Press Releases

    ENV/DEV/766
                                                                                 21 April 2004

    Meeting Global Goals for Safe Drinking Water Access, Integrated Water Management Focus in Sustainable Development Commission

    Water Policy and Reforms, Regional Efforts, Demand Management, Conservation among Issues Addressed in Several Interactive Sessions

    NEW YORK, 20 April (UN Headquarters) -- With many countries and regions in real danger of missing critical near-term development targets related to water -– chiefly the 2015 goal of halving the proportion of people without access to sanitation and drinking water -- the Commission on Sustainable Development today devoted its full slate of meetings to the sector, holding parallel dialogues to discuss strategies for improving water quality and ensuring better management of global freshwater resources.

    Focusing on three priority areas -- safe water, sanitation and human settlements -- the Commission’s twelfth session, which opened yesterday, will aim to measure progress towards achieving the goal of sustainable development formulated at Rio in 1992, and the targets set down in the Millennium Declaration and reaffirmed at the Johannesburg World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002.

    During four panel discussions over the course of the day, United Nations Members, civil society groups and regional representatives shared their experiences aimed at averting a looming water crisis. Yesterday, high-level speakers had warned that people in many poor countries were already living in areas where it was difficult to find sufficient fresh water, and more than 2 billion people worldwide will face severe water shortages by the year 2025 if the world continues consuming water at the same rate.

    With those sobering statistics in mind, participants today agreed that it was not only essential to uphold the pledge to halve by 2015 the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or to afford, safe drinking water, but to work harder to find ways to stop unsustainable exploitation of water resources by developing water management strategies at the regional, national and local levels, which promote both equitable access and adequate supplies.

    A large part of the discussion over the course of the day was devoted to the need for countries to design and adopt water policies and reforms aimed at making use and governance of water resources more effective and sustainable. A host of water policy experts led those talks, stressing that integrated water resource management was the best way to achieve water reform. Participants also said that both suppliers and consumers must practice water conservation -- suppliers must be efficient, and consumers must learn how to save water.

    Among the delegations highlighting innovative reforms or projects in water management that their countries had carried out, Canada’s representative outlined that country’s soon-to-be-developed water quality index, which will “grade” water sources from “excellent” to “poor”. Canada had also developed several “ecosystem initiatives”, which recognized links between water, air, land and human activities. Many African nations had creative strategies under way or in the works. Uganda’s representative noted that his country had been the first to adopt a national water management plan following the Rio Conference.

    He also emphasized Uganda’s important position as one of the main guardians of sustainable use of the Nile. He also drew attention to a regional initiative aimed at ensuring sustainable, ecologically sensitive use of Lake Victoria. But, he emphasized a point echoed by many other African delegations: while his Government, with the help of global partners, had pushed ahead with other projects over the past 10 years, international support was drying up, and the goals that Uganda itself had not been able to meet were now in danger.

    The representative of Mauritius, whose country is set to host the International Review of the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States this August, was among the many speakers to urge the Commission not to lose sight of small islands’ unique concerns. Providing adequate water and sanitation was hampered by the lack of trained staff, basic data and information, infrastructure and legislation. Further, existing decades-old urban and rural water supply systems often leaked high levels of freshwater. The lack of capacity and scarcity of funds made it difficult to upgrade those systems, and islands were forced to accept solutions imposed by consultants who had little understanding of local conditions.

    The Commission also heard from representatives of several major groups –- women, local authorities, trade unions, non-governmental organizations, farmers, indigenous peoples, the scientific and technological community, business and industry, and youth. Some of the themes that emerged from the interactive dialogue, included the increasing scarcity and continued lack of access to water; the need for increased funding; the need to raise the level of education; and the importance of viewing water from a social dimension, not just as a commodity.

    Speakers repeatedly stressed the need to guarantee affordable water for the poor, as well as to incorporate the gender perspective in water management, and provide a regulatory framework for privatization activities. The Youth Caucus stressed that water usage should be seen as a human right. Therefore, civic groups, cultural agencies, women and particularly leaders of indigenous communities should be involved at every level in discussions on water management issues, chiefly those that involved watershed management and the use or freshwater sources, such as river basins.

    When the discussions turned to regional perspectives, the representatives of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) made presentations.

    Participating in today’s discussions were the representatives of Canada, Mauritius (on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States), Thailand, China, Switzerland, United Republic of Tanzania, Ireland (on behalf of the European Union), India, Finland, Turkey, Brazil, Bhutan, Uganda, Kenya, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Malaysia, Senegal, United States, Norway, Belgium, Colombia, Mexico, New Zealand, and France.

    Also, Australia, Tajikistan, Benin, Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Japan, Algeria, Tajikistan, Australia, Fiji, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, United States, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Cuba, Russian Federation, Kyrgyzstan, Czech Republic, Sweden, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Netherlands, Germany, Lesotho, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Greece, Costa Rica, and Nigeria.

    Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State, United Kingdom, also addressed the dialogue. In addition, a representative of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) made a statement.

    Also speaking were Mike Muller, Director-General, Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, South Africa; Raquel Alfaro Fernandois, the former General Manager of the Santiago Metropolitan Sanitary Works Enterprise, Chile; Yanyan Li, Deputy Chief Engineer and Professor, Water Resources and Hydropower Planning and Design General Institute, Ministry of Water Resources of China; Rory Villaluna, Executive Secretary, Streams of Knowledge, the Global Coalition of Water and Sanitation Resource Centres, Philippines; and Dennis Mwanza, Director-General, Water Utility Partnership for Capacity Building, Côte d’Ivoire.

    Participants also included: Keiko Okaido, Deputy Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); A.Y.B.I. Siddiqi, the former Secretary, Local Government Division, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and Cooperatives, Bangladesh; Professor Kuniyoshi Takeuchi, President of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences, Japan; and Brigita Schmognerova, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

    Statements were made by the following groups: women; local authorities; trade unions; non-governmental organizations; farmers; indigenous peoples; scientific and technology community; business and industry; women and youth. Speakers were from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and local authorities.

    The following speakers introduced the discussion on balancing water uses: Frank Rijsberman, Director-General, International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanka; Munter Haddadin, Former Minister of water and Irrigation, Jordan; and Alfred Duda, Senior Adviser, International Waters, Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

    Introducing the discussion on water demand and water conservation were: Mr. Rijsberman; Apichart Anukularmphai, Professor, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand; and David Brooks, Director of Research, Friends of the Earth, Canada.

    Background

    The Commission on Sustainable Development met this morning to continue its twelfth session, holding parallel interactive dialogues on matters related to the sustainable water use, consumption and management. Water issues top the Commission’s cluster of chosen themes for this 2004-2005 session. Sanitation and human settlements will be discussed in the coming weeks as the panel continues its consideration of issues related to the overall implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. [For background, see Press Release ENV/DEV/762]

    Experts Opening Remarks

    YANYAN LI, Deputy Chief Engineer and Professor, Water Resources and Hydro-power Planning and Design General Institute, Ministry of Water Resources of China, said proper water use -– and, therefore, effective water policy -– was essential for sustainable development in China and elsewhere. He highlighted specific policy reform initiatives under way in his country, which were focused on real cooperation between the Government and the private sector, as well as recognition of specific urban and rural needs. Flood management was also a focus, he added.

    Civil society actors had also been brought in to work closely with government authorities in identifying vulnerable communities, particularly in poor rural areas. Overall, the Government had concentrated on changing water production and consumption patterns while maintaining and protecting the country’s fragile ecosystems. A comprehensive water resource-planning initiative had been under way since 1992 with a hoped-for completion date set for sometime in early 2005. Along with that project, the Government had embarked on a marketing campaign, he added.

    MIKE MULLER, Director-General of the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry of South Africa, said that his country was very arid with most of its natural resources under pressure from increased agricultural activity and natural disasters, among other things. The country’s very national development depended on water resource-management policies that ensured natural sources were protected, and that safe, clean water was delivered to the people. When the country gained its independence, authorities had separated policies covering water rights from land ownership laws, thus, ensuring that specific sources of water were not owned as an incidental right of land ownership, and that water use could be regulated in the public interest.

    He stressed that the objective of South Africa’s water resource-management policy was to achieve optimum social and economic benefit for the nation, while recognizing that usage patterns would change over the years. That principle was at the heart of the emerging notion of the importance of water and development.

    RAQUEL ALFARO FERNANDOIS, former General Manager of the Santiago Metropolitan Sanitary Works Enterprise of Chile, described three aspects of water resource management. The first was the need for government commitment in setting up a comprehensive framework for water management. Such a framework would include a legal and regulatory framework for water management, territorial concessions, government subsidies, and an independent water regulator. The second aspect was the need to change unsustainable patterns of water production and consumption. To that end, water conservation must be practised by both suppliers and consumers; suppliers must be efficient, and consumers must learn how to save water. The third aspect concerned the question of public or private water enterprises for water resource management. In that respect, she noted that public enterprises could be as efficient as private, if they were given the independence to choose their staff and programmes.

    Interactive Dialogue

    During the ensuring discussion, several speakers spoke of innovative reforms or projects in water management that their countries had carried out. Canada’s representative outlined its soon-to-be-developed water quality index, which will describe water as excellent, good, fair, marginal or poor. The country has also developed several “ecosystems initiatives”, which recognize interrelationships between water, air, land and human activities.

