UNESCO-Water Future First Episode of Public Discussion Series: Water Security in the age of COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting every facet of human life in 212 Countries and Territories around the world. Although water could be, a transport medium of the virus, it is also a key element in mitigating the crisis. However, with billions of people around the world lacking access to clean and safe water along with adequate sanitation facilities, the COIVD-19 crisis has also brought the linkage between water, public health, and economics into sharp focus and highlighted the need for a global approach to access to safe water. Disruptions in water availability could hamper efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and may increase its reproduction rate as people struggle to comply with preventative health directives that recommend the need to wash hands frequently.

In addition, water scarcity is inextricably interwoven with the health, food, and energy sectors. The impact on these interrelationships has the capacity to significantly disrupt the economic, social, environmental, and political landscape, extending the problem across multiple development sectors. Climate change has amplified the severity of water scarcity, and this pandemic has turned it into an existential crisis.

These challenges are global and thus no institution or country can face them alone. There is a need for a global political and multilateral approach supported by strong International scientific cooperation to bring all players together, such as research institutions, universities, national authorities UN agencies, NGOs, or national or international associations. Furthermore, there is a need to enhance the uptake of scientific findings at the policymaking at the national and international levels. The aim is to use unbiased reasoning to guide social interventions and spend public funds more effectively. In an era where the truth seems dispensable to some politicians, “evidence-based policymaking” champions the importance of getting the facts right towards water security and specifically in the Pandemic Situations.

Within this context, UNESCO as the UN specialized agency with a specific mandate to promote water sciences works to build the scientific knowledge base to help countries manage their water resources in a sustainable way through the only UN Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP), and through numerous Water Centers and Chairs around the world.

The Sustainable Water Future Programme (Water Future) of Future Earth is a global science platform facilitating international scientific collaboration on the application of integrated water research to generate solutions that can be used to support policies for sustainable development.

To achieve water security, UNESCO and Water Future recognize the need to protect vulnerable water systems, mitigate the impacts of water-related hazards such as floods, droughts, and pandemic situations (e.g. COVID-19), safeguard access to water functions and services and manage water resources in an integrated and equitable manner.

Against this background, UNESCO- Division of water sciences and the Sustainable Water Future Programme hosted the first episode of public discussion webinar series on 28th May  to deliberate on the state of water security during the COVID-19 pandemic. The discussion focussed on understanding the current water crisis, and the health and economic risks associated with COVID 19. The speakers will also deliberate on how to predict and imagine the future of global water security and the needs for adaptation mechanisms in the post-COVID era, and discuss the role of digitization, global science initiatives, communication, and international organizations in dealing with water security during COVID-19 and beyond.

Moderator: Andras Szollosi-Nagy, Chair, Sustainable Water Future Programme


Daniel R Brooks, Professor Emeritus, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Canada

VK Madhavan, Chief Executive, Water Aid, New Delhi, India

Blanca Elena Jiménez Cisneros, Director General, Comisión Nacional del Agua (National Water Agency, Mexico), Mexico

Dipak Gyawali, Academician, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology and former Minister of Water Resources of Nepal

Youssef Filali-Meknassi, Secretary of Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme (IHP), Director of Water Sciences Division, UNESCO, Paris, France

Joakim  Giacomoni -Vincent, Head for Public and International Relations, Greater Paris Interdepartmental Sanitation Authority (SIAAP), France

Olcay Unver, Vice-Chair, UN-Water

Manuel Menéndez Prieto, Cabinet of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, Spain


Organized by UNESCO-Division of Water Sciences, Paris and Water Story & International Secretariat of Water Future, Griffith University, Australia