Water and Socio-Ecological Justice: Official Side Event of The UN 2023 Water Conference

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The program description distributed in advance spoke of how strategies and  methodologies aimed at sustainable management of water and water ecosystems need  to go beyond technical and economic driven approaches. In the run-up to the UN  Water Conference and during the NY Water Week, the United Nations of Rivers,  Deltas and Estuaries team gathered methodologies and insights that combine local  stories with global narratives in a multiscale approach, enabling design-thinking and artistic interventions for the implementation of the Water Action Agenda. The  meeting aims to share insights and gather support of policy-makers and international  organizations for the implementation of a series of action-based initiatives. Together,  the participants will set aims and objectives for the year to come, and formalize the commitments for the Water Action Agenda. The program was organized and  moderated by Carola Hein, UNESCO Chair Water, Ports and Historic Cities and  Professor of History of Architecture and Urban Planning at TU Delft. Professor Hein  is also the initiator of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Prot Cities Futures program which  employs interdisciplinary methods and long-term perspectives to understand and  design political, economic, social and cultural dimensions of spatial use in port city  regions. Discussions took place at the AIANY Chapter’s Center for Architecture  space on LaGuardia Place.

Opening Remarks

Opening remarks about collaboration were made by Jessica Morris, co-chair of the  AIA New York Chapter’s Planning and Urban Design Committee and the host of the  event at the AIANY’s Center for Architecture. The Center for Architecture endeavors  to be the most compelling, relevant and open place to learn about architecture and  urbanism in New York City. Opened in 2003, it set a precedent as the first cultural  institution within the AIA network of regional chapters. Focused on public outreach  and education, this active venue welcomes architects, design professionals and the  general public to engage through a diverse rage of activities.

Carola Hein

Jessica Morris

Carola Hein described the purpose and intent of the meeting, looking at a number of  specific areas of intervention that together lead to a better understanding of the  cohesive actions that we are looking for.

Rick Bell, who represented the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization, welcomed  all present to New York and, holding up Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander  Hamilton, briefly described the role of Hamilton and Aaron Burr in initiating the  Manhattan Company water system of New York back in 1799. He spoke of those who  had written about New York’s harbor, quoting from Langston Hughes, who in his  autobiography, the The Big Sea (1940) wrote of his time sailing from New York to  West Africa in the 1920s: “Melodramatic maybe, it seems to me now. But then it was  like throwing a million bricks out of my heart when I threw the books into the water. I  leaned over the rail of the S.S. Malone and threw the books as far as I could out into  the sea – all the books I had had at Columbia and all the books I had lately bought to  read.” He thanked Jessica Morris for hosting the event and Carola Hein for organizing  it. Carola then introduced the first speaker, Mr. Erik Orsenna.


Mr. Erik Orsenna (Eric Arnoult) is President of Initiatives for the Future of Great  Rivers (Initiatives pour l’Avenir des Grands Fleuves). He said “I used to teach at  various universities and give lessons about water. Without water you cannot live. But  it is too abstract.” He spoke of not considering water as a commodity but thinking of  rivers as living beings. He noted that his first impression of the room today was of  everyone smiling, that meeting in a gallery with such wonderful drawings by kids  leads to not only smiles but also color, adding “with smiles and color you feel better,  you know it is possible.” He said “Each river is different. You can’t fight for diversity  without taking into account the difference between rivers.”

Erik Orsenna  

Karl Wantzen                                                             

Mr. Karl M. Wantzen is professor of ecology at the University of Tours (France)  where he lectures on conservation, environmental restoration and water-related issues.  He is UNESCO Chair Fleuves et Patrimoine – River Culture, which works on a  harmonization between human activities in river landscapes (riverscapes) and the  diversities of their biological and cultural heritages. He spoke of river culture as  representing a harmony between humans and rivers, “adapting human activities to the  rhythm of the river” and “learning from the river to live with the river.” He said, “I’m  not nostalgic, but we can check what makeup of this tradition can inform modern  water management.” Speaking of the impact of the war in Ukraine, he posed the  rhetorical question: “Do we only take action after a catastrophe?” He spoke of ‘the  Nudge” that was necessary being “people in motion to keep rivers flowing and  flourishing” while addressing what he described as “the problem sphere, the social  sphere and the solution sphere.” Several examples of successful interventions were  described, including the Manuelzão Project in Brazil where academics from the  Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), social movements and government  combined to stop the spread of water-borne diseases in the Das Velhas river basin, an  important sub-basin of the São Francisco river.

