World Water Day 2014 logoThe deep-rooted relationships between water and energy have been highlighted today during main global celebrations in Tokyo marking the United Nations' annual World Water Day on Saturday 22 March

"Water and energy are among the world's most pre-eminent challenges. This year's focus of World Water Day brings these issues to the attention of the world," said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization and Chair of UN-Water, which coordinates World Water Day and freshwater-related efforts UN system-wide. 

Thirsty Energy

The World Bank is also focusing on the relationship between water and energy. Diego J. Rodriguez, Senior Economist at The World Bank’s Water Unit, explains there are water-energy challenges in most regions of the world where there is already competition for existing water resources and dry and water stress areas.

The World Bank’s global Thirsty Energy initiative aims to make more governments national and local aware of the interdependencies and foreseeable pressure on water as a resource for energy generation. S

Mr Rodriguez will be in Cape Town for the upcoming African Utility Week from 13-14 May where he is a panelist in the Water-Energy-Food nexus panel dialogue during the event’s water track. More than 5000 power and water professionals from more than 30 African countries and 70 worldwide will gather at what is the largest, annual utility gathering of its kind on the continent.

Every drop of water counts: picture of the globe with water dropsWill water constrain our energy future?
“Our entry point is the energy sector” says Diego Rodriguez, “which is rather unconventional; Thirsty Energy aims to address and tackle the strong interlinkages from the energy rather than a water perspective. As such, the initiative needs to work initially with the energy community and then bring the water community to ensure that we develop integrated planning and integrated investment solutions. It might also be interesting to mention the main question we keep asking and using: Will water constrain our energy future?”

Thirsty Energy is working in South Africa, which has been celebrating National Water Week this week. Rodriguez explains: “We started a collaboration effort with the Energy Research Center of the University of Cape Town to support existing energy modeling tools to incorporate water constraints on energy development to reflect the real cost of allocating water to the power sector and work to integrate water considerations into energy planning frameworks.

"We will look at different scenarios and, based on the results and as a second phase, also look at the economy-wide impacts of those scenarios to have a good understanding of the tradeoffs and monetize economic impacts of different water allocation schemes. We are also planning to showcase the existing knowledge of South Africa by addressing water scarcity in the power sector – such as the implementation of dry cooling versus wet cooling – and to foster south-to-south knowledge exchange.” 

infographic explaining the relationship between water and energySee complete interview with Diego Rodriguez here:

Here is an infographic explaining the interdependence of water and energy.

Thirsty planet

The UN predicts that by 2030 the global population as a whole will need 35% more food, 40% more water and 50% more energy. Already today 768 million people lack access to improved water sources, 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation and 1.3 billion people cannot access electricity. 

"These issues need urgent attention - both now and in the post-2015 development discussions. The situation is unacceptable. It is often the same people who lack access to water and sanitation who also lack access to energy, " said Mr. Jarraud. 

The 2014 World Water Development Report (WWDR) - a UN-Water flagship report, produced and coordinated by the World Water Assessment Programme, which is hosted and led by UNESCO - is released on World Water Day as an authoritative status report on global freshwater resources. It highlights the need for policies and regulatory frameworks that recognize and integrate approaches to water and energy priorities. 

Watch the teaser presentation by Lead Author Rick Connor at the World Water Week in Stockholm in September 2013 below.

WWDR, a triennial report from 2003 to 2012, this year becomes an annual edition, responding to the international community's expression of interest in a concise, evidence-based and yearly publication with a specific thematic focus and recommendations.  

WWDR 2014 underlines how water-related issues and choices impact energy and vice versa. For example: drought diminishes energy production, while lack of access to electricity limits irrigation possibilities. 

The report notes that roughly 75% of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production. Tariffs also illustrate this interdependence: if water is subsidized to sell below cost (as is often the case), energy producers - major water consumers - are less likely to conserve it.  Energy subsidies, in turn, drive up water usage.

The report stresses the imperative of coordinating political governance and ensuring that water and energy prices reflect real costs and environmental impacts. 

"Energy and water are at the top of the global development agenda," said the Rector of United Nations University, David Malone, this year's coordinator of World Water Day on behalf of UN-Water together with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). 

Significant policy gaps

"Significant policy gaps exist in this nexus at present, and the UN plays an instrumental role in providing evidence and policy-relevant guidance. Through this day, we seek to inform decision-makers, stakeholders and practitioners about the interlinkages, potential synergies and trade-offs, and highlight the need for appropriate responses and regulatory frameworks that account for both water and energy priorities. From UNU's perspective, it is essential that we stimulate more debate and interactive dialogue around possible solutions to our energy and water challenges."

UNIDO Director-General LI Yong, also emphasized the importance of water and energy for inclusive and sustainable industrial development. 

"There is a strong call today for integrating the economic dimension, and the role of industry and manufacturing in particular, into the global post-2015 development priorities. Experience shows that environmentally sound interventions in manufacturing industries can be highly effective and can significantly reduce environmental degradation. I am convinced that inclusive and sustainable industrial development will be a key driver for the successful integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions," said Mr. LI.