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ARTICLE: As much as half the world's water supply is being stolen, with agriculture responsible for much of that, according to a new study. Writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, an international team of researchers says thieves steal between 30% and 50% of the planet's water supply every year. Overhauling legal and political frameworks could protect precious water supplies, they say.

Douglas Broom (Global water supplies are under stress from rising populations-published on Sep. 3, 2020 in World Economic Forum's Weekly Agenda) has thrown into bold relief some important features of the study.

The theft of water, according to the study, takes various forms, including using treated drinking water without paying for it, and taking water from natural sources in breach of environmental guidelines. Agriculture, which accounts for 70% of global water use, is often said to blame. The report found that social attitudes and uncertainty over future supply help drive the crime.

While water theft does take place in richer nations, those stealing water are often poor and vulnerable people in developing countries, according to the paper. Combined with a lack of data, this has led to the issue being under-researched.

Although the study calls for tougher penalties for stealing water, the authors note that where people understand water regulations and believe everyone else is obeying the rules, water theft is much lower.

The authors say that improved monitoring technology will play a major role in helping to tackle the issue.

Meanwhile, the world's water supplies are said to be under increasing strain. The global population tripled in the 20th century and rising living standards have further stimulated demand. Climate change, on the other hand, is accelerating the problem of water stress across the planet.

Water is the primary medium through which the world will feel the effects of climate change, according to United Nations Water Council. It says water availability is becoming less predictable, with flooding and droughts both increasing.

More than 2 billion people live in countries suffering high levels of water stress, and by 2040 a quarter of the world's children will be living in areas of extreme water stress. Water scarcity could lead to the displacement of up to 700 million people by 2030, the UN predicts.

Data compiled by the World Water Council says that, overall, domestic consumption only accounts for 10% of worldwide water usage, with industry taking 20% and evaporation from reservoirs claiming a further 4%. The rest is down to agriculture.

The World Economic Forum's Global Water Initiative was launched in response to a warning from scientists that the gap between global water supply and demand would widen to 40% by 2030.

According to a World Bank Blog written by Martin Craig Hall (Eight reasons why partnerships are vital for water, published in WB Newsletter on August 24, 2020) since water touches every aspect of development and flows through nearly every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG), delivering on such complexity and scale will always exceed the capacity or capabilities of any one individual organization, and partnerships provide a strategy and offer a platform to marshal the necessary resources, skills and ideas.

There are many ways in which partnerships support WB efforts:

A High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), consisting of 11 Heads of State and a Special Advisor and convened by the World Bank and the United Nations resulted in a call for accelerated action in this crucial area. With messages from heads of state, a global report launch, a video viewed more than 120,000 times and a day of action around World Water Day, the HLPW helped drive attention and secure commitment to delivering the water-related SDGs.

More recently, the Water team has worked closely with UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) on the centrality of water, sanitation and hygiene element to the COVID-19 response, and worked closely with Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) to reach ministers of finance directly to advocate for the importance of investments in these areas.

Every year on Menstrual Hygiene Day, WB works in coalition with the NGO WASH United and over 500 other partners from around the world to raise awareness and catalyze action around this crucial issue. In 2019, this coalition made over 114,000 contributions on social media, delivered 724 events in 74 countries, and helped bring new evidence and ideas to the audiences.

This year, the World Bank teamed up with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government at the Harvard Kennedy School and Project Clear to produce a brief and a blog providing guidelines and principles to help governments develop national communications strategies for behavior change to combat COVID-19.

Professor Val Curtis, Director of the Environmental Health Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, explains why the Bank were natural partners for this work: "The Bank is a partner of choice as it has a firm understanding and commitment to the need for professional communications at the heart of program design and implementation. They understand that behavior change is fundamental to any social change, and for the need to take a scientific and strategic approach to it."

Good ideas spring from many sources, which is why, in May 2020, the Bank, alongside water innovation accelerator Imagine H2O, hosted a virtual event for staff across the world showcasing 14 water technology businesses with promising products and services. Facilitating these connections have already delivered tangible results-the Water team at the Bank, previously connected Drink well with the Chittagong Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, leading to the first deployments of four water ATM booths providing safe drinking water access to 5,100 people. In cooperation with the utility, Drink well will be rolling out an additional 96 systems in 2020 and 2021 across Bangladesh's second largest city.

Every two years, the World Bank's Water team brings together key partners and clients for dialogue on critical challenges. Water Week 2019 included keynote speakers from a wide range of institutions. Another regular event has traditionally been the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) Water Week. These fora offer the chance to speak directly to so many of the people who are engaging on water and sanitation issues, where World Bank staff can collaborate with global experts, share what they are learning through our research and seeing on the ground, and learn about what other people in this space are working on.

With the underlying objective of improving canal water distribution in Sindh, the World Bank's Sindh Water Sector Improvement Project (WSIP) has finished upgrading infrastructure in seven main canals, 28 branch canals, 173 distributaries, and improving drainage infrastructure across 200,000 hectares of farmland.

The infrastructure modernization ensured adequate hydraulic control at critical points in the canal system, while the social and institutional dimensions have fostered good collaboration between the farmers (managed by the Area Water Boards and Farmers' Organizations), and engineers (managed by the Irrigation Department). The Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA) played a critical role as an intermediary between the two sets of actors.

As a result, farmers have started successfully harvesting four different crops in a single year: cotton, corn, apple gourd, and wheat. This year, wheat crops have yielded exceptionally, and the farmers have rotated crops to keep the soil healthy.

Another priority is to modernize Sindh's irrigation system, which was developed more than 80 years ago when the demand for water was less. Now greater needs for drinking water, agriculture, industries, and ecosystems have made it urgent to regulate water flows better. To this end, the project is bringing best practices from around the world, and has suggested several water management models to the Government of Sindh.

The current legal framework, which is based on the Sindh Irrigation Act of 1879, is being updated to cover water resources management such as water quality and protection of wetlands.

The WSIP success story is now being recognized internationally. It has recently won the Award of Merit in Engineering News-Record's (ENR) 8th annual Global Best Projects competition, after it was submitted by Mott MacDonald.

The Bank's track record of working with clients in the field allows them to provide exceptional insights on the best ways to design and build next generation infrastructure.

The World Bank's multi-donor trust fund, the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP), is another pillar of the Water Global Practice's approach to partnerships. Launched in 2017, GWSP aims to provide action equal to the ambition articulated within the SDGs.

The 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) is a public, private, civil society partnership hosted by the World Bank. The partnership supports country-level collaboration designed to unite diverse groups with a common interest in the sustainable management of water resources.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020