World Spends 40 Times More For Oil than Water Improvements Annually

Panelists Call For Inclusion Of Right To Water In Ministerial Declaration Day Four Theme Reports

Released from Kyoto, Japan

A speaker told the 3rd World Water Forum Wednesday that the world spends 40 times more for petroleum each year than it invests in water and sanitation infrastructure and maintenance, a sign of misplaced priorities.

The 3rd World Water Forum, meeting in three different Japanese cities – Kyoto, Shiga, Osaka – from March 16-23, has been convened to debate ways to solve the global water crisis, which has left 1.2 billion people without a safe water supply and 2.4 billion without secure sanitation. Debate is being split among nearly 340 sessions on interlocking themes. The conclusions will be presented to a separate Ministerial Conference, which opens Friday in Kyoto.

Olivier Bommelaer, of the Seine-Normandy River Basin Organization, France, told Forum participants that “globally $25 billion, or 0.08% of global gross domestic product (GDP), is invested in water supply and sanitation infrastructure annually; if you include operation and maintenance, the total budget of water supply and sanitation is around $165 billion — a mere 0.55 of global GDP. Just compare this to world oil budget: $ 7 trillion ($7,000 billion).” This estimate was based on a world petroleum price of $25 per barrel, which has jumped to $35.

How to finance water development projects and who should pay for them are topics of increasing importance at international water meetings. A major panel on finance will be held at the Forum on Friday, which will be chaired by Michel Camdessus, former International Monetary Fund managing director.

Among the other themes debated on Wednesday were:

World Water Actions: The World Wildlife Fund, commenting on a major report issued on the opening session Sunday of the Forum, “World Water Actions,” urged the Forum to add three additional commitments to those that will be sent to the Ministerial Conference:

  • Priority for investments in environmental health of watersheds, such as reforestation programs and pollution reduction of rivers and wetlands;
  • Implementation of the key recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, such as public consultation and environmental impact assessments;
  • Cooperation among neighboring countries to establish joint water basin institutions and management based on integrated river basin management.

The World Water Council, author of the “World Water Actions” report, acknowledged the contribution of the World Wildlife Fund and promised to forward the Fund’s message to the Ministerial Conference.

Water and Poverty — Despite the unprecedented advances of the past 50 years, the failure to extend the fundamental benefits of hygiene, sanitation and water to all people remains a hurdle to development and a root cause of persistent poverty. The poor suffer most, but the problems are much wider:

  • at any given moment almost half of the world’s poor are sick from unsafe water and sanitation.
  • the sheer frequency of disease in early childhood is the main cause of malnutrition, poor physical and mental growth, and early death.
  • lack of water supply and sanitation robs hundreds of millions of women of dignity, energy and time.
  • a third of the world lives in an daily environment of squalor, smells and disease on the doorstep.
  • hygiene-related illness saps economic growth and costs billions of working days every year.

Participants demanded that the Ministerial Declaration include a clear commitment to using the human rights to water and to health as tools for helping to achieve the goals for water and sanitation. This includes empowering people, tackling inequities and targeting the most vulnerable.

“Cutting poverty in half by 2015, though ambitious, is not enough,” said Richard Jolly, Chair, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (an international NGO). “Commitments are also needed in the next 15 years to actions, which will lead to benefits of water, sanitation, and hygiene for the remaining half.”

Antony Burgmans, chairman of panel of chief executives and the CEO of Unilever, a consumer goods company, said in Osaka that “Our panel of companies is committed to active partnership in the search for new, practical, lasting and equitable solutions around the world. We are calling for the Ministerial Conference to take up this challenge and promote collaborative actions between governments, civil society and industry.”