    The representative of Mauritius, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, stressed that managing water sustainably in small island developing States was vital for sustainable economic growth, as well as improvements in public health, living conditions and the environment. Water resources and sanitation were inextricably linked because wastewater disposal had a direct impact on the quality of freshwater resources, particularly in low-lying islands and coastal areas. The economic and public health implications of degraded and depleted water supplies and poor sanitation were far-reaching. Poor health led to reduced individual productivity and lost development opportunities. The impact was particularly marked with women, who bore the additional burden of water collection.

    Providing adequate water and sanitation in small island developing States was hampered by the lack of trained staff, basic data and information, infrastructure and legislation, he continued. Extreme weather, such as severe floods and droughts, resulted in serious environmental and health problems. Lack of adequate legislation, education and awareness left scarce resources unprotected and exposed the community to the risk of water shortages and contamination. Health problems resulting from inadequate water supply and sanitation were seriously affecting urban dwellers, who were facing a rise in the incidence of contagious diseases. Existing urban and rural water supply systems, which were several decades old, suffered from high levels of fresh water wastage. The lack of capacity and scarcity of funds made it difficult to upgrade those systems, and small island developing States were forced to accept solutions imposed by consultants who had little understanding of local conditions.

    Thailand and China were among the many delegations to focus on their national efforts to undertake water sector reforms and ensure the equitable and sustainable provision and distribution of water. The Chinese representative focused on the particular difficulties his country had faced in providing water in rural areas.

    This was important because, for China, that meant meeting the needs of some 34 million people, while at the same time finding ways to preserve fragile ecosystems, particularly in the Yellow River Basin. The Government recognized that China had serious land degradation problems and was trying to formulate integrated management plans that addressed the needs of both humankind and nature.

    The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said that his Government was pushing ahead with its integrated water management plans, but its efforts had been hampered by budget limitations and a low level of awareness among stakeholders. The representative of Uganda said his country had perhaps been the first to adopt a national water policy following Rio.

    And while the Government, with the help of international partners, had moved forward aggressively over the past decade, international support was declining, and the goals that Uganda itself had not been able to meet were now in danger. He went on to highlight Uganda’s important position as one of the main guardians of sustainable use of the Nile. He also drew attention to a regional initiative aimed at ensuring sustainable, ecologically sensitive use of Lake Victoria.

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the representative of Ireland stressed that integrated water resource-management policies should aim to make the use of water resources more sustainable and should focus on strong stakeholder awareness, pro-poor needs and be gender-sensitive. He also said more education was needed to promote more sustainable use of water and better hygiene practices.

    The representative of Brazil said that his country had been implementing Agenda 21 for quite some time in order to provide safe drinking water for its citizens. Brazil’s National Water Council had brought hundreds of independent experts to discuss water resource issues and the impact of water policies on the country’s diverse regions and ecosystems, including the Amazon.

    Speakers also focused on new legislation their nations had drawn up to lay down water policies, protect existing resources, establish institutional frameworks and support water consumers. They also stressed the importance of raising community awareness of water management and conservation. Venezuela’s delegate described a project in his country called “Water in Our Lives”, which included students in water management activities through their schools and communities. People were also taught how to make small repairs in water provision services.

    Mr. MULLER then opened a discussion on building capacity for the cooperative management of water and provision of water services. He noted that South Africa’s water service delivery programme, which had reached 10 million people without water, was now being handed over to local governments. Transferring responsibility to the local level had served as an effective way of building capacity or “learning through doing”, requiring officials to assess their infrastructures and financial needs.

    In poor countries, he continued, the financing of water services must be supported through internal transparent subsidies, while the poorest nations would need continuing external assistance. South Africa had benefited from key donors involved in its water programmes –- from an intellectual and financial point of view. Such collaboration would be particularly valuable in sanitation development, an area which was lagging behind.

    DENNIS MWANZA, Director-General, Water Utility Partnership for Capacity Building, based in Côte d’Ivoire, noted that high poverty levels in developing countries were continuing challenges to water resource development. Cost-recovery utilities must be developed that also considered the needs of consumers. Such utilities would need technical, as well as human and financial, resource capacities. Operational efficiencies must also be addressed, and personnel trained in that area. In addition, utilities needed management capacity to run efficiently, but many suffered from poor governance and low accountability.

    RORY VILLALUNA, Executive Secretary of Streams of Knowledge, the Global Coalition of Water and Sanitation Resource Centres, Philippines, lauded the wealth of knowledge available in the water services sector, and was also pleased that the sector was recognizing the role of training networks. She stressed that capacity building was vital for sustainability, as was building networks and working with them to increase the knowledge base. It was vital to develop trust for one another, for poor men and women, and for the different levels of stakeholders to make knowledge-sharing and capacity building happen.

