One of the most pressing consequences of climate change is the water crisis; indeed water is at the center of the climate crisis. Water issues are increasing in magnitude and severity worldwide, and affects health and wellbeing in far-reaching ways. Even though water is a human right addressed in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, “Clean Water and Sanitation for All”, we are still struggling to fully grasp the impact of the water crisis on peoples´ daily lives.
As part of the effort to understand the consequences of water insecurity, and the closely related concept of food insecurity, experts from 40 different organizations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), and globally -- governments, NGOs, development banks, UN entities, and universities--convened April 20-21, 2023, at Universidad Iberoamericana, in Mexico City. The focus of the meeting, co-hosted with Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health and several universities, was water and food insecurity. This international event fostered research collaborations, fueled policy debates, and garnered wide support to tackle water insecurity.
Several presentations highlighted the importance of addressing various dimensions of water insecurity beyond those which are physically observable, i.e., availability, access, use, and stability. One way to achieve this is by expanding the use of the Water Insecurity Experiences (WISE) Scales, measurement instruments recognized as valuable for policy because they reliably and equivalently quantify issues related to water access for human consumption and for basic domestic needs. The WISE scales share the conceptual and technical underpinnings of the Food Insecurity Experience scale (FIES), sponsored by FAO and currently used to monitor progress on SDG 2 “Zero hunger”.
A key outcome of the Mexico City meeting was a consensus vote on a Declaration expressing commitment to improving our understanding of the experiences of water insecurity in LAC. The attendees agreed to collaborate between universities, with international organizations, policymakers, and government representatives to promote a more holistic approach to understanding and mitigating water insecurity. The Declaration has been published by the International Journal for Equity in Health in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and is available at [https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-023-01956-w].
Promising results from the April 2023 meeting are emerging even a few months later. A WISE-LAC network was formalized to share knowledge and collaborate on research opportunities. This is an open network, and everyone is welcomed to join by sending an email (email@example.com) or completing this form. The network will generate and send out newsletters to the network affiliates every several months; contributions from all members are welcome. Members of the network are also hosting seminars on issues like water insecurity and climate change and training sessions on innovations in WASH measurement at Stockholm World Water Week. They are also starting research initiatives, as with the Buffett Institute of Global Affairs at Northwestern University, amongst others. A regional research project on the Household-WISE is taking place in seven Latin American countries (Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina).
Local governments are also changing their practices based on the recommendations from the April Mexico City meeting. The government of the Mexican state of Nuevo León is innovating in using the WISE scales to target and monitor social programs. The state’s Governor also signed an agreement to collaborate with the WISE-LAC network. The agreement acknowledged how improving water security will likely have an impact on health, well-being, education, and gender equity, among others. WISE-LAC network members will work with the government to design better ways to reduce household water insecurity.
Signatories of the agreement between the WISE-LAC network and the Nuevo León Government to collaborate on water insecurity at the Government Palace of Nuevo Leon, July 4, 2023.
Water is a precious and limited resource necessary for our very existence. Echoing the Declaration on water insecurity, let´s prioritize water and work together to support the sustainable progress towards the full realization of the human right to water. Time is running out.