Information and Knowledge Tools to Increase Uptake of Nature-Based Solutions

  • 2018/09/04     Stockholm, Sweden

    Image: Ravi Kumar

    The message at the opening of World Water Week 2018 (26–31 August) was loud and clear: we urgently need more Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) to avoid a global water crisis. This calls for joint action – one that is empowered by data, information, and knowledge on NBS.

    At one of the sessions opening the week-long gathering of water experts, world leaders, and civil society representatives in Stockholm, “Using Information Tools on Multifunctional Nature-Based Solutions to Achieve SDGs” explored how modern easy-to-use information and communication tools can be optimised to increase the use of multifunctional NBS.

    Jointly organised by UNU-FLORES, the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), Global Water Operators’ Partnerships Alliance (GWOPA) at UN-Habitat, Bremen Overseas Research and Development Association (BORDA e.V.), and IRIDRA, it addressed the design and implementation of online platforms, which can support scientists and practitioners in their contributions towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in line with the Week’s theme of “Water, Ecosystems, and Human Development” this year.

    Chaired and moderated by José Luis Martin (GWOPA), the session brought together panellists from different backgrounds to discuss opportunities and challenges associated with using wetlands as nature-based solutions. Discussions focused on the design and use of information and knowledge tools to facilitate the implementation of the SDGs and their targets.

    Fabio Masi (IRIDRA) strongly urged for a new way of thinking about water management. We need to move away from the typical dichotomy between water supply management and wastewater management. Fabio Masi, Alexander Wolf (BORDA), and Paula Kehoe (San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, on behalf of GWOPA) each presented various examples of NBS that help overcome that divide by bringing decentralised wastewater treatment to the community and household, providing a direct source of fit-for-purpose supply.

    Image: Ravi Kumar

    Image: Ravi Kumar

    Tamara Avellán (UNU-FLORES), Nidhi Nagabhatla (UNU-INWEH), and Alexander Wolf demonstrated how information tools can help collate this global knowledge and provide benchmarks on design, financing, legal constraints, and other data and information that are crucial when deciding about the implementation of technologies.

    CWetlands and mWater are two tools that try to fill the void in global level data collection on (nature-based) solutions for (waste)water management. These tools can evolve to build a community of practice beyond scientists and engineers to inform government and financing mechanisms.


    Design: Claudia Matthias/UNU-FLORES

    CWetlands compiles data on constructed wetlands by systematically consolidating and curating them according to user needs and through users who provide their data to the platform. Through web-based maps, it gives benchmarks on design, operation and maintenance, and removal efficiency parameters according to wastewater type, climate, or Human Development Index.

    A beta version has been launched and feedback on the platform, as well as funding and data are welcome.

    During the world café segment, participants highlighted the need for promoting an inclusive approach of both nature-based and decentralised solutions to overcome the challenges in rapidly urbanising areas. They were particularly impressed by the success of using constructed wetlands within the headquarters of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that allowed to cut down freshwater use by 60 per cent. The City of San Francisco has established a streamlined permission process and ongoing monitoring and reporting requirements to allow other buildings/districts in San Francisco to collect and treat water onsite while ensuring adequate protection of public health.

    Session participants agreed that wastewater stream separation, onsite treatment, and building internal reuse should become a standard for all new housing projects worldwide to help achieve SDGs. Defining management requirements for protection of public health and understanding equity issues when deciding on centralised versus decentralised systems is critical to leaving no one behind.

    2030 WaterSecure

    2030WaterSecure aims to build the capacity of states and stakeholders on the water security agenda and to tackle the 21st-century water challenges by employing state-of-the-art data, information and knowledge, and various communication tools. The focus is on young water professionals and the next generation of experts.

    Nature-based solutions are in principle well suited for decentralised treatment of water with various degrees of pollution. Information tools can help delineate benchmarks for participatory or community-led planning, design, and operation and maintenance under varying local conditions. These tools can further collate information on the ecosystem services that NBS provide.

    Going forward, the CWetlands team, for instance, seeks to explore ways to extend the dataset on the platform through users and its own efforts and to link its outcomes with ongoing efforts promoting the SDGs as well as other broader ongoing efforts such as the ones of mWater.

    Image: Tamara Avellán/UNU-FLORES

    Organised by SIWI Stockholm International Water Institute annually, a record number of 3,700 participants attended World Water Week this year to discuss tangible solutions to the mounting water challenges. Besides convening the session, UNU-FLORES and UNU-INWEH also represented the United Nations University (UNU) in the World Water Week Exhibition. In conjunction with the Week, UNU has also run a social media campaign with the hashtag #UNU4Water. The campaign page features a selection of work on water across all institutes.