Update on Global Fresh Water Supply

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Tuesday, April 22, 2003 at 12:06PM :

Nature 422, 364 (27 March 2003)

Conflicts undermine global forum's push for safe water


[KYOTO] The organizers of last week's 3rd World Water Forum in Japan are saying that it succeeded in translating a vision for solving the global problems of water supply into action. But, upstaged by the war in Iraq and facing trenchant criticism from environmental groups, the forum struggled to win the recognition that its architects sought.

Some 24,000 people from 182 countries attended the event, held on 1623 March in Osaka, Kyoto and nearby Shiga. By its close, 422 'water actions' concrete measures by which different nations demonstrated their commitment to solving water problems had been submitted.

But critics said that most of these actions as well as agreement on a six-page statement signed by ministerial delegates to the meeting from all countries were arranged in advance. This left many participants asking whether the mammoth event had actually furthered the effort to secure safe water supplies.

Host nation Japan set the tone for the meeting by promising to spend 16 billion (US$133 million) this year to bring clean drinking water to people in poor countries, and to train 1,000 water-supply specialists over the next five years. It was one of several initiatives announced in pursuit of the United Nations' goal of halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015 (see Nature 422, 251256; 2003).

But the outbreak of war in Iraq took its toll on the meeting, with leading figures including Japanese foreign minister Yoriko Kawaguchi pulling out of the event. Reporters from across the world complained that their stories on the meeting were not finding space in news pages dominated by war coverage.

Speakers at the forum sought to align its goals with the international debate over the war. For example, former Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who chaired the forum's steering committee, pledged to send experts to supply water to those displaced by the war.

Environmental groups, meanwhile, attacked the forum's ministerial statement for skirting controversial issues. Agnes van Ardenne, minister for development cooperation in the Netherlands, criticized the document for its silence on problems related to climate change and the private ownership of water, and questioned the need for future water forums.

Hydrologists and environmentalists at the meeting clashed over the value of large dam projects. Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, president of the World Water Council and the forum's co-organizer, called for a "large increase in the number of dams". But environmentalists attacked the ministerial statement for failing to address problems related to dam construction. "This is a very weak document," said Ger Bergkamp, coordinator of the World Conservation Union's water and nature initiative. Abu-Zeid pointed out that the forum couldn't be expected to solve such problems overnight. "We did not promise a treaty," he said.

Organizers said that the forum had exceeded expectations in its main function of building links between scientists, officials and activists engaged in water issues, noting that more than 100 new commitments to collaborate had emerged.

In a statement summing up the forum's achievements, World Water Council vice-president William Cosgrove said that, despite the forum's conflicts, such commitments reflect attention to its key agreements "that community-level public participation is fundamental to achieving the goals of the forum", and "that the common basic requirement for water is an opportunity for cooperation and peace".

Click below for the draft forum statement.

Nature Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2003 Registered No. 785998 England.

-- Sadie
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