The Hague, The Netherlands
The World Water Council is an international water policy think-tank established as a non-governmental organization in 1996. It has a membership comprised of numerous national members representing two-thirds of the world population as well as scores of international and United Nations organizations. The World Water Council is holding its triennial meeting under the name of the Second World Water Forum in The Hague, The Netherlands from March 17-22, 2000.
The World Water Council concern is world water policy issues. It has predicted that the world is facing looming crises in its fresh water. In response to an international call it has embarked on the Development of the Vision for World Water, Life and the Environment for the Twenty First Century. It has appointed a special group of world leaders to validate and guide the vision process under the name of The World Commission on Water for the Twenty-First Century. The Commission unveiled its report in The Hague on March 17, 2000. The various Visions prepared by regional, sectoral, special group, and science and professional associations are presented in The World Water Council Second World Water Forum in The Hague. Lively debates and views are expected to dominate the deliberation of the Forum. More than 3500 persons from all over the world are taking part in this deliberation. They will be attempting to find the common vision to meet the world water challenges.
The World Water Council identified the World Water Challenges in the Twenty First Century in the following seven points:
1. Water Scarcity
Water scarcity occurs when demand exceeds supply due to natural causes, population growth or widespread practices that consume excessive amounts of water.
Agriculture is the largest user of freshwater. At present, 70% of the total fresh water in the world is used to provide food, natural fibers and employment to billions of rural dwellers. Water scarcity directly affects rainfed and irrigated agriculture and directly threatens the livelihood of billions, particularly in developing countries. Consequently, this has forced millions of farmers, in their search for suitable lands and adequate water supplies for crop production, to increase their rate of deforestation and desertification. As a consequence, environmental degradation has increased further threatening food security.
Floods, droughts, and other effects of climatic changes add yet another dimension to the problem of water scarcity in non-traditional regions of the world. The scarcity of water is a recent phenomenon. In the 1950s, only a handful of countries faced this problem. Now at the end of this century, an estimated 26 countries with a population of more than 300 million people suffer from water scarcity. Projections for the year 2050 show that 66 countries, comprising about two-thirds of the world population, will face moderate to severe water scarcity. The consequences of water shortages on economic and social development, political stability and preservation of life are immeasurable.
The finite supply of water can be augmented by reducing consumption and recycling and reusing wastewater. Filling the gap from non-conventional sources will also address the other side of the equation. However, there are technological, economic and environmental limits to these solution strategies. Present day infrastructures are also inadequate in addressing future problems.
2. Lack of Accessibility
Tremendous development has already taken place to provide access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities around the world. However, more than 1.2 billion people still lack access to clean drinking water while 2.9 billion lack access to adequate sanitation facilities, resulting in an annual death rate of 5 million persons, largely children, from water-borne diseases. At the current rate of population growth and low investment in water infrastructure, the situation will worsen. Addressing the gender issue is also essential to ensuring equity in water distribution and management. The vulnerable segments of the populations -- the poor, women and children suffer the most when affordability, adequacy and accessibility to clean water become critical. Sound policies and effective implementation to address these issues will become an enormous challenge to present and future generations.
3. Water Quality Deterioration
Industrialization and urbanization have produced large volumes of effluent wastewater, discharged in many cases into waterways that carry freshwater supplies into communities. Intensification of agriculture has also resulted in massive increases in agrochemicals, with residues being discharged into rivers, lakes and groundwater. Expansion of irrigation coupled with poor on-farm water management has resulted in widespread waterlogging and soil salinization, particularly in the arid and semi-arid regions. Consequently, there are only a handful of freshwater sources that are considered to be in a pollution-free natural state.
The impacts of water quality deterioration on human health, devastation of natural habitat and biodiversity has resulted in the volume reduction of usable water, now evident in every corner of the globe. The projected mega-cities and rapid industrialization worldwide have only accelerated problems such as inadequate waste treatment.
4. World Peace and Security
The linkages between global peace and security, environmental degradation and water problems are all too evident in many parts of the world, with particular focus in developing countries. While affluent countries enjoy an abundance of freshwater resources, poor nations face the twin menaces of water scarcity and water quality deterioration. All this directly affects the economic and social development of a society, undermines political stability, and threatens global security. In a global community of interdependence, widespread and persistent water
shortage threatens us all. Ideally, collective knowledge should lead to collective action on a global scale.
5. Awareness by Decision Makers and the Public
Water availability is taken for granted by the public. Similarly, political leaders are largely unaware of the present dimensions of the impending water crises in many countries. A water crisis is not a temporary phenomenon to be dealt with in a crisis management style. It requires long term and lasting solutions beyond the short-term mandate of political leaders and decision-makers. Adding to this is a growing environmental NGO community that considers water infrastructure projects harmful to the environment, while ignoring the equation of demand and supply. This kind of thinking has affected public opinion, and consequently has had an impact on the thinking of decision-makers around the world. Needless to say, the political leaders and decision-makers of the day must be made fully aware of the magnitude of the water problem at the local, national and global levels in order to devise appropriate policies, strategies and action plans.
Without full public participation, it is impossible to envisage or implement sustainable solutions. Raising public awareness is essential to ensuring public involvement. Such awareness can be achieved through changes in the education system, greater funds into R&D, and the enlisting of support for the civil societies.
6. Decline of Financial Resources Allocation
The world witnessed a rapid growth in financial allocations to water development in the 1960s and the 1970s, which was spurred mainly by investment in the irrigation and drinking water supply. However, a steady decline in financial outlay occurred in the latter part of 1980s, and became more pronounced throughout the 1990s. Exacerbating the situation was the marked decline in international development assistance, national programs and private sector investments. All this was partly a result of the financial difficulties faced by governments trying to balance budgets and reduce deficits.
Ideally, the private sector should have picked up the slack. However this has not happened. The result all around has been a severe slowdown in water development. Right now, funds for operation and maintenance are in limited supply, with existing schemes in dire need of repair and replacement. The creation of an enabling environment to reverse this trend is needed.
7. Fragmentation of Water Management
At the global level, water management is divided among several United Nations organizations, a multitude of international professional and scientific societies and numerous non-governmental organizations. At national levels the situation is further divided among hundreds or thousands of jurisdictions, municipalities and the private sector; or worse, left unattended.
This institutional chaos has led to competition among users, conflicts, duplication of efforts and contradictory policies, plans and actions. Consequently, this has perpetuated wastage of resources, and usage deficiency; further exacerbating allocation inequity and hindering attempts at coordination. Therefore it is both essential and mandatory that institutional policies, strategies and legal frameworks be harmonized and coordinated at some kind of centralized level; between regions, nations and at the global level.