An Appeal to Double Expenditures on Water
By Suvendrini Kakuchi
"Blue gold" returns to the center of international debate March 16-23, at the 3rd World Water Forum, in Japan. The host country is urging all nations to double financial and technical assistance to ensure safe water supplies. But will the world be willing to go that far?
TOKYO, (Tierramérica).- - Japan, host to the upcoming Third World Water Forum, will propose a doubling of global investment in order to achieve the goal set at the World Summit on Sustainable Development last year: cut in half the number of people who lack access to clean water by 2015.
More than 40 ministers gathered last week to discuss the draft of the Ministerial Declaration, proposed by Japan, which is expected to be approved by the Forum, to take place in the Japanese city of Kyoto, Mar 16-23.
According to the draft declaration, disseminated by the Japanese news agency Kyodo, the plain seeks a significant increase in government development assistance and in private investment, both at the national and international levels.
The text set out the goal that "each nation will double its financial aid and technical support in order to resolve the global water issue."
The Ministerial Declaration formulates ways to achieve substantial results and is not mere "rhetoric", Hideaki Oba, secretary general of the Forum, told Tierramérica.
And that is exactly what is needed to confront one of the planet's most pressing environmental problems: 40 percent of the global population lacks sufficient water for washing and for sanitation, according to a new report from the United Nations, published last week in the local Kyoto media.
The World Water Development Report (WWDR) is based on data from 23 UN agencies and convention secretariats, and is considered the most complete document on freshwater at the global level.
According to the report there are approximately 12,000 cubic kilometers of contaminated water on earth, and 2.2 million people die each year from illnesses associated with the lack of safe drinking water. Many of the victims are children.
And if concrete measures are not immediately implemented, says the document, by 2050 some 7.0 billion people -- of a projected population of 9.3 billion -- will suffer from the scarcity of water.
There must be a concrete commitment in Kyoto, and it should be as close as possible to the estimated expenditure of 10 to 40 billion dollars a year to achieve the Johannesburg goal of halving the population without clean water by 2015, says Gordon Young, coordinator of the World Water Assessment Program, in charge of drafting the WWDR.
The success of the Kyoto Forum, Gordon said in a conversation with Tierramérica, depends on whether a concrete action agenda is agreed, one that gives top priority to those who most need safe water sources.
The draft Ministerial Declaration urges the efficient use of water for agricultural purposes, the prevention of water pollution, ecosystem conservation, flood reduction and better management of water resources.
At the heart of the declaration is a "public-private partnership", joint efforts between government and private enterprise to ensure safe water.
The document calls for promoting such alliances, "while maintaining the necessary public control to protect the interests of the public in general and the poor in particular."
The authors of the draft have taken pains to resolve the different aspects of the water debate, Ryota Nakamura, an irrigation expert at Japan University, told Tierramérica.
Special reference to the poor takes into consideration the conclusions of the Second World Water Forum, held at The Hague, which highlights how water affects every aspect of life from health to human rights, the environment and politics.
World Water Action -- an overview of recently introduced projects around the world to improve water management -- is to be presented at the Forum.
It marks a step forward from the commitments made at The Hague, says Forum secretary Oba.
One of the more controversial issues on the table is the idea of privatizing water supply and distribution systems in developing countries, which some consider a means to provide revenue for technology to improve water sanitation, environment protection, and support irrigation schemes.
But activists argue that access to clean water is a basic human right and thus cannot be negotiated as a commodity. They also say that privatization paves the way for profit-seeking companies from rich countries to control the precious resource, leaving the poor vulnerable.
Another target of the Kyoto Forum is to develop a water cycle monitoring system, to be adapted to each country, says Taikan Oki, a professor at Tokyo University and head of the Research Institute for Humanity.
"A proper monitoring system will help developing countries to create a water management plan. For this to be successful we have to see technological transfer and financial support for developing countries," said Oki.
Oki explains the careful monitoring of water resources such as rainfall, rivers will result in a proper management system that will ease water scarcity," he explained.
Forum chief Oba is confident that the Forum will overcome obstacles standing in the way of creating appropriate responses to the water problems of each region.
"It is no use spending time on shallow debate at Kyoto. While conflicts remain, water also has the potential to foster regional cooperation," said the official.
* Suvendrini Kakuchi is an IPS correspondent.