Climate Change Dominates International Water Conference

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, August 13, 2007 (ENS) - The United States, China, India must commit themselves to take action against global warming to ensure that more people will have clean water, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told the opening session of World Water Week today in Stockholm.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt at World Water Week (Photo courtesySIWI)

Controlling climate change is necessary to make the most of an increasingly scarce resource, the prime minister said, urging the completion of a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol by the end of 2009, when Sweden holds the presidency of the European Union.

"I see success in fighting global warming as much of the success we need to be able to solve today's and future problems concerning our waters," Reinfeldt said. "I also see success in solving the problems with our waters as one of the keys to tackle global warming. One simply can’t be done without doing the other."

At least 2,000 water stakeholders from 140 countries are participating in the 17th annual World Water Week conference hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute from August 12 to 18.

This year, 150 different organizations are involved in arranging seminars, side-events, meetings and workshops under the theme, "Progress and Prospects on Water: Striving for Sustainability in a Changing World."

Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, welcomed participants, saying, "Together we try to advance efforts related to water and sanitation, the environment, livelihoods and poverty reduction."

This year, climate change is central to all discussions of water.

"What becomes apparent," Berntell said, "is that climate change hits us first through water."

Stream runs through the Yorkshire dales. (Photo courtesy Freefoto)
"Too much or too little water, at the wrong time, at the wrong place. And I don’t think that anyone can say that my country, or my city is prepared," he said.

"Access to clean water is usually the first priority for the poor," said Berntell, "but since 1990, aid spending on water has remained stagnant whilst spending on health and education has doubled, according to a recent study by WaterAid, and the same is true for many governments own budgets and priorities."

"At the same time," he said, "military spending has increased with 37 percent globally between 1997 and 2006, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute."

More than one billion people still live without a safe water supply, and half the developing world does not have basic sanitation, Berntell reminded participants. He warned that the UN's Millenium Development Goals for water and sanitation will not be met by 2015 unless better progress is made.

"At the current rate," he said, "the target of halving the proportion of people without basic sanitation by 2015, will be missed by 600 million people, with the net result that at least two billion people will still be without adequate sanitation."

In a new brief released at the conference, “On the Verge a New Water Scarcity,” the Stockholm International Water Institute reports that 1,4 billion people live in regions where there is a real, physical water scarcity, and an additional 1,1 billion people live in regions where there is water stress due to over-consumption of water.

"Clearly, these figures will increase in the future, due to population growth, intensified agriculture and on top of that, climate change," said Berntell.

Sudanese refugees at a water well in Chad (Photo courtesy Refugees International)
Today, the United Nations says 20 percent of the world’s population in 30 countries faces water shortages.

By 2025, the UN warns, 30 percent of the world’s population in 50 countries will be affected.

As the population grows, by 2050, double the current amount of food will be needed to feed the global population, which also doubles the amount of water needed to produce that food.

"We are not prepared to deal with the implications this has for our planet," warned Berntell. "There is a security component in this that is not fully understood or addressed internationally yet, and I am not talking about water security, I mean political security."

Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, executive director UN-HABITAT, stressed the water needs of the world's cities, because "Today more people are living in cities than ever before. The world's population living in cities will pass the 50 percent mark sometime now. It may be happening even as you listen to me at present."

"2007 is a year when human beings will become a predominantly urban species, which is being called Homo urbanus," she told delegates. "Let us not forget that the rich countries have as much at stake as the poor ones."

UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka addresses delegates to World Water Week. (Photo courtesy SIWI)
Tibaijuka said a "realistic pricing policy for water" will mobilize the financial resources to ensure that everyone has enough to drink.

"We must first deal with the myth that the poor cannot afford to pay for water," she said. "In reality, the urban poor are rarely connected to municipal supplies, and pay exorbitant prices for water to private vendors, from four times to a hundred times more than their affluent neighbors, who get subsidized water piped to their homes."

When the urban poor need help, "which they must as the cost of supplying water to cities continues to rise," she said, "experience shows that it is much more effective to provide direct subsidies to the poor than underpricing water."

Tibaijuka pointed to the government of South Africa, which has introduced the "lifeline tariff," which guarantees access to water for all but charges more for the high consumers.

She called for the "delivery of drinking water immediately to all."

"Water is the most shared natural resource on this Earth," said Tibaijuka. "We must learn to share and care. Information, education, communication and awareness are key in this process. Let us not forget - life is water, do not waste a drop."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.