Posted on September 11, 2019

The world’s worsening freshwater shortage crisis can be overcome if individuals and governments take practical steps to conserve and distribute water, argued three water supply advocates during a special edition of Doha Debates last night. A production of Qatar Foundation (QF), the discussion took place in Cape Town, the South African port city of four million people, where water taps nearly ran dry last year due to a lengthy drought and inadequate water reserves.

Experts say hundreds of millions of people across six continents face the growing threat of losing access to water, while four billion people endure water shortages at least one month out of the year. The opinions of the speakers differed on how best to address the water supply crisis, but agreed that implementation of their combined recommendations would help ensure everyone has reliable long-term access to water. Yana Abu Taleb, the Jordanian co-director of EcoPeace Middle East who guides water-sharing in conflict areas, said, “Water scarcity is real. The solution is pragmatism. The only way to truly resolve the water crisis is cooperation.”

Obakeng Leseyane, a South African education and water conservation activist, stressed that to get water into everyone’s hands, we must “acknowledge that no system will serve the people that it is created for unless we speak about structural injustice.” Georgie Badiel, a supermodel and philanthropist from Burkina Faso whose foundation advocates for equal access to clean drinking water, argued that “our generation wants the world to change, we need the world to change. We can do it. With money and with people like you, right here in this room.” The program included questions and suggestions from audience members in person, as well as millions of people around the world watching the program via Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

The program also featured bridge-building connector Govinda Clayton, moderator Ghida Fakhry, and digital correspondent Nelufar Hedayat, who shared questions and comments from livestream viewers.The debate’s in-person and online audiences voted twice on key questions. In the first vote, Leseyane’s position, “Water scarcity is a facade; let’s address structural injustice,” captured the most interest, with 41.07% of the audience’s votes. Abu Taleb’s position, “Water scarcity is real; let’s find pragmatic win-wins,” received about a third of the vote at 30.6%. Badiel’s position, “Water scarcity is not the issue; let’s fund grassroots organizations,” gathered 28.33% of the vote.

After the Majlis discussion segment, the audience in Cape Town and viewers online voted a second time. Leseyane and Abu Taleb were persuasive, growing their respective positions to 43.5% and 34.83%, respectively. Badiel still held a portion of the audience captive, with 21.67% of the vote. The poll will remain live on Twitter @DohaDebates for the next six days, closing on September 17.

The debate was also livestreamed at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) – a QF partner university – where, following the conclusion of the event, audience members engaged in a Q&A session moderated by Gerd Nonneman, Professor of Foreign Relations and Gulf Politics, and former Dean of GU-Q. Issues raised included the gendered dynamics of water scarcity and the politicization of water as a resource. Amjad Atallah, Managing Director of Doha Debates, said, “The world’s water crisis proved to be an ideal topic for a solutions-focused debate, Doha Debates’ hallmark. Our debate’s participants offered practical suggestions to mitigate this crisis. We thank the people of Cape Town for their involvement in this debate, and we thank our colleagues at eNCA for sharing the debate with their viewers and followers across southern Africa.”

The full debate and highlights can be viewed on Doha Debates’ website and social media channels, with the conversation continuing via the hashtag #DearWorld. South Africa’s eNCA TV network will also televise the program across southern Africa in prime time tonight. The revitalized Doha Debates builds on the tradition of examining complex global issues, established by Doha Debates’ original launch 14 years ago, through live debates, digital videos, a TV series, blogs, and podcasts on the world’s most pressing challenges. This innovative approach includes Majlis-style conversations designed to bridge differences, build consensus and identify solutions to urgent global issues.

The next live Doha Debates program is scheduled for October 23 in Qatar’s Education City, with the topic set to explore the merits and future of capitalism.