2015 UN-Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference. Water and Sustainable Development: From Vision to Action. 15-17 January 2015

Academia contribution to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals related to water

Date: 16 January 2015.
Location: Etopía. Avda. Ciudad de Soria, 8. 50010 Zaragoza
Coordinators: Sarantuyaa Zandaryaa and Blanca Jimenez from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

The role of academia

With the adoption of the SDGs, the global development and environmental governance agenda will enter a new era. The SDGs have the ambitious goal to guide a sustainable development of the planet, embracing its economic, social and environmental dimensions in a balanced way to spearhead societies towards a sustainable and equitable future. One of the key features of the SDGs is the focus on the sustainability of the environment, which has been largely neglected in the MDGs as an issue of major concern that needs to be integrated into sustainable development agenda.

Science is crucial in achieving sustainable development. The academic and education community will have a major role in the implementation of the SDGs. Science provides the basis for new and sustainable approaches, solutions and technologies to meet the challenges of sustainable development. The role of science in the implementation of the SDG on water will be particularly important, as tackling water challenges requires both sound policies, supported with adequate resources, and new scientific approaches to deploy sustainable solutions and appropriate technologies. The contribution of science to the achievement of water-related MDG targets has already been significant, notably to providing access to safe drinking water, reducing deaths caused by water-borne diseases, and improving hygiene to reduce health risks related to unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation. This important contribution of science to the attainment of the MDG target on access to water and sanitation has laid a solid foundation, on which to build and continue efforts for the implementation of the SDG on water, as the proposed SDG water targets build on the unfinished agenda on access to water and sanitation and furthermore link it to water resources management issues such as improving water quality and wastewater management, increasing water efficiency, promoting integrated water resources management and reducing water-related risks. UNESCO strongly believes that science and education is also a key contributor to reducing inequalities and poverty by bequeathing the conditions and generating the opportunities for better, sustainable lives.

Hence, the academic community has an important role to play in the implementation of the SDGs. The scientific community has already provided significant contributions to the setting meaningful and feasible goals, supported by scientific evidence, during the consultations processes leading to the formal negotiations on the SDGs. The contribution of the academic community is central in developing sustainable solutions to address water challenges through advancing water sciences, research and knowledge and applying them in the preparation, establishment and testing of the appropriate frameworks and tools that would be needed to address the challenges of the new SDGs targets on water. This should not only address water issues and provide tools to address them, but also consider the interlinkages of the SDG on water with other goals and how policies in one domain may have negative impacts on other sectors because of the interconnected nature of the water cycle with other sectors of the society. Water-food-energy nexus is, for example, fundamental in developing integrated and holistic solutions to balance competing demands and reduce tradeoffs. An example can be drawn from the fact that support for biofuel production may lead to changes in land-use patterns which in turn may negatively affect food production, the quantity and quality of water resources and livelihoods of marginalized groups.


The objectives of the academia sessions include:

a) To provide scientifically-sound advice on the existing knowledge on the means of implementation that can be useful in implementing the SDG targets related to water and sanitation.

b) To highlight some key challenges and the existing discussions and tools being considered in the context of the SDGs and how to move forward with their implementation.

c) To discuss and present some innovative approaches and tools to deal with the challenges of the implementation of the SDG water and sanitation targets currently being discussed.

d) To facilitate discussions on the role of the scientific community in the SDG implementation and and exchange the views of the academia about the role of other stakeholders.

The focus of the academia sessions

The Academia stakeholder sessions are organized around the following four main topics, mirroring major issues that are currently being considered in ongoing discussions and negotiations on the SDG on water. The Academia sessions accordingly focus on:

  • Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): Tools for WASH implementation from an equity lens
  • Water Resources Management: Tools for water resources management and improved water efficiency in a changing context
  • Water Quality: Risk Assessment (QMRA) framework to deal with water quality and what is needed to implement it
  • Risk Management: Integrative and Adoptive Risk Governance, Management and Monitoring for the SDGs

Structure of the sessions/Session dynamics

The sessions are designed to provide a platform for dialogue and exchange among the scientific community, as well as facilitate interaction with other stakeholders. The sessions will have a 15-20 minutes overview presentation by the moderator/convener of the sessions. This overview will already include information on the specific cases prepared by the panelists. The panelists will not be making presentations during the sessions. The panel discussion will take place around some questions prepared by the session convener. In answering, the panelists will make reference to their case study and will highlight those tools related to Finance and economic instruments, Capacity Development, Technology and Governance that are more innovative/valuable for the SDGs implementation. The overall session duration is 2 hours. A reporter for the session will provide some final highlights/wrap up of the session.

