Report on Forum’s Third Day – Debate Strong on Water Rights

The issue of who controls water and how they use that power is called “governance,” which was a major topic of debate on the third day of the 3rd World Water Forum Tuesday.

The international water meeting will debate all major water issues in its eight days of sessions, March 16-23 in the Japanese cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga. On Tuesday, the first sessions to be held in Osaka included the “Water and Cities” and the “Public-Private Partnership”.

“Governance determines who has access and under what conditions, how quality is maintained and how decisions are made and allocations are done in case of water shortage,” said Margaret Catley-Carlson, Chair of the Global Water Partnership (GWP). The conditions include opening the decisions of who gets water to everyone who needs water, just as the Forum has opened its debates to indigenous people, poor farmers, youths, journalists, women and poor urban residents.

In his keynote address during the opening session Sunday, the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands stated that ‘the current water crisis arises from improper governance, rather than from shortage of water per se.’ We have to focus on who makes decisions, who uses water and how it is protected. In governance, government is not the only actor.”

“Governance and politics is about who gets what, by what means and by how others are impacted,” said Alvaro Umana of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “One of the difficulties in water governance is that every agency thinks the water belongs to them – but nobody wants to protect the water resource.”

Ravi Narayan of the NGO Water Aid, stated that the single biggest cause for failure in providing safe water to people is lack of good governance. “What is essential in the governance discussion is first to accept access to water as a human right and to determine the ownership of water,’ said Mr. Narayan. “Water is a public good and belongs to the people that empower the government to govern it wisely.” He added that ethical leadership, availability and sharing of information, mechanisms for dialogue and conflict resolution, and connected decentralization are characteristics of good governance.

Public-Private Partnerships in Water: In this session, delegates debated whether there was a place for profit making in water development and management. Some groups believe that government should provide water for all with no charge, while others say that the private sector can be an important partner.

“If we put profit first, people come second,” said Maude Barlow, from the NGO Council of the Canadians. Her argument was that if freshwater becomes a commodity, water will go to those who can afford it and not to those who need it.

The World Water Council says all have a right to water, but more than 1.2 billion do not have access to water and more than 2 billion lack access to sanitation. All the resources of society should be used to achieve this goal, including the private sector.

It is my hope that we will find a way to put our differences aside and find a way to ensure that water will flow to all,” says William J. Cosgrove, Vice President of the World Water Council.

Floods: The problem of floods was the subject of another session at the Forum. Floods are afflicting more and more people every year. Floods afflicted 20 million people between 1973-1977, and 130 million afflicted between 1993-1997.

Japan is an example of country that has worked hard to manage its recurring floods. It is also working in partnership with the United States on the issue.

“Through partnerships, through a spirit of cooperation and collaboration, we can develop solutions to meet the worlds growing water needs,” said Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers, Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the Forum. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is formalizing a long-standing partnership with Japan’s Minister of Land and Infrastructure and Transportation. Now we will work more closely together on flood and water resource management issues.”

Ryosuke Kikuchi, Director General of the “Water and Rivers” Secretariat in Japan, opened the session, saying, “The increase is due to a combination of two factors. First, the frequency and intensity of floods are increasing due to global warming. Second, more and more people, mainly the poor, are living in dangerous flood-prone urban centers.”

Thanks to the adoption of preventive measures, the total numbers of deaths related to floods have steadily decreased over the past three decades, several speakers said.

“The effects of the 2001 Zambezi floods were far less when compared with the 2000 ones. Good contingency planning proved to be the right way forward,” said Roberto White, Minister of Public Works and Housing for the Republic of Mozambique.

But according to Prof. Godwin Obasi, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), much more still needs to be done. “With more information, preparedness plans and management strategies, we can mitigate the impacts of floods more effectively. In particular, there is a need to build capacity in developing countries so they can use the latest flood forecasting tools, including satellite feeds and computers”.

The 3rd World Water Forum will devote two full days of sessions to flooding, to emphasize its importance.