Also cited was the success of community-based conservation initiatives such as the ‘Now Let Me Flow’ project in India which unclogged rivers of plastics and invasive  plants. And he described the interactions between NGOs and industry that led to the  lowering of the proposed height of the Allier Dam adjacent to strategic salmon sites.  The Allier is a tributary to the Loire River and runs a total of 421 km. A goal of the  project was to restore river continuity to enable the return of migratory fish. He posed  the question “What is the level of wildness you can expect in a city?” Carola Hein  replied that it was important to both protect nature and protect our cultural heritage,  saying that to do both it is necessary to create a culture of collaboration. Karl Wantzen  said that a strategic approach was needed for both nature and culture and also  heritage, adding that “we need more and much more space for nature.” He described  the commitments being sought, including building a broad integrative community  across ages and across countries; providing open access to practices and  methodologies and to data; co-implementing demonstration actions; experimenting  with frameworks; co-developing didactic materials; and taking action in support of  leading policy-making.

Bernadette Araba Adjei (by Zoom)

Ms. Bernadette Araba Adjei is the Director of the Legal and Monitoring Department  of the Water Resources Commission of Ghana, where she has served since 2005 as  Chief Legal Officer. She holds a PhD in Development Studies from the University of  Ghana and is a lawyer with two decades of experience in environmental law and water  governance. She has been involved in the development and administration of a  number of laws and regulations in the water sector in Ghana. Dr. Adjei said: “Rivers  provide, and I see two ways that they do so. Providing for people and their needs and providing for the environment and its needs.” She concluded by saying that “to use  rivers in a sustainable manner in Ghana it is very important that in the decision making that all citizens are represented, but also there is ultimately the need for  enforcement of the decisions reached and the creation of a sense of ownership.”

Ms. Miriam Haritz is Deputy Director General at the German Federal Ministry for  the Environment and has served as President of the International Commission for the  Protection of the Rhine (ICPR), based in Koblenz, Germany. Dr. Haritz said:  “Humans are directly living on and next to rivers, and rivers are intrinsically linked to  local history.” She spoke of the connection between spirituality and cultural heritage,  saying “If we want to achieve the SDGs, we need decisive and coherent action.” She  noted that Sub-Saharan Africa is most vulnerable to climate change, as we have seen  in the Niger Basin and Congo Basin. These large rivers are the only way to transport  goods and products. Today the Niger Basin is threatened by pollution and needs  nature-based solutions for sustainable development. Dr. Haritz concluded by saying  “Now is our turn to implement the commitments of the Water Action Agenda. Let us  cooperate to make this dream a reality.” Carola Hein replied, “If there is one thing that  speaks to generational dissonance, it is water.”

Miriam Haritz 

Lylian Coehlo

Ms. Lylian Coehlo Ferreira is Development Director at AgroParis Tech-SUEZ and  “Water For All” Chair. She is co-founder of Womenvai, an NGO concentrating on  concrete actions for the planet utilizing Artificial Intelligence and new technologies to  raise voices for girls and women around the world. She said: “As a woman, as an  engineer, I travel around the world to fight for water” adding “without water, you  have no humanity.” She spoke of the Rio Tamanduatei in São Paulo which has not  been safe for swimming since 1970. The Tamanduatei River (‘the Great Anteater’) is  a tributary of the Tietê River, and is now benefiting from a new government and a  new strategy that emphasizes the importance of rivers. Ms. Coehlo spoke of the  important role that women play in rural areas, and particularly in agriculture,  promoting access to essential services, saying “there is no sustainable development  without women.” She concluded by saying, “water is life, but sanitation is dignity”  concluding with “water has no country” and “sanitation has no country.”

Ms. Ruth Richardson is Secretary General of the International Network of Liberal  Women (INLW) and leads policy at the Rhineland Water Board (Hoogheemraadschap  van Rijnland), based in Leiden. She said “We want clean water for our communities  in Leiden and in areas around Leiden.” During the pandemic samples were taken from  all Dutch wastewater plants and used for predicting the locations of possible  outbreaks. She talked about the value of data and the need for more knowledge about  the benefits of the data being received by sampling in our sewer systems, saying  “wastewater tells us how people live.” Ms. Richardson asked: “With the pandemic  essentially over, do we continue sampling?” adding “Is misuse of these data a  possibility? And, if so, how do we prevent such misuse?”

