront of water issues and identifies needs within the water sector that can benefit from business involvement. This business approach is a very interesting strategy and rides the wave of interest in social enterprises or organizations with a triple bottom line (profit, people, and planet).
These three think tanks have a variety of different goals within water and all support understanding the issues in order to provide solutions. They provide policy advice ranging from capacity development to entrepreneurial support for new water ideas. The research that these think tanks provide should lead to a better understanding, and ultimately utilization, of our water.