Water earns top spot at Asia Pacific Urban Forum 7

By Vincy Abraham (v.abraham@wateryouthnetwork.org)

The Asia Pacific Urban Forum is a regional event organized by the UN Economic & Social Council for Asia & Pacific (UNESCAP) and the UN Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat) every 4 years. The 7th edition of APUF took place between 15th-17th October 2019 in Penang, Malaysia hosted by the Government of Malaysia, Urbanise Malaysia and the City Council of Penang. This was a significant event for urban practitioners, planners, and activists alike as it was the first major regional event after the global declaration of the New Urban Agenda in 2016.

As a professional, this forum brought two of my passions together – water and urban. You would have seen how we are witnessing the adverse interactions between urban and water in the form of the water crises in cities like Cape Town and Chennai, growing flood risk, lack of urban water & sanitation infrastructure, degradation of urban spaces, impacts on health, etc. Indeed, there needs to be a confluence of ideas and solutions to mitigate these problems and make progress. APUF-7 provided a platform for exactly that! Over the course of 5 days, I got to discuss and deliberate with decision-makers, technical agencies, funding agencies, stakeholders in the urban space, especially young people, how we need to prioritize the way think and imagine water in the urban space. 

APUF-7 kicked off with a number of simultaneous stakeholder assemblies. I represented WYN and hosted a YouKnoW-Disaster Risk Resilience (DRR) workshop on Critical Infrastructure and Flood Risk Management at the APUF-7 Youth & Children Assembly. Through the workshop, young people were introduced to the key concepts around Critical Infrastructure, Flood Risk and Risk Management. The workshop had a one-hour interactive slot where these young people drew up their own strategies and plans for FRM to protect CI based on a case study of Chennai city. The goal of the workshop was not just to get young people excited about DRR but to also get them excited to work on DRR-related projects together. I took the opportunity to introduce young people to our YouKnoW! Project, WYN’s flagship project on bringing together young-led projects and initiatives. I shared about YouKnoW’s Research Lab and Ideas Incubator Challenge as well – both these resources are being built to help young people work on water projects together. They are set to roll out by 2020. Please watch the video of a participant sharing his workshop experience here.








It didn’t stop there! I shared Water Youth Network’s core message and priorities on the panel discussion at the Opening Plenary of APUF-7 Youth & Children Assembly with the Executive Director of UN-Habitat. In the next 3 days, I was invited to speak at UNDP Session on Youth Social Entrepreneurship and Future of Asia Pacific Cities as well as at the UNFPA session on Leave No One Behind: Addressing changing Urban population dynamics with the Regional Director of UN-Habitat, APAC. 

My key takeaways from interactions with the panelists who are thought leaders and practitioners are below:

  1. Interdisciplinary approaches to solving global and local issues are the only way forward. To achieve SDG 11, we need to be working on SDG 6 and vice versa.
  2. Multi-stakeholder engagements need to be incorporated in water and urban governance. Interacting and engaging with stakeholders across the spectrum (including government, private sector, startups, research & technical agencies, community) will ensure that each voice is represented in the decision-making process.
  3. Regional, local and cross-cultural learning needs to be encouraged. Mutual sharing of challenges and best practices can help cities and urbanizing neighborhoods in the long run.
  4. Finally, social entrepreneurship is instrumental in achieving SDG 11 and 6 together. Creating the right pathways for the growth of these enterprises needs to be a priority. Projects like YouKnoW! can contribute to making a much-needed impact.

I’m immensely grateful to the pioneering work WYN is doing with young people in the water sector and to be able to share it on a global platform. It was also a special moment for me to be representing the YouKnoW! Project as I had recently taken over to lead the coordination of the group. Please take a moment to check the YouKnoW website and reach out to us if you have a youth-led project on water. Finally, deeply grateful to the wonderful team from UN-Habitat, UNESCAP, UNDP, and UNFPA to invited me to talk and share my insights and learnings from the ground.