    The representative of the United States reiterated the view expressed by others that national development depended on good water management, and hailed innovative strategies undertaken by many African countries. He stressed that funding for such strategies, as well as for capacity building, should come from official development assistance (ODA), as well as from taping the private for-profit and non-profit sectors, including local private sectors, working hand in hand with government agencies. He added that before finances could be committed, governments needed to develop and promote bankable projects.

    The representative of France stressed that watershed management seemed to be the most efficient means to ensure organized management and use of water resources, while still focusing on ecological requirements.

    The Youth Caucus stressed that water usage should be seen as a human right. Therefore, civic groups, cultural agencies, women and particularly leaders of indigenous communities should be involved at every level in discussions on water management issues, chiefly those that involved watershed management and the use or freshwater sources, such as river basins.

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the representative of Ireland shared the view that capacity-building and technology transfer were among the main constraints to meeting the Millennium Goals. The Union also agreed that existing information networks and capacity-development at the professional and decision-making levels needed to be strengthened in order to promote new approaches to service provision. He went on to highlight the European Union “Water for Life” initiative, launched at Johannesburg, which was designed to make the Union’s experience and expertise available to other countries.

    Parallel Morning Meeting

    A parallel meeting this morning initiated a week-long discussion on operational aspects of the thematic issues -- water, sanitation and human settlements. Today, in the discussion on water, delegates heard from representatives of several major groups –- women, local authorities, trade unions, non-governmental organizations, farmers, indigenous peoples, the scientific and technological community, business and industry, and youth.

    Some of the themes that emerged from the interactive dialogue, moderated by the Vice-Chairperson of the Commission, Eva Tomic (Slovenia), included: the increasing scarcity and continued lack of access to water; the need for increased funding; the need to raise the level of education; and the importance of viewing water from a social dimension, not just as a commodity. Speakers repeatedly stressed the need to guarantee affordable water for the poor, as well as to incorporate the gender perspective in water management, and provide a regulatory framework for privatization activities.

    Opening the dialogue, the women’s representative said that water had a woman’s face. It was through women’s hands that households, families, communities and whole economies were sustained. Yet, the “commodification” of water made it unaffordable for many. Privatization had taken water resources out of the hands of poor women. Special attention must be given to women living in crisis and complex emergencies, such as conflict, war, natural disasters and environmental change. Those women bore the burden of scarcity of water resources, sanitation and shelter.

    The speaker for the local authorities expressed concern about the slow pace of decentralization and its implications on the targets set and commitments made. Key barriers to sustainable development were poverty, insecurity and violence, environmental degradation, and, in some cases, the growing impact of disasters, both natural and man-made. In light of the many challenges facing local governments, including limited financing for infrastructure, he called for the following actions, among others: a thorough assessment of recommendations by world partners on financing water infrastructure, along with the development of mechanisms to increase water and sanitation infrastructure; engaging local governments as stakeholders; building the capacity of local leadership; and improved sharing of information.

    Speaking for the trade unions, its representative said when it came to water and sanitation, workers were adversely affected first. Water and sanitation must be treated together in a plan that included debt restructuring and forgiveness. Concerning corporate and social responsibility, the unions applauded instructions on corporate social responsibility and accountability where they had achieved positive results, but criticized them when they had been nothing more than “vehicles for corporate image making”. At the same time, it was important for companies to state their intentions, even if they did not always live up to their agreements. He would like to see the governments represented in the Commission state their intentions, as well.

    Several delegations participated in the ensuing discussion, including Sweden’s representative, who insisted that the protection of natural resources was critical to women’s health, while access to sanitation was critical to their dignity. In practical terms, women were strategic water managers. Without empowering them, it would not be possible to fight poverty or environmental degradation. National institutions and local governments needed to enhance women’s role by securing their rights to land tenure and water, as well as to adequate sanitation. Women’s contribution to policy-making must be enhanced, and their equitable participation in decision-making should be facilitated.

    When the meeting turned to the second cluster of major groups, the representative of non-governmental organizations said that implementation at the national level of the agreed goals had been flawed and government strategy papers had been weak. In that context, vertical accountability had been emphasized over coordination and information-sharing. Communities, including their women and children, also needed sufficient and current information. Progress depended upon guarantees of basic services.

    Farmers throughout the world were facing many challenges in accessing and managing water supplies, that group’s representative said. The most critical challenge was having secure access to water supplies of good quality. Agriculture’s need for water was expanding, and the demand for freshwater was increasing. Water was also needed to sustain natural ecosystems. In the future, sustainable agriculture would be called upon to increase water use efficiency and attain “more crop per drop”. Training and capacity-building in the villages would lead to self-reliance in terms of an ability to access water. Another good system was to form cooperatives for water supply. In Sweden, for example, farmers had voluntarily organized themselves into water management groups.