Water and the Environment: Lake habitat deterioration and invasive species are the leading causes of aquatic species extinction and require urgent attention, speakers said.

Lakes are threatened by changes in land use, water diversion, nutrient and toxic pollution, sedimentation and over-harvesting (within the watershed). They also face threats from outside their watersheds including invasive species, global climate change, atmospheric deposition and unsustainable trade.

“Future extinction rates are estimated to be 5 times higher for freshwater animal species than for terrestrial species,” said Laurie Duker, Conservation Director of the NGO LakeNet. The U.S. Aid for International Development has committed funding for the World Lakes Initiative, to be implemented by LakeNet in partnership with other groups.

Water, Food and the Environment: Another topic concerned the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population, especially the poorest areas, while accomplishing it in an environmentally acceptable way.

Since the Second World Water Forum (The Hague, Netherlands, March, 2000), support has been given to a number of local initiatives working to reconcile the diverging demands of water-agriculture and water-nature communities. For example, in Zambia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are reaching out small farmers and local communities to involve them in thinking on water, while at the same time working with the national government to set up a basin management plan for the Kafue River.

“We received input for this plan from both the hydropower industry and the National Park system, as well as from farmers and our growing urban centers,” said Delax Chilumbu, NGO representative in this project.” The current national reform wave has given us an unique opportunity to embed the issue in a open and fair institution, able to fairly allocate water among all these needs.”

Mekong River: By end 2003, the Mekong River Commission (MRC), with the governments of Cambodia, Laos PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam, will prepare a navigation strategy and program. The long-term goals of the strategy are to develop sustainable, effective and safe waterborne transport to promote freedom of navigation on the Mekong, and to increase the international trade opportunities for the mutual benefit of MRC member countries. While the question was raised about the criticism of the environmental NGO especially regarding the large infrastructure projects related to the navigation development, Mr. Sourasay, of Lao Republic replied that MRC and its member countries always try to accompany them to show the evidence at the local level. One of the challenges will be especially how to increase the mutual equitable benefits among the member countries, whose development levels might be different, However, Mr. Geerinck, Navigation Program Manager of MRC.

“The role of the MRC can assist least developing member countries through technical advice,” said Mr. Geernick. “The process also requires the corporation from China and Myanmar, which are not currently member countries of MRC. But delegates from China and Myanmar are participating as Panelists in this session, a good proof of the possible future cooperation on navigation issues.”

Indigenous people: Delegates expressed demands for rights on water and land that are their heritage and formulated an Indigenous Peoples Kyoto Water Declaration.

Representatives of indigenous communities said that they were in continuous struggles to protect their water rights, in disputes that were often based on Western-style maps.

“Maps are very powerful tools, but maps can lie,” says Jim Enote, of the Indigenous Communities Mapping Initiative, started after the Second World Water Forum, to undertake an indigenous inventory of water resources and related sacred sites.

“Our communities have always made maps – through oral history, on ceramics, on tapestry etc., added Mr. Enote, “But we have been remapped. We need to revive our knowledge of our places on our terms.”

Asia Day opening plenary: Water management will be an increasingly challenging task in Asia and the Pacific, due to the growth in both water demand and population. The region accounts for about 36 per cent of global run-off, water scarcity and pollution are the key issues. Available freshwater resources in the region, agriculture consumes 86 per cent, industry 8 percent and for domestic use 6 per cent. Today, one in three Asians does not have access to a safe drinking water source within 200 meters of home. One in two Asians does not have adequate sanitation facilities. 90% of people deprived of immediate access to water or sanitation live in rural areas furthermore suffering from the threat of drought, pollution and flooding.

Gender: Some mainstreaming gender in water management is critical. Explicit inclusion of gender issues in national water policies and enhanced gender sensitivity in institutions are necessary for its implementation.

New initiatives have been taken like the set-up of a special secretariat for women’s rights at Ministerial level in Brazil, which also received a seat in the National Water Resources Council.

Category: Press Release