Water risks concern us all

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Every tenth people in the world have have no direct access to water, and half of the world’s hospital capacity is used for treating illnesses caused by contaminated water. The Water At Risk symposium organised by the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation focuses on global water issues and Finland’s role in solving them.

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Water, the chemical compound formed by hydrogen and oxygen, sustains life. All of our planet’s organisms and ecosystems are dependent on it. Water directly affects people’s nutrition, health, work and the world economy. Over 90 percent of the global water is used to the production of goods and services, such as food and energy, employing large part of the global human resource.

The Water at Risk symposium will be held 21.–22. of March 2017. The Nessling Foundation organizes the symposium in collaboration with other Finnish organizations working with water. Water shortage, and on the other hand water pollution, are the greatest challenges in the world alongside climate change: 1.5 billion people live in areas that do not have proper water purification, and 70 percent of the global population faces water scarcity for at least one month a year.

On the second day of the symposium, the 22nd of March, the UN’s World Water Day is celebrated. This year’s theme is wastewater. While water is being used in increasing amounts, it is also being polluted. Eighty percent of the world’s wastewater moves into bodies of water unprocessed, and more people die from contaminated water than from violence.

The lack of clean water can destabilise societies and lead to hunger, poverty, conflict, and migration.

Finland may have an answer to the world’s thirst

In Finland, clean water is taken for granted. Water comes from a tap and disappears down a drain. We seldom stop to think about how we use water. We think about the origin of the water that we use even less. Over half of the water needed for the production of different goods reaches us from outside our country’s borders. The global water crisis also concerns Finland.

“All of us influence water, its scarcity and its pollution. We consume products produced in areas suffering from water scarcity. We use medicines and foods, whose residues and nutrients exit our bodies into the water. Water doesn’t disappear anywhere, but circulates all the time – so the things that travel with it also keep circulating”, says Minttu Jaakkola, Head of Research at the Nessling Foundation.

pisarat_sin2x  90 percent of the world’s water is used on producing goods and services pisarat_sin2x

Finland’s geographical position and efficient water purification systems are largely responsible for its clean tap water. Our country is also home to water resources management-related know-how, which is needed around the world.

“Finland has a reputation as a country of clean waters. If things related to water work for us but there is awful thirst elsewhere in the world, why aren’t we doing more? This is what we want to think and discuss about together in the symposium. Solutions are needed also in Finland: we have to learn to waste and pollute less water, and a circular economy provides an opportunity for this”, Jaakkola says.

Who owns the water?

The symposium aims to emphasise that water is not only an environmental issue. Water is divided unequally around the world and it also involves legal questions. Who owns the water and who has a right to it? Who defines water ownership?

“These questions are influenced by the EU and international water laws. Water is a geopolitical issue”, says Jaakkola.

Investors and companies have also awoken to consider their role in the world’s water crisis. Companies are often dependent on water, so water scarcity and pollution significantly impacts their operational capabilities. In addition to the academia, the Water At Risk symposium will have representatives from private sector, universities NGOs and the government as speakers, among others.

pisarat_sin2x We hope that participants at the symposium will find new partners to tackle water crisis pisarat_sin2x

“We want to get various stakeholders on board to discuss the topic together. It makes no difference what the research says about water risks, if the people who need the information and utilize it are not present”, Jaakkola says.

In addition to understanding the challenges related to water demand and supply globally, the symposium aims to find comprehensive solutions for defeating the water crisis.

“It is not enough to develop a new water saving or purifying device. It is also about solutions related to the water resources management. Among other things, this is influenced by what the decision making related to water is like, what kinds of operational requirements companies have concerning water use, and who has access to water reservoirs. We hope that participants at the symposium will find new partners for collaboration and thoughts about how to alleviate the world’s thirst through their activity.”

Picture: Kate Chikina / Unsplash


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