The Water Diplomat caught up with Karishma Asoodani, Youth Delegate for Asia at the World Water Council, in the margins of Cairo Water Week, to look at youth issues in the run up to the UN Water Conference in New York in March 2023.
Tobias Schmitz: please tell us what you do currently
Karishma Asoodani: So my name is Karishma, I am a Youth Delegate for the World Water Council for Asia, I joined them in 2018, and because of the pandemic my mandate kind of extended until this December: I will finish my term as a youth delegate with them in December and I am also a young representative in the Water Youth Network, in which I have an interest in youth communications and mobilisation, but I also have an interest in water finance: I am a financial journalist in India with six years of experience. In the WWC there are four delegates and over the past years I have been given a platform and expanded my network, and I have learned a lot about the water sector and developed a bit of a niche in the area of finances.
Tobias Schmitz: As an international water sector, we are currently on the ‘road to New York’: how does this look from your perspective, what has been achieved so far and what remains to be done?
Karishma Asoodani: To be honest, I think from a stakeholder perspective and a youth perspective, it is going great. Youth does still lack that constant support and coordination from key stakeholders, and here I would like to really mention Henk Ovink, because each time we meet across different forums he does really stand firm on including youth in the preparations for the UN Water Conference. However, we need to make sure we do not have youth just ‘by the word’: we need to have them involved in the action. And that is lacking because the support is lacking: we do not want to be just the cherry on the cheesecake, i.e. just to show that youth are present. In each stakeholder consultation that takes place, we do want to be a part of it. We want to be part of the key mandates, the discussions, the financials, etc. Organisations need to re-strategise in order to bring youth into the discussions. I have brought this to the table at the World Water Council: I believe that a youth delegate should be party to the preparatory committee for the World Water Forum. When you do it there, when the youth are involved, it is a team going forward. So organisations need to stop thinking of youth as a separate category from stakeholders: the youth IS a stakeholder.
Tobias Schmitz: Thank you very much: it reminds me of the women and water diplomacy network, where they have very clear structures: where the decisions at the top of transboundary cooperation are male dominated and it is difficult for women, whether they have capacity or not, to take part in discussions on an equal footing. Therefore, the senior diplomats who have a particular level of achievement and track record have set up a mentoring and coaching systems to support younger, upcoming talent. Do you have any ideas on this from the perspective of youth inclusion? How could that be accelerated?
Karishma Asoodani: So in terms of concrete ideas, one of the key areas we agree on as a youth caucus is the need for the UN 2023 Committee to allocate a portion of the budget exclusively to youth inclusion. This is where the conversations tend to end with the youth: we don’t have the budget. We have also proposed to have a youth committee that is a part of deliberations, i.e. to set aside a budget that is dedicated to their remuneration. One could start by at least compensating the youth for what they are doing. Something that we flagged in our Youth Declaration for the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar but that has not taken hold is that national delegations should have at least one youth representative. We have raised the issue with international financial institutions such as the World Bank that beyond specific water related issues for which budgets are set aside, consideration should be given to setting up a Blue Youth Fund which could be used for our on the ground activities. For example, I would like to start campaigning about sanitation in rural India, but I have nothing except my own resources. If my State or National government could provide me with some resources, that would enable us to move forward and have continued action towards New York.
Tobias Schmitz: You mentioned Dakar: what was it about the 9th World Water Forum that motivated you to start thinking about this Fund?
Karishma Asoodani: For the 9th World Water Forum we were encouraged to bring voices from disadvantaged or marginalised communities, and it was through this vision that we put out these priorities for action that I just mentioned to you. The emotional strength of Dakar was also that we had the opportunity to meet after two years of lockdown and to propagate our ideas. At the same time the Youth Space was located away from the crowd, so for the tenth World Water Forum we not only want to be there, but we want to be there with everybody. We need a youth speaker slot at the opening ceremony. We need to start an intergenerational dialogue because we want to start the Forum with that energy: it is a ‘green-red’ dialogue in that we are green and we are ready to be involved, but it is still red in terms of the level of our involvement. For the Tenth Forum, the Youth Space needs to be as attractive and mainstream as the rest of the interaction spaces.
Tobias Schmitz: Since you are a journalist, may I raise the topic of journalism? Currently The Water Diplomat, with UNDP Cap Net, GWP and Africa 21, is conducting regional trainings of journalists with the intention to boost public attention for water through TV, radio and written press. In most regions, there is no specialised cadre yet of journalists reporting on water issues. We would like to open this space to young journalists who would like to develop these skills. Please give me your thoughts on this.
Karishma Asoodani: I think it is an excellent idea: as youth delegates we have had similar online sessions in 2020 and 2021 - predominantly about WASH issues – we disseminated tips and tricks about water advocacy, so I think what The Water Diplomat is doing is excellent and doing this together with journalists is very helpful because I know that most of my media counterparts would not be interested in covering water and sanitation: they would prefer for instance to cover death from malnutrition than to cover death from water. For global leaders, malnutrition will get more traction than water or sanitation. It is important to bring the attention of the public to the fact that this is equally important. I would like to share with you that we have some 23 cohorts involving youth and there are tens of thousands of youth involved through them, so I would love to add you through that chain. I know that all of our youth counterparts are very interested to take through this idea. Nowadays, through water, climate change has begun to affect the economic fundamentals. And it is at this moment that people begin to pay attention: when the money starts going, the problem is real. It is better to pay attention to these issues now before the money goes down as the water did before it.