Water is vital for all of us, for life on Earth. In many regions, however, the available water resources are not sufficient, and population growth and climate change will not make things any easier. The UN estimates that tens or hundreds of millions of people have left their homes because of environmental reasons, and the situation is expected to get worse in future.
It is a proven fact that long-lasting drought was among the causes for the Syrian crisis. Because of the drought, many Syrian farmers had to give up agriculture and move to urban areas. Migration within the country further aggravated the already conflict-prone situation - with consequences we know all too well.
Local disputes, growing numbers of refugees and conflicts will arise when there is not enough water for all, and in future these are even more likely to lead to international migration and conflicts. Migration is targeted to regions where there still is enough water, including the Nordic countries.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals to 2030 (SDGs) adopted three years ago cover all areas of societal and economic activities. One of these Agenda 2030 goals is concerned with securing access to water for all. Besides a functioning water supply, this goal comprises sanitation, more efficient water use, and comprehensive management of waters. This is the first time when transboundary waters shared by nations also have a specific goal of their own.
If we fail to reach this goal, there is not enough water - or food - and this will lead to massive migration to regions where there still is water.
Ministers, high public officials and representatives of companies and civil society organisations are meeting in New York to review the achievement of the SDGs, including the goal concerning water. We will hear about the state of play towards 2030 and learn about the technical and societal measures that the states, organisations and companies should now invest in.
The key issue is to improve water use efficiency in agriculture, find solutions for the production of clean water, and apply the circular economy principles in water management as well. Scarcity boosts innovation and water-saving technologies are developed all the time. However, financing is still a greater challenge than making technical innovations. Development cooperation funding from developed countries and financial resources available through international monetary institutions will not be enough. Inputs by private investors are needed.
There is hope - but also a lot to do in just a little time.
In Finland water issues are quite well taken care of, but it is up to us - as well as in our interest - to also contribute our diverse water expertise to solving global water problems. This is the best way to secure the basic necessities for living so that nobody has to leave their homes to flee from hunger and thirst.
Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
The article (in Finnish) was published in the Letters to the Editor column of Kauppalehti on 9 July 2018.