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'Water for All' Demands International Conference
Published on Saturday, December 8, 2001 by the Inter Press Service
'Water for All' Demands International Conference
by Ramesh Jaura
 
BONN - Activists, experts, government ministers and senior officials from 118 countries have urged the United Nations and the international community to ''strengthen their commitment and their efforts to enable developing countries to manage water sustainably'' .


The character of water as a vital resource requires that it be managed as a common good carrying social, cultural, spiritual as well as economic values.

They were attending a five-day international freshwater conference that concluded Friday after approving 26 recommendations for action to be adopted by the World Social Summit on Development (WSSD) next September in Johannesburg, South Africa.

''Secure, equitable access to water for all people'' is essential, argues the document, because water is a key to sustainable development, crucial to its social, economic and environmental dimensions.

The document adds: ''Strong partnerships in the international community can be a catalyst for reform and capacity development. In particular, they can help mobilize knowledge and financial and other resources to reduce poverty and create more sustainable forms of water resources management.''

It also calls upon the U.N. to strengthen the coordination and coherence of its activities on water issues in an inclusive manner.

The conference analyzed the implications of recent landmark decisions taken by the international community. Most relevant among them are the International Development Target set by the UN Millennium Assembly last year.

The decisions call for reducing to half by 2015, ''the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger and are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water''. The emphasis is on stewardship ''to stop the unsustainable exploitation of water resources''.

To achieve that target for drinking water, best available estimates show that, by 2015, an additional 1.6 billion people will need access to adequate water infrastructure and services. In addition, 2.5 billion will need improved sanitation.

Estimates for required global investment in all forms of water-related infrastructure vary widely up to 180 billion U.S. dollars annually, compared to a current estimated level of 70-80 billion dollars.

Explaining the recommendations emerging from the conference, Germany's minister for economic cooperation and development Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul said the support of the private sector was required to close the investment gap of 100 billion dollars.

''At the same time it would have to be ensured that the basic need of water for the poor is free of charge,'' added Wieczorek-Zeul.

She said a positive sign emerging from the conference was the private sector's pledge to adopt a code of conduct, aimed at fighting corruption and bribery. Due to high investment volumes involved, the water sector is considered to be particularly susceptible to corruption.

Another meaningful outcome was that the conference agreed to focus on reducing, by half, the number of people living without any waste water disposal by the year 2015.

There is a tremendous pollution of water, because waste water treatment facilities are either completely lacking or work insufficiently. Up to now many countries have geared their investments exclusively to ensuring water supply.

Describing the conference a success, Germany's Environment Minister Juergen Trittin said the participants, who included 46 government ministers, had agreed on ways of showing specific and practical solutions to water supply.

They had also found solutions to sewage disposal issues as well as demonstrated steps towards a sustainable and responsible use and equitable distribution of water resources.

''After the agreement on climate change reached in the summer, Bonn sends out another signal of environmental relevance, calling for the protection of our life support systems. This will also help us to leap forward in global conflict prevention,'' said Trittin.

Vasudha Pangare from Gender and Water Alliance, a network of 115 organizations and individual from around the world, said: ''Conflicts over water management can only be avoided when men, women and children help manage and share water fairly.''

Against this backdrop, she welcomed the conference document's emphasis on promoting gender equity.

''Water management policies should not distinguish between water users by gender and should allow men and women equitable access to water resources, including safe drinking water and sanitation,'' says the document.

To achieve equity, in many parts of the world the role of women in water management needs to be strengthened and their participation broadened, it adds.

The document also pleads for training water experts and policy makers to work in a gender-inclusive manner. ''Water policies and water management systems should be gender-sensitive. They should reflect the division of roles and labor - paid and unpaid - between men and women in all settings related to water.''

Commenting the document on behalf of delegates and observers representing NGOs in the Bonn Conference on Freshwater, Danielle Morley noted with satisfaction that ''some of our concerns are reflected in the main outcome of documents of the conference: the Bonn ministerial declaration and the recommendations for action.''

In particular Morley welcomed the inclusion of a statement in the recommendations that ''private sector participation in water supply should not be imposed on developing countries as a conditionality for funding.''

However, Morley regretted that at the Bonn conference governments had not ensured that ''everyone has a lifeline supply of 50 liters per day of safe water''. Relevant UN conventions, particularly regarding the rights of the child, specifically refer to the right of the child to water.

This principle should be applied throughout the UN system and to all humans, added Morley.

The character of water as a vital resource requires that it be managed as a common good carrying social, cultural, spiritual as well as economic values.

The NGOs also want the problem of over-consumption to be adequately addressed by way of discouraging such non-sustainable patterns of water use strongly.

Morley added: ''With all its associated values, water resources and water service delivery should be kept out of international agreements on trade. Access to adequate water, notably for those living in poverty, cannot be jeopardized.''

Copyright © 2001 IPS-Inter Press Service

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