Story by HAL WILLIAMS
Photographs by HEATHER LEAH SMITH
THE InterEcoForum´s eighth event held recently on Spain’s Costa del Sol — addressing the theme of Water For Sustainable Development — attracted some high-profile speakers and experts.
Russian Energy Ministry representative Sergey Shumkov, UN Association representative Aleksey Borisov and Niger Delta Campaign CEO Sunny Ofehe were among the invited guests at the annual event, supported by the United Nations and its agencies, which began on March 21.
“The main (thrust of) my message is the importance of water preservation and water resources,” Shumkov told BV through an interpreter. “We are looking especially at the coal-mining industry, how to keep water resources clean. I will be talking about my experience in Russia, but this issue is international. This sort of conference is important, as is the topic of water.
“Nowadays, it’s becoming a more expensive resource, more valuable than oil. Will there always be conflict between industry and the environment? Our goal is to solve that conflict.”
Nigerian-born Sunny Ofehe said the conference was an important chance to engage with the vital issue of water sustainability. “It has greatly affected the area I come from, the Niger Delta region of Nigeria — the oil-producing area of Nigeria. We are the largest oil exporter in the whole of Africa. Unfortunately, we have serious challenges that come from dealing with water issues. Crude oil exploration, and global warming, of course; a lack of government involvement in the provision of quality, affordable water for the people.
“I just want to be a voice for the voiceless who are suffering from the effects of not having clean water. I want to use this platform to reach out to the international community to see if we can find people who can provide solutions, using 21st Century technology, and other means that can support the governments in achieving water sustainability — particularly in rural areas.”
Ofehe said outcomes from such events were sometimes disappointing, but he felt it was important to take part. “I’ve been an activist for several years now, and it’s been all talk, even at the UN level, at the EU level,” he said. “In as much as my optimism is not high, I still believe that we should continue to engage. At the right time, we will find a solution to the problem that is globally affecting us.”
Natalia Rozum and Angela Lafferty were two of the attendees eager to learn more. “I work as an environmental engineer in a Swedish technical consultancy company,” said Rozum, “and I want to hear about environmental problems and solutions in Spain. I’m very interested in water purification, treatment plants, waste water, communal water. Is the solution technical or natural? I’m interested in the technical side.”
Lafferty’s prime interest is in drinking water, and reducing waste from plastic water bottles. “My background in water is more from an environmental and humanitarian point of view,” she said. “I volunteered for (UK charity) Wateraid, I’ve done fundraising events and awareness events, and at the moment I’m trying to launch Refill.
“It’s an initiative promoting the drinking of tap water from refillable bottles rather than buying bottled water.” What about chlorine and fluoride which some councils add to tap water? “I have met the water companies in Marbella and I’ve spoken to them about it,” she said, “and yes, they do add chlorine to the water.” Chlorine or not, the initiative is taking hold in the UK, with promising results for the environment.
The conference in Marbella had the backing of UN agencies including UNESCO (Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), UNWTO (World Tourism Organisation), and UNDP (Development Programme).
UN Association representative Aleksey Borisov said clean drinking water was at least an issue about which there was little dispute. “No one argues about the importance of water,” he said. “We like to bring together people who are interested in this, especially experts on drinking water, (people who know about) technology that affects drinking water: how to provide enough for cities and combat the water shortage that we have in some areas of the world. It’s very important.”
He aimed to raise the profile of the central topic with his attendance. “I work for the UN Association of Russia,” he said. “This is a group of more than 100 associations around the world, established when the UN was established. It helps academic circles, NGOs, society associations, to interact with the UN in a formal way.
“I will inform the secretaries in New York and Geneva about the (outcomes of the) conference. For this forum, we invited many colleagues from the UN — UNESCO, NDP, the World Tourism Organisation, so we are working with UN agencies that are working with different issues with us. The UN is a long-term partner backing this forum.”
The subjects of sustainability in the water sector and new applied technologies flowed together at the prestigious Global School of Hospitality Les Roches in Marbella, on Spain’s Costa del Sol. March 22, the second day of the conference, was World Water Day, and 2018–28 has been declared the International Decade For Action on water for sustainable development by the UN General Assembly.
Topics under discussion included pollution, the freshwater crisis, sustainable water management, innovation in the fields of water recycling, conservation and consumption, the uses of solar power to combat water scarcity, the economic value of water, and financial innovation.
The key objective of the event was to work towards an innovative future for the water sector.