Agenda of the sessions

08:30-09:00 Introduction to the day and the sessions
Academia sessions coordinator: Sarantuyaa Zandaryaa and Blanca Jimenez-Cisneros, UNESCO

09:00-11:00 Water Quality: Risk Assessments as a tool to improve water quality
Session Convener: Joan B. Rose, Michigan State University, USA

The water quality challenges that need to be addressed according to the proposed SDGs include those for reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials; Improving wastewater management and the recycle/reuse; Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems; Achieving environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment; Preventing the introduction and significantly reduce the impact of invasive alien species on land and water ecosystems, and control or eradicate the priority species.

The academia session on Water Quality will focus on how water quantity and quality (access and management) are interlinked with our global bio-health servicing a sustainable plant, animal and human network. The understanding of water quality at larger scales, ground and surface water interactions impacted by land and climate is essential to our future investments for protection and restoration. There is a need to improve the investment in infrastructure and better environmental protection policies.

The session will look into the use of a quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) framework and molecular tools, point and diffuses sources and specific hazards are now identifiable (through microbial source tracking and pathogen specific diagnostic testing); ground water and surface water quality can be addressed through targeted monitoring. With these data, management strategies with stakeholder involvement are more likely to move forward. The objectives of the session are then to examine opportunities for improving global water quality and health as well as address fecal wastes, wastewater collection and treatment, reclamation and safety of drinking water through an integrated and adaptive risk analysis framework. This framework takes into account stakeholder views and values as well as diagnostic and adaptive monitoring strategies to provide science-based evidence for decision making.

The questions for the panel discussion

  • How is water quality and health fairing globally in the era of the Anthropocene?
  • How can the risk analysis framework integrate science and policy and promote the translation of science into action?
  • What key technology can be used for water diagnostics to improve resolution of the evidence for decision making?
  • What does the 21st century water curriculum for future water scientists and engineers look like?
  • What role of the academic institution in building capacity in all disciplines needed to undertake effective risk analysis?.
  • Stakeholders’ roles: What are the views of academia about the roles of other stakeholders (Governments, business, civil society, and media) in Risk Assessment?


Overview presentation

  • Joan B. Rose, Michigan State University - Overview of the Complexities of Water Quality in the Anthropocene, framework of analysis and tools to facilitate their implementation

Panel discussion

  • Financing: John Fawell, UK.
  • Governance: Hung Nguyen, School of Public Health, Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Technology: Rosina Girones Llop, University of Barcelona, Spain
  • Capacity development: Maureen Taylor, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Questions & Answers with participants
Wrap up and closing
Reporter: Kyana Young, Michigan State University, USA

>> Risk Assessment as a Tool to Improve Water Quality and The Role of Institutions of Higher EducationPDF Document

>> Academia and Water Quality: Risk Assessments as a tool to improve water qualityPDF document


11:00-13:00 Risk Management: Integrative and adaptive risk governance, management and monitoring for the SDGs
Session Convener: Claudia Pahl-Wostl, University of Osnabruck, Germany

The session will deal with the main challenges of the global community, related to water-related disasters, and their consequences for the people and economy, in particular for the poor and vulnerable people. Water crises and extreme weather events such as floods and droughts; have been identified as two of the top 10 global risks by the World Economic Forum community (WEF, 2014). While water’s immediate impacts are generally local, water security is recognized as a global risk.

The academia session on Risk Management in water will focus on the need for action related to dealing with risks in the context of the implementation of the SDGs.

  • More attention needs to be devoted to systemic and emerging risks
  • Integrated and adaptive risk governance required to deal with interconnectedness
  • Adaptive and integrated risk assessment and management needed
  • Early warning signals – appropriate monitoring systems to be put in place
  • Multi-level approaches – how to govern risks at which level

However, prevailing water governance systems still reflect that legacy of a command and control paradigm. The deficits of risk governance include gaps regarding an appropriate assessment of which risks are acceptable to society and to take into account stakeholder risk perceptions.

In water management what is acceptable for society has mainly been determined by expert judgment and technical safety standards (e.g. flood protection). Moving towards more integrated approaches requires innovative ways of engaging stakeholders which is recognized in principle but is still fraught with difficulties in a field or practice which has for such a long time been dominated by technical experts and technical knowledge (Pahl-Wostl, Becker et al. 2013). This may be related to other deficits identified, an overreliance on formal models and a lack of acknowledgement that understanding and assessing risks is not a neat, controllable process. Such deficits in understanding and assessing risks may translate in deficits in managing risks. This includes poorly managed processes of decision making lacking transparency, confidentiality and mechanisms to deal with conflicts (Mostert, Pahl-Wostl et al. 2007). Complexity and unintended consequences may not be given sufficient attention and the need to establish response capacity might be neglected.

