World Water Forum (2018) – highlights from Brasilia

By- Julia Lopes Ferreira (UNU-IAS, M.Sc Student)






The World Water Forum (WWF) held in Brasilia last month was the largest so far, hosting around 100,000 people in the Forum and in its open-access Citizen Village.

Among contributions in different fields of integrated water management, one of the main legacies of the Forum was the Brasilia Declaration of Judges on Water Justice. For the first time, a group of supreme court justices from different countries debated together in a mock International Water Court of Justice, in an attempt to build consensus on the prioritization of universal access to water and the “in dubia pro water” clause.

Panels, activities, workshops and presentations introduced discussions on the various aspects of water: governance, finance, ecosystems, policy, urbanization, development, education and capacity building, among others, and their implications to meeting water-related Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement’s targets.

Throughout the sessions, a few common aspects were more frequently discussed: participation and representation, equal access to all, gender relations and the water dimension of energy and food security nexus. With the exception of the opening session, where only men presented, most sessions included both women and youth leadership.

In the Citizen Village, it was exciting to see the high turn up of children and young adults. A booth by the Water Youth Network and the Youth Parliament for Water hosted astonishing community-based sanitation solutions supported by Brazilian college students.

UNU-IAS was represented in a few sessions. The Water and Urban Initiative (WUI) held a side event to discuss policy recommendations for fast growing megacities in Asia. Despite the highly technical level of the discussions, there was active public engagement in the session – and the researchers were asked to share their lessons learned, application to different scales and contexts, as well as their thought on how education can be better driven towards supporting policy-making.

In a very thorough discussion about inclusiveness in the different aspects of water governance, UNU-IAS’ vice-rector, professor Taikan Oki, introduced the implementation of participative river basin councils in Japan and bottom-up approaches, while other panelists shared their experiences of public participation in knowledge generation, governance and infrastructure solutions throughout the world.

It was, in fact, the lack of inclusiveness, participation and representation the main urging discussed at the Alternative World Water Forum, held in parallel in Brasilia and which also brought together large audiences to debate the legitimacy of the Forum. Indigenous peoples, social movements, students and the young communities demanded their voices be heard, and argued that the high costs and strong presence of the private sector in the WWF shadowed their needs and demands.

The next World Water Forum will be held in 2021 in Dakar, Senegal. Main focus will be given to water security, with a promise from organizers to be the most popular and inclusive forum yet.