Mon, 24 Feb 2003

Water forum goals discussed

Shinichi Yanagawa The Daily Yomiuri Asia News Network Tokyo

Officials from 95 countries and 21 international organizations met in Tokyo recently to discuss the contents of a ministerial declaration that will be released on the final day of the 3rd World Water Forum next month.

The declaration will contain measures to be taken by governments, organizations and individuals to realize goals set at previous water and other conferences.

One of the goals, set by the United Nations in 2000, is to halve the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water. Another, decided at last year's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, is to halve the number of people who do not have access to basic sanitation.

The need to achieve these goals is more urgent than ever; 1.2 billion people -- one-fifth of the global population -- do not have access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion people live without drainage systems and other basic sanitation. An estimated 2 million children die every year of water-related diseases.

The outcome of the ministerial conference, to be held March 22 and 23 in Kyoto, will have a major bearing on the success of the entire forum.

About 300 officials, including those from the United States, France, Ethiopia, China, Indonesia and Brazil, as well as those from the World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF, attended the meeting in Tokyo on Jan. 30 and 31. The meeting was closed to the media.

The central government presented a five-page draft of the ministerial declaration, most of which was drawn up by the Construction and Transport Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.

The draft calls for the forum to be looked upon as a follow-up to the Johannesburg summit.

Ministry officials said the declaration should send a strong message to the world about water problems with a view to uniting public opinion behind the conferences' goals.

The draft declaration addresses five main themes.

First, it outlines measures to achieve the two main goals of securing safe drinking water and sanitation.

Second, given that about 70 percent of water use is for agricultural purposes, the draft includes measures to improve efficiency in agricultural water use and outlines how rural development can be used to alleviate poverty.

Third, it cites plans to promote environmental conservation.

Fourth, since floods are affecting more people every year, the draft reiterates the need for greater international cooperation in this area.

Finally, the draft outlines measures to achieve the goal, set at the Johannesburg summit, of developing integrated water resource management plans in all countries by 2005.

The ministries have devised measures for each of the five areas that will be made public in the declaration.

Sources said securing safe drinking water and adequate sanitation would require significant investment, and that funding programs had been included in the draft.

They added that improving governance in the developing world also had been addressed in the draft.

Although water is a global concern, developing countries clearly suffer the most. While water use per person stands at 300 to 600 liters a day in industrialized countries, in the developing world it is just 10 to 100 liters a day.

According to estimates, at least 3.5 billion people will face water shortages by 2025, most of them in developing countries.

As a result, the draft stated that nations should place priority on resolving water problems and called for greater cooperation in the international community.

It said industrialized nations should share their experience and information with the rest of the world.

One participant in the meeting said the declaration should recognize that water is the driving force behind economic growth and poverty reduction.

Another said energy and sharing the resources of rivers that cross national borders should be included.

There was also support for a clause on the importance of monitoring the progress of measures agreed at the ministerial conference.

The ministerial conference will adopt the declaration on March 23 after it has reviewed the World Water Actions Report, to be prepared mainly by the Water Action Unit of the World Water Council, as well as statements from coordinators of themes and regional days to be held at the forum.

Forum representatives and ministers will meet March 21.

The ministerial conference also will issue a Portfolio of Water Actions based on voluntary action plans drawn up by each participating country and international organization.