The session will address the need for moving towards and will present and discuss tools to support the implementation of innovative and integrated risk governance and management approaches. It will elaborate on knowledge gaps and potential and limitations to transfer experiences across countries.

Questions for the panel discussion

  • The links between the SDG water goal and other SDG goals and what this implies for a systemic perspective on governance; and what the inherent risks are?
  • How to relate water resource use to the overall net-returns in terms of economic change, behavioural change and societal well-being? How to achieve resource use efficiency, and particularly focus on new policies and tools that are needed to induce water use efficiency?
  • The role of new technologies for knowledge generations?
  • Stakeholders’ roles: What are the views of academia about the roles of other stakeholders (Governments, business, civil society, and media)?


Overview presentation

  • Janos Bogardi, University of Bonn, Germany – Adaptive and Integrated Risk Governance – a multi-level challenge for the SDG implementation process Panel dialogue
  • Rick Lawford, Morgan State University, USA – Integrated Global Water Cycle Observations Community of Practice
  • Anik Bhaduri, University of Bonn, Germany – Global Water System Project
  • Joyeeta Gupta, UNESCO-IHE – Legal requirements for governing risks related to water security

Questions & Answers with participants
Wrap Up and closing

>> Integrative and adaptive risk governance, management and monitoring for SDG implementationPDF Document

>> Academia and Risk Management: Integrative and adaptive risk governance, management and monitoring for the SDGsPDF document

14:00 – 16:00 Water Resources Management: Tools for water resources management for a changing context
Session Convener: Colin Green, University of Middlesex, UK

The session will look at the tools and measures to deal with water scarcity, specifically for substantially increasing water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater, and implementing integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation, as appropriate.

This session will address how water management is coping with the innate variability of water as a resource so water management is centered on changeability. So change in different aspects, whilst at the same time providing an essential social stability, is a key issue in water management. For agriculture, there is a true scarcity of water: increasing global food production requires more water (Molder, 2007). For urban uses, the problem is not a scarcity of water, since we get most of the water back after use and many cities export more water than they import, but the scarcity of resources such as capital, and also technical. This means that the shortcut to looking at water scarcity is to focus on plant demand, evapotranspiration needs, versus local precipitation. Where the former significantly exceeds the latter, importing water is necessary to grow food.

The three primary functional challenges in considering water resources management (WRM) are:

  1. Raising and servicing the capital sums necessary to finance water management approaches;
  2. Whereas historically water management focused upon modifying the environment to match anthropogenic needs, we are now focusing upon changing people's behaviour to live with the environmental constraints. Appropriate and effective means of changing behaviour are therefore a necessity;
  3. Water management is always a transboundary problem; national boundaries are only the most obvious example of those boundaries. Hence, we need means of bridging in various ways across those boundaries.

The questions for the panel discussion

  • Lessons from history: the history of civilisations has been one of water management. What can we learn from the past in terms of both positive and negative lessons? In turn, what can we learn from each other’s’ past experience?
  • Financing: water management is capital intensive so how can we reduce the capital requirements (what are the technological options?), increase capital availability and reduce the cost of capital? In particular, in the MICs and LICs urbanisation will increase and largely in the form of informal settlements. How can we promote water and sanitation services in such settlements? How can it be financed?
  • Cooperation/Governance: water management is always a transboundary problem, only the nature of the boundaries varies. To deliver integrated water management we have to construct different forms of bridges across those boundaries to enable the exchange of information, knowledge, learning, and to enable co-action. What are the lessons as to the incentives required to promote cooperation? The best techniques to use and the skills required? Are there preconditions for effective cooperation? How can cooperation be sustained? Cover both watesheds and service delivery (India)
  • Agriculture/technology: we are faced both with the need to get more crop per drop to feed the world and the requirement to remove rural poverty and promote sustainable livelihoods. How do we shift crop production towards the technological frontier whilst building sustainable rural livelihoods? (Bangladesh)
  • Stakeholders’ roles: What are the views of academia about the roles of other stakeholders (Governments, business, civil society, and media)?


