IAEA launches global network to develop improved water management strategies
On World Water Day, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has launched a global network to empower countries to develop tailored water management strategies. The Global Water Analysis Laboratory (GloWAL) Network provides assistance for Member States to generate data on water samples, which can inform national water policies and governance, and to strengthen water management capacity through training fellowships and exchanges of staff.
Climate change is having a devastating effect on water supplies, with some areas becoming drier and others wetter. Water resources are under increasing pressure from pollutants and contaminants, aquifers aren’t being replenished quickly enough, and groundwater availability cannot be visibly quantified. With water data, policymakers can make informed decisions on siting agricultural activities and urban planning, based on sustainability and quality of bulk water supply.
Through this new network the IAEA is bringing its considerable resources and expertise to improve water analysis capabilities, to contribute to the attainment of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, on Clean Water and Sanitation.
“Apart from manifestations of policy, promises and descriptions of how dire and severe the situation is, it is important that we take concrete steps together, in order to start redressing the situation and put SDG 6 back on track,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, speaking at an IAEA side event to launch the Network, held on the margins of the UN 2023 Water Conference.
The network will encourage partnerships between developed and developing countries in regional sub-networks in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, and Central Asia, to support the growth of the network through designated laboratories, each categorized as one of three ‘Nodes’. Development Nodes have basic water analysis capacity and require significant investment, Growth Nodes are operational but need more equipment or capacity development, and Anchor Nodes are well-equipped and support other laboratories or countries.
“The energy water nexus is a crucial area of global focus in the era of climate change,” said Geraldine Richmond, Under Secretary for Science and Innovation, Department of Energy, United Sates of America, announcing a contribution of $650 000 towards GloWAL through the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative. “The US is eager to support the IAEA’s Global Water Analysis Laboratory Network, which aims to empower Member States to generate their own water data on chemical, biological and isotopic composition.”
Simon Zbindon, Head of Global Programme Water at Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, speaking on behalf of Ignazio Cassis, Federal Councillor for Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, said: “I am delighted that this already successful sharing of expertise is now to be expanded with the launch of the GloWAL global laboratory network: the Swiss Laboratory in Spiez will support GloWAL in terms of analysis and training; the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, which is part of my department, will support the start of the project with seed funding for hiring much needed staff.”
The GloWAL Network launch event also featured ministers, high level speakers and experts from El Salvador, Germany, Moldova, Namibia, Pakistan, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Switzerland, Tajikistan and the United States of America, as well as partners including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank Group, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC).
“We have to improve our understanding of the hydrological cycle,” said Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General from the partnering World Meteorological Organization. “Our recommendation is that countries establish weather stations at the shared locations in the GloWAL network, for a better picture of what is happening through hydrological measurements.”
Isotope hydrology works on the basis of the composite of water molecules and their isotopic properties, and the combination of these water molecules, which give a water sample a unique ‘fingerprint’. Depending on molecule type and abundance, analysts can measure isotope ratios to track the flow of water and its travel time. Stable isotopic tracers can be used to determine water quality, while unstable (radioactive) tracers can be used to track water movement.
Earlier this month, construction work to upgrade the IAEA Isotope Hydrology Laboratory began with a ground-breaking ceremony in the Vienna International Centre. The laboratory will support the network by providing more capacity development support to Member States and developing more efficient analytical methods. These methods are essential for Member States to gather the information that they need to make properly informed water resource management decisions.
Partnership, investment and resource mobilization
Sustainable financing is a key accelerator for the GloWAL Network and the IAEA is focussed on forging new, diverse and exciting partnerships for funding. The IAEA values a multistakeholder approach to its initiatives and welcomes support and collaboration from international financial institutions, governments, the private sector as well as public–private partnerships.
Partners and interested donors can support the initiative through various avenues including direct financial contributions and education grants, provision of training and expert support, as well as laboratory facilities and equipment. Companies can serve as strategic development partners, offering equipment and other resources that are critical to building the GloWAL Network and for reinforcing the IAEA’s mission to use nuclear sciences for peace and development.