Among the countless things we take for granted every single day, the value of our essential life source, human medium and matter was realized by all those attending the second sitting of the Colombo Development Dialogues on 31 August 2018.
While the notable personalities who took it upon themselves to educate a diverse group of students, academics, public and private agents on Water Security and Climate Vulnerability presented their opening statements, I couldn’t help think of my teachers in school who, so many years ago, had informed us of the inevitable impact of climate change on the world’s supply and distribution of water.
So many years later, I was sitting in a conference with experts from around the world, discussing the very same, long-predicted emergency.
Professor Dharmasena, arguably the most called upon speaker that evening due to the wealth of knowledge he possessed of the Sri Lankan context in the subject matter, put the audience to ease by informing them the lack of water was not an issue in Sri Lanka. Instead, it was a mismanagement of this essential resource that has resulted in more than 50% of rainwater being released back into the sea. This situation was not difficult for us laypeople to grasp, as the Sri Lankan public has witnessed a simultaneous increase in flooding as well as droughts in opposite areas of the island over the last few years.
Currently, about 10 ministries and more than 20 national departments are involved in the management of water, and the need for an apex decision-making body at this crucial juncture in time was echoed by many of the speakers, with the moderator for the evening, Mr. Nilanjan Sarkar, Deputy Director of the LSE South Asia Centre, provoking the audience into contemplating the existence of an independent and sovereign body, separate from the government and any political influences, comprising of experts and stakeholders to coordinate on matters of water security.
As consumers, we were also reminded of the part we play in the protection and preservation of water and encouraged to reduce our own footprint by consuming sensibly and avoiding wastage.
The interesting aspect of gendered solutions and need to involve female stakeholders, especially female farmers, in the discussion on water sustainability was put forward by Dr. Soumya Balasubramaniya, who advised all donors and stakeholders to invest in the training of female farmers and devise policies with the gender-specific needs of women in mind, such as the deployment of flexible infrastructure to improve access to water, as women may not be able to travel long distances due to their household obligations.
Dr. Giriraj Armaranath discussed the relevance of big data, highlighting the need for accurate and aggregated socio-economic data to be integrated with departmental systems when developing innovative solutions, as well as contingency plans to ensure disaster risk management is inclusive and equitable, and does not disproportionately affect citizens from different socio-economic classes.
Dr. Gasbeek drew attention to the trends in water consumption versus availability, with the demand for water increasing as industries such as tourism flourish, while the consistency of water supply fluctuates. Perhaps the most goosebumps-inducing moment for me that evening, was when he informed the gathering that, despite the droughts faced by many areas in the north and the increased dry spells and reduced rain experienced by folks in the Western province, Sri Lanka was in fact currently undergoing a wet cycle according to monitored climate patterns – which left us pondering how dry the inevitable dry spell would potentially be.
As in most climate change related conferences, the audience was well-informed at the end of the evening due to the impressive dissemination of information, supplemented by the questions asked from designated stakeholders. But Dr. Nilanjan’s repeated assurances that this CDD conference would result in a tangible working paper detailing the day’s proceedings, for utilization by all future policy-makers when formulating sustainable solutions, allowed us to leave with a sense of hope rather than despair. In his words, CDD was about a conscious desire to start thinking of solutions, even if not to come up with them.
This is perhaps exactly what sets the Colombo Development Dialogues apart; the promise of a repository of information compiled by a diverse group of experts and stakeholders, accessible by anyone, anywhere who wishes to take a step forward and make an impact.
The collaborative initiative headed by UNDP and LSE South Asia that is Colombo Development Dialogues promises a prosperous and eye opening first-stage assessment on a range of topics which we all need to start conversations about. I look forward to the next one!
About the author-
Nida Admani is a law graduate of the University of Leicester, currently a Research Officer on the first national study of prisons conducted by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the job of dreams. She enjoins a healthy discussion on world affairs, human nature and the great ironies of life held over coffee, and believes in the power possessed by a written word to shift perspectives