On the front-line of Freshwater Conservation: Finance, Business, Food and Energy by Stuart Orr

Stuart Orr, Freshwater Manager of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), visited FAFS (October 22) and delivered a lecture: On the front-line of Freshwater Conservation: Finance, Business, Food and Energy.

There are many ways to frame the water crisis. One discussed perhaps less-often than it should be is the loss of freshwater biodiversity worldwide. To address this crisis, freshwater conservation must engage water users, devise solutions related to natural infrastructure, highlight the hidden values of rivers, and make water bankable for finance.​​

Orr reviewed the experiences and strategy of WWF, the world’s largest, independent conservation organization, and explained that WWF targets species in decline and freshwater biodiversity, addresses global challenges, engages people and livelihoods, connects fishermen and communities and is concerned with human health and nutrition. Observing that the way individuals, whether farmers, the wealthy, or the poor, respond to water risk is one of today’s most compelling challenges and ranked as the number 1 global risk. Orr explained that companies are very aware of water as a destabilizing risk; that today’s financial institutions all have reports and strategies for how to deal with water risk and to understand their exposure to the risk. He then discussed WWF’s experience in the Mekong river, in particular, the trade-offs between a 6-17% increase in water consumption for food production verses a 19-63% expansion of pasture lands. Orr concluded by noting that sand mining, the roles of financial institutions, agriculture, rapid development, data, innovation and technology, and new opportunities for implementing the SDGs are all essential elements and considerations to moving forward in addressing global environmental challenges.

In the panel discussion that followed, Mr. Kanj highlighted the importance of the water-energy-food nexus for stakeholders, the need to strengthen regional cooperation towards implementation of the SDGs, and the key role of water as a catalyst for hydrodiplomacy. Dr. Solh emphasized the decline in total renewable water resources and the food crisis in Arab countries, both of which have led these countries to shift from food self-sufficiency to food reliance. He explained that Arab countries have different potentials for enhancing food security, which is subject to renewal water resources, arable land area, soil fertility and irrigated area. Dr. Solh considers the mountain ecosystem to be a key to achieving self-reliance in the water-energy-food nexus. He concluded his remarks by noting that protecting natural resources is imperative: only by assigning a value to water, will people become more conscious of this vital resource and try to preserve it. As a nutritionist, Dr. Hwalla explained that, in addition to production and access, utilization has a major role in mitigating food insecurity: water intensive food will worsen food insecurity. She called for the inclusion of health as a component of the nexus: what is healthy for individuals should also be healthy for the environment. Dr. Hwalla also emphasized that consumption can influence production: by changing the way we eat and adopting healthier eating habits (such as consuming less water demanding crops), we can have a positive influence on the environment: thus, money should be invested in leveraging food systems in terms of production, marketing, and subsidies. This would encourage people to eat healthier food without negatively impact on the environment, and lead to policies and interventions to instill changes in the society.

Check Stuart Orr's presentation here​.

Check Dr. Mahmoud Solh's presentation here.