Overview presentation

  • Colin Green, University of Middlesex, UK

Panel dialogue

  • Capacity development: Dabo Guan, University of Each Anglia, UK
  • Governance: Elena Lopez-Gunn, University of Leeds, UK
  • Technology: Luis Garrote, Technical University of Madrid, Spain; Ruth Mathews, University of Twente, The Netherlands

Questions & Answers with participants
Wrap up and closing.

>> Tools for water resources management for a changing contextPDF Document

>> Academia and Water Resources Management: Tools for water resources management for a changing contextPDF document

16:00- 18:00 - Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): Tools for WASH implementation from an equity lens
Session Convener: Jose Gesti, UNICEF

Key issues to realise the human right including non-discrimination and equality to reach equality of water and sanitation service provision; end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations; and supporting and strengthening the participation of local communities for improving water and sanitation management.

The Academia session on WASH will focus on the role of monitoring to drive, evaluate and promote change policy and outcomes in WASH. The gaps are finance and capacity building. The session will discuss what is needed to improve financing, governance, capacity development and technology for monitoring to really drive implementation of the SDG targets on water, sanitation and hygiene.

The questions for the panel discussion

  • Which are the academic areas more directly related with the case study? The WASH priorities covered by your research are within the priorities public research programs? Are there any other?
  • Under your point of view, which issues have double priority: research and the improvement of WASH sector? Which ones could have more impact in the time line of the SGD?
  • Do you know any specific program of “research for development” focusing in the WASH priorities/issues you are dealing with (or others in the panel)?
  • How can research and innovation in the WASH sector be funded? Are benefits of academia participation enough valuable to pay for them? By who?
  • Stakeholders’ roles: What are the views of academia about the roles of other stakeholders (Governments, business, civil society, and media)?



  • Jose Gesti, UNICEF

Overview Presentation

  • Augustí Pérez Foguet, Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Spain

Panel dialogue

  • Governance: Ricard Gine, Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Spain
  • Capacity development: John Chilton, International Association of Hydrogeologists, UK
  • Technology: Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed, United Nations Support Base, United Nations; Fabio Fussi, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy; Sharon Velasquez, University of New Castle, UK

Questions & Answers with participants
Wrap up and closing

>> Academia and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH): Tools for WASH implementation from an equity lensPDF document

18:00 – 18:30 Wrap up and Closing of Academia sessions

Reporter on Financing: Colin Green, University of Middlesex, UK
Reporter on Capacity Development: Sarantuyaa Zandaryaa, UNESCO
Reporter on Technology: Luis Garrote, Technical University of Madrid, Spain
Reporter on Governance: Joan Rose, Michigan State University, USA

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About the Conference

>> Conveners and partners
>> Objectives and expected outcomes
>> Conference flyerPDF Document
>> AgendaPDF Document
>> StructurePDF Document
>> ParticipantsPDF Document


>> Accommodation
>> Travelling to Zaragoza
>> Your stay in Zaragoza
>> Map

The vision

>> Rio+20
>> Water and sustainable development
>> Global commitments on water
>> A post-2015 global goal for water
>> Water and the Open Working Group (OWG)
>> The role of actors involved

The action

>> Capacity development
>> Financing and economic instruments
>> Governance frameworks
>> Technology

Action on…

>> Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)
>> Water Resources Management
>> Water Quality
>> Risk management

14 January: Pre-Conference Side events and Technical Visits

>> Technical visit: La Cartuja
>> Technical visit: The Ebro River Basin Authority and its Automatic System for Hydrologic Information (SAIH)
>> Technical visit: Expo + Water Park
>> New sources: Wastewater reuse
>> Local level actions in decentralized water solidarity towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals
>> Water Footprint Assessment
>> Technological advances and Water Policy
>> Cultivando Agua Boa Programme
>> CODIA and water and energy in LAC
>> The fulfillment of the human right to water and sanitation

15 January: Setting the scene and the context

>> Achieving sustainable water for all in LAC
>> Achieving water security for Asia and the Pacific
>> Ensuring implementation of the water-related SDGs in Europe
>> Setting the scene

16 January: Whose action?

>> Academia
>> Business
>> Civil society
>> Governments and local authorities
>> Media and Communicators

17 January: Integrating knowledge and the way forward

>> Multi-stakeholder dialogue on tools for implementation


>> Cases
>> Conference daily
>> Conference Communications ReportPDF Document
>> Discussion forum
>> Information briefs on Water and Sustainable Development
>> Interviewing conference participants
>> Overview Papers
>> Presentations from participants
>> Session Reports
>> Tool Papers
>> Toolbox
>> Twitter Activity Report
>> Video recording of sessions
>> Video interviews with conference participants

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