"The United Nations Sustainable Goals, Water, and Localized Action for Global Progress Across Sectors": A Conversation with Experts
In the lead up to the 28th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, members of the Haverford community heard from Nora Pillard Reynolds, Ben Ludtke and Joe Batik, systems thinkers working to advance water equity and sustainability around the world.
A panel of experts spoke with members of the Haverford community about efforts to advance local, national and global water equity and sustainability, during an October 27 presentation at Lutnick Library. Presenters deepened students' understanding of how local leadership and career opportunities relate to major global governance goals and initiatives. In this case, the focus was water.
The panel, organized by Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, heard opening remarks from CPGC Executive Director, Eric Hartman, who shared that work toward water equity and sustainable development represents a commitment to human dignity. Hartman added that effective human rights and community development must include the people closest to the problem.
The panelists, Ben Ludtke, Nora Pillard Reynolds and Joe Batik, discussed their work in the context of a United Nations’ goal of achieving water safety for all of the world’s 8 billion people by the year 2030. Water security was one of 17 “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) created by UN member states in 2015, which the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs offers as a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.”
Reynolds, a former Villanova University student, founded the Organization Water for Waslala in 2004 to bring clean water projects to Waslala, a rural and remote municipality in Nicaragua. Her commitment to water equity was sparked that same year by community activists she met in the region. At the time, only 6% of the municipality’s 65,000 residents had access to safe drinking water. By 2012, Water for Waslala had created infrastructure systems reaching 26,000 people in ten different communities with the goal of achieving full water coverage in the region by 2030.
Today, Reynolds works through the University of Pennsylvania’s ImpactED to build trust in Philadelphia’s water supply among residents of low-income communities, who ImpactED data show disproportionately use bottled water because of concerns about the purity of the city’s tap water. Responding to these concerns, ImpactED, a Penn-based center that provides skills support and data to organizations advancing social change, partnered with community organizations and the Philadelphia Water Department to train local “community ambassadors” to allay fears about the safety of tap water and inform residents of the accessibility of water testing and other purity resources.
Panelist Ben Ludtke, whose work at the consultancy company Coho Climate Advisors involves helping large organizations implement climate sustainability plans, said companies face significant financial incentives to address climate change, since “it is expected that up to 10% of the world’s total GDP could be lost due to water crises by 2050.”
Ludke articulated that working with communities and local governments is essential for the success of infrastructure-based sustainable water initiatives because of the need for municipal permits and public acceptance. He went on to discuss the growing emphasis that corporate sustainability efforts have placed on water stewardship, an issue he said has often been overshadowed by efforts to curb carbon emissions. “Large organizations and companies are now asking important questions: how can we work on the natural systems that deliver our water?” Ludke said. “How can we replenish these sources in order to better secure our own water supply and how can we simultaneously secure the community’s water supply?”
As organizations continue to address these questions, they will deliver value both to themselves and the communities in which they are based. “That is what ‘good’ action looks like,” said Ludtke.
The last panelist reflected on the disproportionate effect of environmental degradation on people living in conflict zones. Joe Batik, whose Energy and Water Knowledge Hub UAE works with the International Committee of the Red Cross to improve sustainable energy and water-supply technologies in the Near and Middle East, cast light on the ways in which food and water security impact child development, population hygiene, and nutrition. Batik also discussed his organization’s partnerships to deliver assistance to communities suffering from water insecurity.
Batik expressed enthusiasm about the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai. Creating large-scale solutions to climate related environmental degradation requires collaboration between the private sector, governments, and NGOs, said Batik, who mentioned plans for Red Cross involvement in the conference.
“Our goal is, first and foremost, to acknowledge that countries affected by conflict do not have the capacity to adapt to climate change,” said Batik. “And then we must ensure that these countries are provided with the financing to do so.”
While the panelists approached their work on water sustainability from different points of view – whether from data collection and research, from a desire for corporate profits, or at the behest of national or regional governments, they all agreed that achieving water equity and sustainable development will require interaction with affected communities, including, in particular, making space for the otherwise marginalized voices of those most affected by water inequality.