A Water and Poverty Initiative, led by Asian Development Bank (ADB), is being developed with collaborating partner organizations for the 3rd World Water Forum. The ADB on Wednesday signed an agreement with UN Habitat on Water for Asian Cities Program, which will provide $500 million in loans over 5 years, and the Cities Alliance Program, which will provide an initial $500,000 in grants for urban poor water supply and sanitation improvements, leveraged against community commitments

“It is necessary to stimulate the debate on, and provide a better understanding of, the importance of water security in the lives of the world’s poor,” an ADB report said. “There is a general consensus in the international water community about the importance of water resources as a weapon in the war against global poverty, but it must be demonstrated and highlighted more effectively. Many documents state that ‘water is life’, ‘water is the basis for development’ or ‘water is essential to the poor,’ but few really explain why this is the case.”

Tadao Chino, President of the Asian Development Bank, told Forum participants that water supply and sanitation interventions can have “significant and often unexpected positive impacts on people’s lives and lessen the deprivation they experience. It provides evidence that improvements in access to water and sanitation should form the cornerstone of any poverty reduction strategy. Involving community members in assessments of their own projects is essential if the true impacts are to be appreciated.”

Food, Agriculture and Water: There are currently 815 million undernourished people in world, and as the global population grows, the United Nations says the world is facing a disaster. Strategies on how to grow enough food to feed an estimated 9.3 billion people by the year 2050 were the subject of heated discussions at the opening session.

The productivity of irrigation – the amount of food produced per unit of water – has more than tripled over the past decades, but this, combined with increasing area of irrigated land have not been keeping pace with the growing demand for food.

“Further increasing the amount of agricultural land is not an option. The good land has already been used up” says Keizrul bin Abdullah, President of the international Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID). “Massive investment in rural development, irrigation and drainage are needed.”

According to Ian Johnson, Vice President of the World Bank “annual investment in agricultural development must rise from 80 to 180 billion USD. How to finance these investments will be one of the major challenges of the 21st century.”

“This was encouraging news”, said Abdullah, “because in recent years, World Bank financing has dropped from 1.5 billion to under 400 million USD. Investments in modernization and rehabilitation of agricultural infrastructure will not only help feed the world, it will save more water, making 7% of the world’s water available for other the environment and users.”

Nature & Environment: The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that it will release a major report on June 5th of this year entitled “Environmental Flows – The Essentials.” It will be the world’s first guide on evaluating the water needs of ecosystems. The report will include feedback from the peer review process that took place during the 3rd World Water Forum.

“Maintaining enough water in our rivers and wetlands is vital for healthy functioning river systems, which in turn is critical for attracting investment, achieving long term economic prosperity and the conservation of biodiversity,” said John Scanlon of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). “Environmental flows work for people as much as for plants and animals.” On this topic, IUCN works with local communities in Terraba-Sierpe, Costa Rica.

Another session in the Nature and Environment theme focused on the use of Effective Micro-organisms (EM), the use of microbes found in nature that easily digest pollutants such as plastics, to restore ecosystems in already polluted waterways. The EM approach has been proven to be both good for the environment and the economy. By producing soaps with EM, it is possible to make a detergent that is environmentally friendly. In addition, using EM soap can promote water purification, because EM activates the microorganisms that can decompose the causes of water pollution.

One example given at the session described how volunteers added EM into Japan’s polluted Asechi River. As a result, fish, plants, and birds returned to the river, and the foul odor and accumulated sludge were reduced. This cut dredging costs by 30,000,000 yen ($250,000).

Youth World Water Forum: To get the next generation involved in the water debate, the 3rd World Water Forum set up a first-ever forum for youths, held in Kyoto on Tuesday.

“We want to make sure that water is protected for our children too,” said Roberto, a twelve-year-old boy from Argentina. The Youth World Water Forum is a global movement of students and young water professionals, set up to increase awareness, participation and commitment among young people in water related issues.

“Participate wherever possible. Don’t wait till you get a voice, you have a voice!” exclaimed Jan Pronk, the former water minister for the Netherlands.

In the Forums’ Stakeholders Centre, the World Assembly of Water Wisdom voted to adopt The Citizen’s Declaration on the Right to Water and called for the signing of a global convention on water. The declaration calls for the access to water and sanitation to be a global right and that all citizens of the world the management of water services must be involved in any decisions.

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