Ruth Richardson

Isabel Wallnoefer

Ms. Isabel Wallnoefer is a Program Officer on the Water and Land Management  Team at the International Union for Nature (IUCN) based in Gland, Switzerland. She  holds a Master’s degree in Limnology and Wetland Management from TU Delft. She  noted that we are losing wetlands three times faster than the rate of losing forests. As  we think about the past, the present, and the future, she noted that “we are losing the  present.” Ms. Wallnoefer noted that during the pandemic there was widespread  pessimism, with fears of population decline coupled with concerns about climate  change. She said that “we must take these facts and move them into a different context  pertaining to what we need to do and identifying what action is needed.” She added  “we need conservation” and that “we need restoration.” She called for an inclusive  governance process involving youth and referenced the “Fill Up Your Glass”  campaign which is calling for the provision of 30% youth participation by 2030. She  stated that “there are great initiatives out there, but we need to connect people within a  bigger framework.” At the conference so far, Ms. Wallnoefer noted that she has not  heard a lot about biodiversity. Instead, at the plenaries, she said that she has hear  about hydropower, and about pollution and green infrastructure. She concluded by  saying that “we need to highlight the ‘nature’ and nature-based solutions.”

Mr. Eddy Moors is the Rector at the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and a  Professor of Water and Climate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam)  from which he holds a doctorate in hydrology and water resources science. He spoke  about capacity development and cultural heritage, and the programming earlier this  week that created a virtual ‘marathon’ Global Accelerator Network for SDG6 from  South America and Australia through the Pacific Islands to East Asia, Central Asia,  Europe and Africa before returning to New York. The discussions and case studies all  had the goal of sharing thoughts on how we can accelerate the implementation of  SDG6.

Eddy Moors 

Diana Morales

Ms. Diana Morales Irato is a water/environmental economist at Deltares based in  Delft. She holds a Master’s degree in environmental science conferred by  Wageningen University and the author of Mitigation Scenarios in Peru – 2050:  Towards a Low Emission Development, a part of the Peruvian government’s Climate  Change Planning Project (PlanCC). She spoke of the initial conception that the  ‘Valuing Water Principles’ being discussed were ‘all very nice’ including: recognizing and embracing water’s multiple values; protecting the sources; educating  to empower; and investing and innovating. But, she noted, they do not address the  question of “what do I really need to do – what is the necessary innovation?” Describing the current flooding in Perú, she asked, “what do these values mean in  practice?” She added, the first two, when expanded, “recognizing and embracing  water’s multiple values to different groups and interests in all decisions affecting  water” and “protecting the sources by conducting all processes to reconcile values in  ways that are equitable, transparent and inclusive” become quite useful and  informative. She stated that “A water-sensitive city combines physical infrastructure  with use of three pillars of action leading to solutions” explaining that “cities are  water-sensitive communities and networks.” Ms. Morales concluded by noting that  inclusive and sustainable water management in cities benefits from what we have  learned from the experiences that we all can share.”

Mr. Nanco Dolman is lead expert in Water Resilient Cities at Deltares. He holds a  Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from TU Delft and a Bachelor’s in Landscape  Architecture from the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture. Since 2015, Nanco has  served as a UN-ISDR Reslient Cities advocate. He spoke of bridging water resilient  design and engineering and making cities less vulnerable to water extremes, urban heat, degrading environments, and on-going population growth. He also discussed the  EU-funded Interreg CATCH research project which focusses on applying the Water  Sensitive City framework for climate adaption.

Nanco Dolman                                             

Li An Phoa

Ms. Li An Phoa was the last speaker of the program. She is the initiator of Drinkable  Rivers (CC) which serves as an indicator for healthy ways of living. As part of her  commitment to Drinkable Rivers, Ms. Phoa is walking rivers from source-to-sea,  starting with the river Maas, near where she was born, so as to engage as many people as possible along the Maas-Meuse riverbanks, from children to engineers and bankers. She is a founder and teacher at Spring College in The Netherlands and a founder of  BEAR (Beautiful Earth Action & Research). Her concluding comment was that  “water is not just what you see, it’s a way of life.” Jessica Morris noted that there was  a direct correlation with the SDGs and Carola Hein concluded by saying that “2030  was approaching way too soon.”

Q&A and Respondents

In response to a question from Jessica Morris about how quantification of the benefits  can serve as a key to making things happen, Diana Morales said that as an economist  she knows “how difficult it is with limited time and limited resources to get the data  needed for such quantification of co-benefits.” Carola Hein cited the old joke “I only  trust the data that I fake myself” to which Erik replied in kind “and it’s not always  true.”

Other questions were posed by Maia Brons, a PhD researcher focusing on water,  climate change, mobility and justice at the University of Brighton and by respondent,  Bonnie Harken, founder and principal at Nautilus International Development  Consulting, which is at the forefront of developing urban strategies for climate change  challenges around the work particularly in relation to sustainable waterfront  revitalization.

Maia Brons                                                                

Bonnie Harken

Concluding remarks were offered by Jessica Morris on behalf of AIANY and Carola Hein who thanked the speakers, respondents and participants.

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