    A representative of the indigenous peoples said that the only way to guarantee that the world had a continuous supply of freshwater was to ensure the integrity of nature and the ecosystems. Many struggles around historical rights to ancestral territories were also struggles to ensure that water resources were protected and their purity maintained. Indigenous peoples around the world opposed all dams and many industries, such as logging and mineral extraction, on their lands. Indigenous peoples had much experience to offer in terms of water management, as their traditional systems were based on principles and practices that balanced immediate needs, but also considered sustainability for future generations. Indigenous populations faced an increasing scarcity of freshwater and lack of access to water sources, as governments created commercial interests that, in turn, led to an inequitable and unequal distribution of water. Underlining the water crisis was a governance and cultural crisis.

    Following those remarks, several delegations took the floor, including France’s representative, who discussed efforts by France to provide access to basic service for the poorest segments of society. “We are embarked upon thinking hard together”, she said, with the United Nations Habitat and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) to provide such access, while taking into account the fundamental rights and basic needs of the population. The idea behind the exercise was to produce a framework with a kind of code of conduct. Also crucial was to determine the principles to be implemented for public and private partnership projects.

    The representative of the scientific and technological community stressed that the full potential of science and technology was under-utilized or incorrectly applied. Both situations could have very significant cost implications and be decisive for the success or failure of important investments. Technological challenges included appropriate low-cost technologies, as too often a “business as usual” application of existing technologies was followed. Despite some progress, the capacity in science and technology to address problems remained underdeveloped.

    Business and industry’s representative said that category was a very diverse group reaching across every sector of business and industrial activity. Everyone in the group had a fundamental stake in developing society’s capacity to meet the agreed goals, but the group was also made up of widely differing interests and perspectives. That was why it was such a fertile contributor of solutions to the current challenges. While acknowledging that business did not always “get it right”, like all other sectors it was learning new modes of engagement and putting its skills to work in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Business engagement was having a real impact, especially in terms of sustainable use and consumption of water. It was optimizing water use and systematically reducing impacts on water quality. Many companies were adopting “zero effluent” policies to ensure that business grew at an environmentally stable rate.

    The representative of youth moderated a power-point presentation. Youth understood the importance of sustainable development. After all, water was life. Throughout the world, people had been affected by the industrialization and privatization of water resources. Youth had networked and organized to protect water. For example, in the Black Mesa area of south-west Arizona, where indigenous peoples had been victimized by industrial use of water, affecting also sanitation and human settlement, youth were creating opportunities through education and outreach. Sanitation issues were also being addressed. In rural Africa, youth had implemented various programmes, including a workshop for integrated water resource management.

    The United States’ speaker was among the delegations that took the floor in response to the above presentations. She said she had been struck by the richness of the comments by the stakeholders present at the session and around the world who had an ability to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals, whether farmers or members of the business community, the media, or women’s and youth organizations. All could contribute. The challenge was to maximize those contributions, including by thinking globally, but acting locally. The second message concerned the need to underscore the inter-sectoral nature of the development process and to recognize, as this meeting had, that water, sanitation and human settlements were interrelated, she said.

    Implementation from Regional Perspective

    Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP)

    The Commission then held an interactive dialogue on the regional aspects of water resource management.

    KEIKO OKAIDO, Deputy Executive Secretary of ESCAP, noted that the Asia and Pacific region had a population of over 3.6 billion -– 60 per cent of the world’s total. Some of the region’s nations were highly developed, but it was also home to several least developed, landlocked and small island developing States. It was well-recognized that the primary responsibility for improved water management rested with governments, but that partnerships between the public and private sectors, as well as with non-governmental organizations, were also important.

    Despite some improvements to water resource management in the region, the overall picture was far from satisfactory, she said. 0ne third of Asia’s population had no access to sustainable water supplies and adequate sanitation. New water supply networks were sorely needed, but financing was difficult to secure. A prime impediment was the lack of cost-recovery mechanisms to encourage private sector investment in water supply systems. Existing legal frameworks often did not reflect water use issues, and more data was needed to ensure informed policy development and integrated water resource management. Coordination within national institutional frameworks and better cooperation with regional agencies was vital in building up knowledge and capacity.

    Turning to the area of human settlements, she said the number of people in urban slums in the region had reached 500 million –- almost half of the total urban population. Growing numbers of slum dwellers, urban poverty and rapid urban growth were overwhelming the efforts of urban governments. The region was also facing severe housing backlogs and infrastructure shortages. Many Pacific island countries had no legislation for oversight or infrastructure for urban areas. Some measures had been taken to upgrade slums, provide low-interest loans, and improve towns, and partnerships had helped in mobilizing resources, as had the active participation of non-governmental organizations.

    Ms. MOSER, of the Asian Development Bank, said that water projects could be extremely effective in reducing poverty. To meet the Millennium Development Goals, the international community must refocus its attention on the rural poor, who were being left behind at almost every turn, she said. The Bank had been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that issues related to water and poverty were given priority placement on the international development agenda.

