More than 10,000 delegates who will attend the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto next week will be under pressure to step up water flows, rather than just talk about it.
"We want tangible commitment to action to be taken, not just by governments but by non-governmental organizations, academics and professionals," Kenzo Hiroki, vice-secretary general of the secretariat of the Third World Water Forum told IPS by phone from Tokyo Monday.
Governments committed themselves to the ideal of more access to water, and some also committed money for it at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg last year, Hiroki said. "We hope now to find durable ways of implementing those targets."
The situation at present is grave as the water forum takes on what it calls "life -and- death issues" that will have "far more effect on humankind for the 21st century than the current crisis in the Middle East, or any other political problem of the day," says William Cosgrove, vice-president of the World Water Council.
An estimated 2.7 billion people will face water scarcity by 2025. More than 1.2 billion people currently lack access to safe water and 3 billion have inadequate sanitation. This leads to diseases that kill more than 5 million people each year, more than 2 million of them children under the age of five who succumb to diarrhoea-related illnesses.
Over the next 20 years, the average supply of water per person is expected to drop by a third, according to the World Water Assessment Programme issued by the UN earlier this month.
People live on just two gallons of water a day in the 40 worst water-famished countries. This amount is far less than the 13.2 gallons per-day level that the United Nations says constitutes the absolute minimum for water needs.
The daily per-capita water requirements include five litres for drinking, 20 for sanitation and hygiene, 15 for bathing and 10 for food preparation, per person.
The 3rd World Water Forum, to be held in Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka from March 16-23, will take on several issues around water that have come to the boil lately. "This will include the debate on public or private ownership of water resources," said Hiroki.
"At the last forum people took opposing views but without much communication with one another," he said. "This time they will be at the same round table, and we want the discussions to lead to a step forward."
The forum will also debate at length the report of the World Commission on Dams. "We will examine how to address the contents of that report in the field," Hiroki said.
Water is becoming an increasingly controversial issue for governments and also among scientists. Agricultural scientists say that farm water use, especially irrigation, must be increased 15-20 percent in the coming 25 years to maintain food security and reduce hunger and rural poverty for a growing world population.
Environmental scientists, on the other hand, say that water use will need to be reduced by at least 10 percent to protect the rivers, lakes and wetlands on which millions of people depend for their livelihoods and to satisfy the growing demands of cities and industry. Many of these ecosystems have already been eliminated or severely damaged over the last decades.
The meeting will also look at the "growing dangers of accelerating conflicts over water." Models will be presented on how water can be "a solution to conflict and not just a source of conflict," said Hiroki.
An example is the Nile River Initiative on sharing of waters among the ten Nile River countries (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda), Hiroki said.
The water conference will also look at a regional cooperation project along the Mekong River on the Indonesian peninsula. "That will be an important experience to share," Hiroki said.
The water forum will also consider some of the outstanding success stories among the 3,000 water actions of communities and other stakeholders to address the global water crisis that were collected for more than two years by the World Water Council for its new 'World Water Actions' report.
Many of these demonstrate that local communities implement their own solutions when governments fail to act. This supports the argument that governments should encourage bottom-up solutions.
But some money will need to flow for water to reach more people, experts say. "Financial flows will need to at least double for us to reach this goal by 2025," says Michel Camdessus, chairman of the World Panel on Financing Global Water Infrastructure and former managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
"They will have to come from financial markets, from water authorities themselves through tariffs, from multilateral financial institutions, from governments, and from public development aid, preferably in the form of grants."
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