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Inaugural River Basin and Delta Management Workshop, SIWW

IWC CEO Mark Pascoe spoke at the Inaugural River Basin and Delta Management Workshop, organised by PUB, Singapore's national water agency, and Singapore-Delft Water Alliance (SDWA) at this year's Singapore International Water Week.

The workshop was organised and moderated by Wouter Lincklaen Arriens, Vice-Secretary General of the Network of Asian River Basin Organizations and member of the Global Water Partnership's Technical Committee.

Mark Pascoe, CEO of the International WaterCentre, presented Integrated Management of Our Rivers, and Professor Yang Xiaoliu of Water Resources, Peking University presented Managing Water Stress with Increasing Urbanisation.

Mr Arriens summarised the workshop in terms of its three discussion questions:

1. How can urbanisation improve river basin management in Asia?

Rapidly growing cities across Asia are feeling the impacts of water scarcity, floods and pollution, and are experiencing more uncertainty over climate and extreme events than before. Some of these impacts seem to be the direct result of unsustainable urbanisation practices such as the unregulated conversion of green spaces and water bodies into buildings, thereby increasing the impervious surface and reducing water storage and flood retention capacity.

While cities in Asia are powering the economy and have significant resources at their disposal (human, political, knowledge and financial), they seem to be only in the initial stage when it comes to using these resources to influence changes in river basin management to make it more sustainable.

Across Asia, however, governments and stakeholders have already recognised the need to practice integrated water resources management (IWRM) as an adaptive management process for river basins, and for the cities in the basins, and they are working hard to implement these new approaches.

2. How important are science and politics in managing change in basins?

The need to engage science to inform water management planning and decision-making in river basins was widely recognised by the workshop participants. Both technical and social sciences need to be applied, and in an interdiscplinary manner. Water experts from universities are now increasingly requested to play a key role in the work of river basin councils and organisations.

The lack of good quality data for water planning and decision-making remains a major issue across the region (and globally), and the situation is made more complex because of climate change. New approaches are therefore needed to bring together knowledge from all sources and communities in river basins in a concerted manner, across boundaries, to support better decision-making.

Meanwhile, the articulation of basin visions into strategies with quantifiable targets for which the implementation can be monitored with publicly disseminated score cards, is gaining popularity in the region. Universities are playing an important role in such assessments.

The participants also recognised that more political leadership to develop and support such visions and their implementation is key, and that this increasingly involves politicians at local government levels. Cases where changes in basin management have been effective seem to have benefited from a participatory approach with increased public awareness and collaboration across government, the private sector and civil society.

3. What kinds of leaders do we need to manage water in the face of increased uncertainty?

A new generation of leaders is needed to address Asia's water management challenges, not just in government, but from all parts of river basins "from spring to river mouth" and from all sectors of society. Leaders need to develop the ability to engage with stakeholders "across boundaries" and foster collaboration for integrated water resources management across multiple organisations and levels.

This is a challenging task, and universities can help to educate and train water leaders in these abilities. Several workshop participants from academia stressed their interest to do so, while some are already developing water leader programs.

The workshop participants also argued that for water management in Asian rivers to improve, it is important that societies come to recognise and express their ownership for managing "our river" rather than "the river." Such a change in mindset, together with efforts to tap into a culture of cooperation, is a good starting point.

A more integrally informed approach to water management will therefore put an equal value on "leadership and culture" to complement the existing attention for "science and systems."

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