    The Bank had a pilot project in Viet Nam, which aimed to strengthen pro-poor water governance. That plan, which the Bank was thinking of expanding into other countries, included mainstreaming gender into all water activities, increasing investments in agriculture and other water-related segments that contributed resources directly to the poor, enhancing the resilience of the poor to water related disasters, and producing sustainable natural resources arrangements with the participation of the poor.

    ISIKIA SAVUA (Fiji), speaking on behalf of the States members of the ESCAP subregion of the Pacific, said his delegation saw the current session of the Commission as a platform for understanding the constraints preventing Pacific States from achieving sustainable management and identifying strategic responses to those challenges.

    He highlighted the Pacific Regional Action Plan for Sustainable Water Management, which contained a 20-point strategy to address shared concerns. The plan required solid partnerships that ensured the implementation process would be well-coordinated, cost effective and efficient. He called on the region’s development partners to help the unique region cope with water governance, water provision and protecting fragile water ecosystems and sources.

    A.Y.B.I. SIDDIQI, former Secretary, Local Government Division, Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and Cooperation of Bangladesh, gave a brief history of the “ups and downs” of his country’s efforts to manage its water and sanitation. The country was located in a delta region and, in the past, its citizens had been vulnerable to a host of waterborne epidemics and diseases. He noted that the situation had improved as time passed and technology had helped improve water supplies. But, Bangladesh’s gains were undercut by the discovery of arsenic in portions of its underground water supply. The country was trying to overcome that issue, he said, citing a number of successful and ongoing government projects.

    He went on to say that, while water issues were regularly being addressed, sanitation was usually neglected, largely because people were generally not aware of the dangers of human waste. Some 342 children under two years old died every day because of inefficient sanitation. Tons of human faeces were still deposited and scattered in open fields every day. Still, he noted that sanitation was now considered as part and parcel of overall development. Strong partnerships had been initiated between local governments, non-governmental organizations and health officials to address sanitation issues. And a national target had been fixed to provide 100 per cent sanitation coverage by 2010.

    KUNIYOSHI TAKEUCHI, Professor and President of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences in Japan, said the Asia Pacific’s vast populations, living in regions characterized by widely divergent climates, weather patterns and topographies, were severely at risk of not meeting the Millennium Goals.

    While he noted several positive trends, he was, nevertheless, concerned about the lack of concrete data on water usage and natural resource depletion. By example, he noted to that end that, while millions of dollars were spent on satellite observation of the region, too little money was spent putting the information those observations yielded to good use at local and community levels.

    Delegates from Pacific island States highlighted some key elements of water resource management, such as water conservation and management and the environment; water distribution, especially for the elderly and the poor; tariff and regulatory issues; guidelines for water usage; and water as a commodity. Outlining capacity constraints in developing national water strategies, they also urged all multi-lateral partners to assist the Pacific region in addressing its water challenges. The representative of the United States observed that regional organizations could be used to identify specific gaps in capacity-building, and that the Commission’s learning centre could be replicated at the regional level.

    Representatives of several major groups pointed to the severe difficulties faced by women, who often had to carry water long distances or cope when sanitary facilities were lacking. A member of the farmers group noted that women often became the victims of violence, rape, and molestation when they were forced to relieve themselves in the dark.

    Economic Commission for Europe

    BRIGITA SCHMOGNEROVA, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission of Europe (ECE), said the group had taken up the challenge given by the Commission last year and had organized a Regional Implementation Forum on issues related to water, sanitation and human settlements. That meeting had assessed progress made and noted the challenges ahead. Participants had also shared information on good practices.

    She went on to say that because several of the world’s richest countries were in Europe, many believed that the region as a whole was wealthy and problem-free. But she stressed that some European nations were among the poorest in the world. Many people in the region were adversely affected by waterborne diseases, depleted groundwater resources, and poor sanitation facilities. All that was exacerbated by unsustainable consumption and lack of capacity. But the ECE was working to counter some of those problems in many ways. It had started programmes with governments and others to initiate cross-sectoral programmes on environment, development and health.

    MARGARET BECKETT, Secretary of State of the United Kingdom, presented an overview of the ECE Regional Forum. She said that one of the most important aspects of the Johannesburg Summit had been its focus on action and the need to ensure a process for sustained monitoring and follow-up. The ECE Forum had revealed some development successes for the region, with positive steps having been taken to meet goals on human settlements, particularly in the urban sphere. But those steps were being threatened by rapid urbanization and the scale of waste created by urban lifestyles. To make further sustainable progress meant overcoming a number of problems. “Developing, maintaining and upgrading water and sanitation facilities and housing does not come cheap”, she said, adding that it was essential to enhance institutional regulatory capacities.

