Global leaders meet at World Water Week in Stockholm

Global leaders meet at World Water Week in Stockholm
Photo: Thomas Henrikson
Ministers, presidents, and ambassadors from across the globe are gathering in Stockholm for World Water Week. Here's what happened at the opening ceremony.

Stockholm has been called the Venice of the North, a city of islands – 14, in fact, with 47 bridges to connect them. Water shapes the landscape and is an integral part of the city, with waterways so clean that residents bring their fishing rods downtown and families swim off the shore right across the bay from City Hall.

Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that Stockholm is home to the world’s most prestigious water event and conference – World Water Week.

“I am always proud to welcome international guests to Stockholm,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said on Monday, at the opening ceremony of World Water Week 2015.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: Thomas Henrikson

“I love this city. We like to label it the Venice of the North, and it’s true.”

An entire one-third of Stockholm’s surface is water – water so clean that you can catch fresh fish downtown.

“And eat it with delight,” Löfven exclaimed.

View of Stockholm from the City Hall tower. Photo: Henrik Trygg/Imagebank Sweden

The Swedish Prime Minister was just one of many distinguished guests in attendance at World Water Week, which is celebrating 25 years. Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdulla Ensour and the President of the Marshall Islands, Christopher J Loeak, were also present, along with the mayor of Stockholm and multiple ambassadors.

The week-long event is attended by over 3,000 people this year, from more than 120 different countries. Scientists, politicians, students, researchers, and more gathered to discuss one of the most challenging issues facing the world today.

“The reason that I have literally come halfway around the world to address you today is because there is no issue which is closer to my heart, and closer to the people of my country,” Marshall Islands President Loeak explained.

Marshall Islands President Loeak. Photo: Thomas Henrikson

“As you fly over our islands, 2,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, the sight is breathtaking in its beauty. At the same time, it dawns upon you how vulnerable our home is. That, too, takes your breath away. We are literally at risk of being wiped off the world map.”

Swedish Prime Minister Löfven and Jordan’s Prime Minister Ensour also brought up the intertwined issues of climate change and water shortage.

“This is an issue of central importance to my country and many other countries,” Prime Minister Ensour said. “In the near future, water shortage is expected to become an international dilemma that incites new armed conflicts. It’s an issue of national security.”

As a nation already burdened with extreme water scarcity, Jordan has a lot at stake should the water shortage continue. Lack of water is one of the biggest barriers to growth and development, and Jordan’s water supplies are far below the internationally recognized water poverty line.

“The Dead Sea sinks one metre per year, and in a few years it will vanish from the surface of the earth,” he said.

Jordan Prime Minister Abdulla Ensour. Photo: Thomas Henrikson

Jordan is further burdened by the massive influx of refugees from other nearby nations, making the population and water need skyrocket.

“Jordan has a crisis on top of a crisis.”

But rather than treating water as an issue for conflict, Prime Minister Ensour said that the country uses it for collaboration.

“Just this year we signed a memo of understanding among Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinians to start the first phase of a new Dead Sea strategic project, a master plan for conservation.”

The Dead Sea in Jordan.

The foundation of the project is to use supplies where they are needed the most. In fact, half of the fresh water produced by Jordan each year will be sold to Israel.

“There are many wars waging in the Middle East right now,” Ensour admitted. “But we are a democracy right in the middle, developing our own prototype of Middle Eastern Democracy.”

The opening ceremony concluded with a speech by Rajendra Singh, known as the Waterman of India, and the winner of the Stockholm Water Prize.

Singh echoed Ensour’s sentiments, saying that water, and indeed all of nature, is an important opportunity for collaboration, not war.

“If we can give a little more love and affection to our nature, nature will fulfill our need,” Singh said. “But nature cannot fulfill greed. We can change the war over water into peace, even before it comes. But it’s through action. Through action we can change war into peace.”