100 New Commitments Pour in as Water Forum Closes

KYOTO, Japan, March 24, 2003 (ENS) - Water demand is increasing three times as fast as the world's population growth rate, and poverty is the single most important factor related to meeting that demand, said officials at the 3rd World Water Forum, which wound up eight days of meetings on Sunday. More than 100 new commitments towards bringing safe water and sanitation to the entire world were made by delegates to the Forum.


William Cosgrove, vice president of the World Water Council, addresses Forum delegates. (Photo courtesy IISD)
Some 24,000 participants from 182 countries, more than triple the number of participants expected, attended the sessions. The Forum was held in the three neighboring Japanese cities of Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka from March 16 through 23.

Key issues revolved around balancing increasing human requirements for adequate water supplies and better health and sanitation with food production, transportation, energy and environmental needs. In all, 351 separate sessions were held on 38 interlocking themes dealing with water including more effective governance, improved capacity and adequate financing.

A speaker told Forum delegates that the world spends 40 times more for petroleum each year than it invests in water and sanitation infrastructure and maintenance.

French delegate Olivier Bommelaer of the Seine-Normandy River Basin Organization said that "globally $25 billion, or 0.08 percent of global gross domestic product, is invested in water supply and sanitation infrastructure each year. With operation and maintenance, "the total budget of water supply and sanitation is around $165 billion. Just compare this to world oil budget - $ 7 trillion." This estimate was based on a world petroleum price of $25 per barrel, which has now jumped to $35.

The delegates agreed that community level public participation is fundamental to turning the new commitments into realities, and that the "common basic requirement for water is an opportunity for cooperation and peace."

"I have talked with hundreds of participants in sessions and in the corridors," said William Cosgrove, vice president of the World Water Council, one of the main conveners of the World Water Forums, which are held every three years in a different host country.


The Kamo River flows through Kyoto (Photo courtesy Karen TenEyck)
"Without exception, they reported that they consider that the Forum exceeded their expectations," Cosgrove said. "It was a unique opportunity to form partnerships, join networks and learn from the experience of others."

Opening the ministerial portion of the Forum on Saturday, World Water Day, Japanese Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Chikage Oogi identified population growth as one of the most serious challenges in securing water and food supplies. Noting that 2003 is the the United Nations International Year of Freshwater, she urged the delegates to move, "from promise to practice, from commitment to concrete projects, and from intent to implementation."

Oogi presented the Portfolio of Water Actions, a list of some 400 voluntary actions offered by governments to deal with and resolve issues of water scarcity, purity, and sanitation.

Ryutaro Hashimoto, who chaired the National Steering Committee of the Forum, emphasized that the Ministerial Declaration should address the reconstruction of water infrastructure in Iraq and the water and sanitation needs of internally displaced people impacted by the military action.


Green Cross International President Mikhail Gorbachev (Photo courtesy IISD)
Former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, who is currently president of Green Cross International, told the delegates that the war in Iraq "undermines international law and democracy," and said the Forumís work is important in ensuring water for peace.

Gorbachev urged enshrinement of the right to water in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Several delegates, including the International Development Research Centre, a public corporation created by the Canadian government, stated that water is not a commodity, but a human right.

Some 1.2 billion people lack a safe water supply and 2.4 billion live without secure sanitation, according to Water Forum official figures. At least five million people die yearly from water related diseases, including 2.2 million children under the age of five.

An estimated one half of people in developing countries are suffering from diseases caused either directly by infection through the consumption of contaminated water or food, or indirectly by disease carrying organisms, such as mosquitoes, that breed in water.

To solve these immense problems and meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of halving, by 2015, the proportion of people without safe drinking water and basic sanitation, urgent action as well as words is needed, delegates agreed.

"The 3rd World Water Forum has become a truly action oriented conference," said Kenzo Hiroki, vice secretary general of the Forum. "It is well established that investments in water resources management and the delivery of water services are central to poverty reduction. We believe that concrete actions plans will come out of the Forum that when put into effect will make a real difference in the lives of the poor."

The Forum's Organizing Committee issued a final statement, in which the Committee agreed that they will be "solemnly committed to facing the global water challenges and to meeting the goals set forth at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in New York, 2000," Cosgrove said.


Girl draws water from a public well in northern India. (Photo courtesy FAO)
To achieve those goals, countries right now should be connecting nearly 300,000 new people per day to water services and nearly 400,000 people to new sanitation services per day, but far fewer are actually being connected. A net population growth of more than a billion people over the next 15 years is expected, which will add to the difficulty of meeting the Millennium goals.

In its statement, the Committee pointed out that though increasing water use efficiency through developments in science and technology and improved demand management are essential, these measures alone may not be sufficient to meet the growing demand for water in most developing regions and particularly in cities.

"All options to augment the available water supply, including increased storage through the use of groundwater recharge and dams, need to be considered, ensuring that all those who will be affected will also benefit," the final statement said. "The recommendations from the World Commission on Dams (2002) can be used as a reference. A wider adoption of good practice is required in order to avoid the environmental and social costs and risks of the past."

Agreements reached at the 3rd World Water Forum include:

Many countries face a governance crisis, rather than a water crisis, the Forum's final statement said. "Good water governance requires effective and accountable socio-political and administrative systems adopting an integrated water resources management approach with transparent and participatory processes that address ecological and human needs."

The need for capacity building, education and access to information for better water management is unquestioned, the Forum said in its final statement. But these critical elements of the water development process are often given short shrift.

Participation of many sectors of the population is also given little attention, and the Forum participants stressed the need for a closer examination of participation based on race, ethnicity, economic status, age, and religion to ensure inclusiveness. Large segments of society, especially women and the poor, are not given a voice in shaping water policy. Major groups including CEOs, unions, indigenous people, water journalists, parliamentarians, youth and children, the Forum acknowledged, all have a point of view and deserve the right to be heard.

World Water Council president Cosgrove presented the three winners of the Water Action Contest each with a $15,000 prize. The winners are: Gansu Research Institute for Water Conservancy, China; Technology Transfer Division, Bombas de Mecate, Nicaragua; and Voluntary Action for Development, Uganda.