    While the regional Forum had revealed that there was no “one size fits all” approach, common themes emerged. All participants had stressed the need to use finances more effectively. Using an ecosystem approach when managing water, sanitation and settlements was repeatedly stressed, as was the need to take into account the different experiences faced by men and women. Partnership and collaboration was seen as essential to successful policy development. It was clear that decentralization and stakeholder consultation also yielded positive results. The region was not yet on track, she said, but it could get on track, especially if it used shared experience to develop sound and effective policies.

    Ms. ERSAN, representing Canadian Youth, said young people were among the groups most vulnerable to deteriorating water supplies and inefficient sanitation systems. They inherited, and had to live with, those problems and were sure to be charged with finding solutions. She stressed that it was necessary to address the issue of water privatization. Access to water must be seen as a human right, she said, calling on all governments, including her own, to follow the United Nations lead on that issue.

    On urban sustainability, she said there was a strong feeling among the youth that the current urban model -– sprawl, which relied heavily on the use of the environment’s chief pollutant, the automobiles –- was outdated. She urged the government to rethink that model. To bring about overall change, youth and government should rely heavily on education. And, as the international community geared up for the United Nations International Decade for Education, she urged all governments and inter-governmental organizations to participate actively.

    In concluding remarks, Ms. BECKETT noted that the dialogue had exemplified problems both in the region and elsewhere, and had highlighted the importance of people in different regions learning from each other. There had been much common ground in what people had picked out of the Commission reports in pursuing implementation of the Millennium Goals and those of the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.

    Summarizing the dialogue, Ms. SCHMOGNEROVA noted that there was a need for regional cooperation to speed up efforts to reach the Millennium Goals and the Johannesburg commitments. There was also a need for increased cooperation between the different regions and regional commissions. She also observed that many speakers had focused on the need for a more action-oriented approach, as well as subregional initiatives. They had also recognized the role of the ECE region in providing expertise and best practices in sustainable development to less developed regions. Finally, the dialogue had also focused on policy issues, including the need for more partnerships between the private sector and civil society.

    Parallel Afternoon Meeting

    Chairman of the afternoon session, BRUNO STAGNO UGARTE (Costa Rica) introduced the dialogue, in which the following broad themes would be discussed: balancing water uses -– water for people, environment, food and other uses; and water demand management and water conservation -– untapped potential?

    Leading off the discussion on the first theme of balancing water uses was the Former Minister for Water and Irrigation of Jordan, MUNTER HADDADIN. He said his country had resorted to a combination of both supply and demand management measures of water. Supply management measures included the construction of dams and implementation of inter-basin transfer projects, supply rationing, as well as the treatment and reuse of water. Those all resulted in negative impacts on the environment.

    He said that demand management measures were manifested in the adoption of an equitable tariff structure for municipal, industrial and tourist uses of water, as well as the introduction of new legislation and farming methods, and the adoption of water strategies and land-use policies, among others. In Jordan, agricultural credit had been used as a ‘carrot’ to promote the adopted policies in irrigation and land use. To give an idea of water scarcity in Jordan, more than 80 per cent of aggregate water demand was bridged by imports. Of a calculated 1,700 cubic metres per capita per year needed, the country only had 300, half of which was in the form of soil water, and that could be used only for agriculture.

    FRANK RIJSBERMAN, Director-General, International water Management Institute, Sri Lanka, discussed the varying domestic needs for water, particularly for food production. Advocating a healthy, balanced diet, he said that, if a vegetarian consumed some 2,000 litres of water each day, steak from beef grown with corn could mean consumption of 5,000 litres per day. There was really not much of a balance between domestic water use and that required for agriculture and the environment. The real balancing was between agriculture and the environment.

    It was often said that irrigating for agriculture took 70 per cent to 90 per cent of the water supply, but that process only took that amount from “blue” water, or the water that people used. For agriculture and the environment, some countries relied on blue water, or river and groundwater, but the large majority relied on “green” water, or soil water. So, there was a need to balance the green and blue water. Balancing was about how to co-manage water for agriculture and the environment across the sub-sectors and develop better systems for sustainable agriculture in harmony with the ecosystems.

    ALFRED DUDA, Senior Adviser, International Waters, Global Environmental Facility, said that, all too often, single sector development projects competed for the same water, to meet only one Millennium Development Goal to the exclusion of others. If there was water for the ecosystems, there would be water for people and water to achieve multiple Millennium Development Goals. Unfortunately, however, about 1.5 billion people were already living in areas where water was overused and the environment was threatened. Water needed to be freed up in both the North and South for environmental sustainability.

