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Climate Change Requires Better Water Management, say experts

In Stockholm, Sweden, the annual World Water Week conference ended Friday with a strong call for protection of water resources.

Participants endorsed a statement saying water must play a central role in UN climate change negotiations, known as COP-15, scheduled for Copenhagen in December.

Cecelia Martinsen, director of World Water Week, says the conference is usually a platform for delegates to exchange experiences and ideas. Normally, a final communiqué is not issued. But this year is different.

"This year with the climate change negotiations…we felt as water professionals that we needed to send a clear message to those negotiations in order to make sure that water is considered when it comes to the climate change adaptation and mitigations," she says.

Getting more, getting less

The effects of climate change can be felt directly through water. Some regions get more, such as floods, others less, as in droughts.

She says delegates don't want the December meeting to consider water management a separate issue, a "separate vector," but rather an integral part of climate change.

"Water cannot be considered as a sector as such. Water is needed in all sectors, in all parts of society for us to survive. It's vital for human health…. It's vital for production when it comes to industries. It's vital for agriculture," she says.

Thinking differently about water

"We have to look at the agriculture sector…who's actually the user of 70 percent of our fresh water. Usually when we talk (about) water, you think about drinking water or the water that you use at a household level," she says.

Drinking water and household use, she says, account for only 10 percent of usage.

"If in certain areas it becomes drier, of course we have to irrigate crops. So we have to be much, much more careful on that way that we use and…spend our water," she says.

Martinsen says perhaps drought resistant crops that need less water could replace what's currently being grown.

"It's a change of mindset that we need to really take into consideration as institutions, as governments, but also as individuals," she says.

Despite drought stricken regions, globally, Martinsen says, there's not a lack of water.

"It's really the mismanagement, the misuse of water that is our biggest problem. That's why if we do tighten up the way that we use water, make it more efficient in agriculture…but also in the big cities, we will not see this crisis," she says.