The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed profound vulnerabilities in our global, national and local water systems, exacerbating existing inequalities. But it has also forced creative policymaking – and shown that governments and institutions are capable of critical advances in policies and unprecedented collaboration and data sharing.

A webinar on June 3 explored the implication of the pandemic on global water and food security, with attendees from 64 countries. Experts from SEI, Water in the West, Ecodecision and Moracco’s Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II discussed everything from lessons learned to ideas for the future.

Five key actions emerged as integral to ensuring water security for all:

1. Ensure international cooperation

Water planning and management is incredibly complex, and one country alone cannot  tackle all the challenges.

“I don’t think there’s time to waste. We need to be empowered, we need to do things, and we need to keep moving.”

— Marta Echavarría, Director of Ecodecision

2. Prioritize access to safe drinking water and sustainable sanitation

This has multiple benefits in terms of food, water and energy security.

“Covid has put some light on the need for WASH, and I think that it’s really good. At the same time… I see a bit of risk that we run quick into solutions [and] we lose the opportunity to do something more integrated.”

— Kim Andersson, SEI Senior Expert

3. Communicate across disciplines and silos

Energy, water and food policies are closely connected, and policies are most effective when they reach across sectoral silos.

“The challenge is scale, scale, scale. How do you put all these pieces together thinking about the scale – temporal scale and spatial scale – and how do to you connect? That is a piece that needs to be focused on.”

— Newsha Ajami, Director of Urban Water Policy, Water in the West

4. Adopt a bottom-up approach to the decision-making process

End users need to have more of a say in the process of water planning.

“I think the COVID-19 pandemic is giving a chance to the whole world to reshuffle and rethink its development models and protectionist models.”

— Lahcen Kenny, PhD, Professor, Departement d’Horticulture, Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, Agadir, Morocco

5. Consider social impacts in water planning

Existing local solutions should also be incorporated into water planning to build resiliency.

“One key word that we keep hearing in this conversation is connection. Connection with decision makers.. connections between poverty, which is a symptom of inequality, and with environmental degradation and how we need to get out of the different silos. Water is the connector of many things and I love that about water.””

— Laura Forni, SEI Senior Scientist