    He said that meeting the nutrition-related Millennium Development Goals in the next 20 years required diverting even more water. Water ecosystems were essential. Those drove economies, developed protein and helped populations adapt to changing climates. There was a need to address irrigation efficiency, pollution reduction and sanitation, in order to sustain ecosystems. The need for countries to adapt to fluctuating climates, droughts and floods would lead to a transition in resource management. The new generation of Global Environmental Facility intervention would likely be about implementing resource management nationally to safeguard water ecosystems.

    When the interactive discussion on the above theme got under way, some speakers took up the question of climate change. The representative of the Netherlands said that, with climate change causing drastic changes in water systems worldwide, and major floods threatening the Netherlands in the past decade, his country had been forced to adapt its water systems to human needs, while, at the same time, adapting people to the water system. He urged stimulation of private sector participation because of the availability of funds and the possibility of long-term commitments.

    The representative of Switzerland recalled that, in the nineteenth century, Switzerland had been a poor, developing country. One of its main natural resources was its forests. But, in order to finance the country’s economic development, massive quantities of trees had been cut down and used as a cash crop export to France and the Netherlands to build ships and harbours. The extent of such deforestation was soon felt and much of the short-term economic benefits were then lost, owing to the cost of those damages.

    The delegate recalled that, in 1876, the first law on forests came into force. Subsequently, the Swiss water policy developed in four consecutive steps, beginning with prevention of floods, the use of hydropower, the protection of water quality and, since 1991, implementation of an integrated water resource policy, which included flood protection, water use and water protection. In Europe, flood damage was on the rise as human settlements prone to flooding continued to develop. Switzerland had been emphasizing the ecosystem approach as the first, most cost-effective step. The forests, which were very good tools for water, were protected, and the use of fertilizers and pesticides was forbidden.

    A representative of the Farmer’s Group said that farmers were under pressure from the globalization of markets and the restructuring of economies, especially in developing economies. There was also the diminishing public sector funding of water systems, mostly to the detriment of farmers. Matters had not been helped by pressure to put tariffs on water and “measure those up” with other sectors, such as local industry and mining. All of those things had increased the cost to farmers for developing infrastructure aimed at ensuring they remained sustainable producers and efficient water managers.

    Delivering brief remarks on the second theme of water demand management and water conservation were: Mr. Rijsberman; Apichart Anukularmphai, Professor, Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand; and David Brooks, Director of Research, Friends of the Earth, Canada.

    Mr. RIJSBERMAN said that the second subject was very closely linked to the first. He expected that the demand for water for industries and cities would rise, particularly in the South. In the North, it was expected to go down, as it was already doing in the United States and Europe. To meet the increased demand without further damaging the environment, ways would have to be found to use less water in agriculture, while producing more food and more jobs. For most of the rural poor, increased access to water for production purposes was a major way out of the poverty cycle. He wanted to focus on increasing the value of water. At the basin level and farmer’s field level, that was “crop per drop”.

    He said that, if there was pressure on the farmers and if governments responded well and were given a chance to manage water effectively, then water productivity could go up. There had to be a more basin-wide focus. There were a lot of good technologies available, but the issue was social marketing. New plant varieties could also be developed. Recent advances in maize, for instance, had been aimed at making more drought resistant varieties. Others being made were more saline-tolerant, and rice plants that did not grow with their “feet in water”, but were upland plants, needed a lot less water. He also urged examination of the effects of trade policies on water.

    Dr. APICHART said that South Asia was facing some difficulty in tackling the water demand issue and water conservation. The region had among the richest ecosystems in the world, but part of the region was still facing water scarcity. Agriculture accounted for more than 80 per cent of the freshwater use in South Asia. Increasing the water supply had been done by building more dams and increasing water extraction. In the region, to a large extent, efforts had been confined to incorporating general principles of international laws and policy, increasing stakeholder participation in water management and increasing awareness.

    He said that the problem had flowed from the emphasis on short-term, rather than on long-term strategies. Governments had taken the easier route to increasing water supply, more water friendly routes, rather than asking populations to change water-use behaviour. There had also been a lack of coordination among government agencies and a hesitation to use economic instruments for fear of environmental degradation, among other reactions. That was why water demand management was only slowly getting started. In South Asia, most governments were trying to implement demand management and conservation, but a new approach was needed that would, first and foremost, take care of agriculture. The second issue was political will to risk using economic instruments to make water use more efficient.

    Dr. BROOKS, speaking about demand management, said that in the coming decades more water would be obtained through demand management and conservation than from all of the supply side structures combined. Far more energy had been found in conservation and demand management than in power plants and new oil fields. That was exactly what would happen with water. Water demand management was a very big target. That was essentially an efficiency concept -– more crop per drop, by plugging leaks and improving technology. Water conservation was much more of a behaviour concept -– changing individual choices and habits, and changing social goals. The best way to make such change lay in changing diets away from heavy meat-based menus to more vegetarian-based ones.

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