Decade of Water for Life 2005-2015 Opens With Hope

BANGKOK, Thailand, March 22, 2005 (ENS) - One in every five people in the Asia Pacific region lacks access to safe drinking water, about 700 million people, and there are two billion people without adequate sanitation across the region. To supply water and sanitation to those in need here and in all regions of the world, the International Decade for Action - Water for Life 2005 - 2015 was officially launched today at the Main Hall of the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok.

The Water for Life Decade began today on World Water Day, March 22, and is intended to culminate in 2015 in time to meet the UN Millenium Development goal of halving the proportion of people who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water and who do not have access to basic sanitation.

Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly, the decade is intended to place “a greater focus on water-related issues, with emphasis on women as managers of water to help to achieve internationally agreed water-related goals."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today, "Water is essential for life. Yet many millions of people around the world face water shortages. Many millions of children die every year from water-borne diseases. And drought regularly afflicts some of the world's poorest countries."

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At a school in Kanchanaburi Province, Thai boys learn about the value of water. (Photo courtesy GLOBE)
"Significant gains have been made. But a major effort is still required," Annan said. "That is why this year, World Water Day also marks the beginning of the "Water for Life" Decade. Our goal is to meet the internationally agreed targets for water and sanitation by 2015, and to build the foundation for further progress in the years beyond."

"Water resources need not be a source of conflict. Instead, they can be a catalyst for cooperation," said Annan.

"This is an urgent matter of human development, and human dignity. On this World Water Day, let us resolve to do more to provide safe, clean water to all the world's people," he said. "Let us also reaffirm our commitment to better management of the world's water resources, which are our lifeline for survival, and for sustainable development in the 21st century."

World Health Organization Director-General Lee Jong-Wook said, "People who can turn on a tap and have safe and clean water to drink, to cook with and to bathe in often take it for granted - and yet more than one billion of our fellow human beings have little choice but to use potentially harmful sources of water."

Dr. Lee said that the International Decade for Action: Water for Life 2005- 2015 are a "critical" 10 years "to focus global attention on what should be obvious - that clean water is indispensable to sustain life."

Every week, diarrhoeal disease due to easily preventable causes claims the lives of 30,000 people, most of them young children, said Dr. Lee. "This is a silent humanitarian crisis that thwarts progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals."

"The humanitarian case for action is clear; the economic case is just as strong," he said. Citing estimates that an additional investment of around US$11.3 billion per year over and above current spending could result in a total economic benefit of US$84 billion annually, Dr. Lee said the economic benefits would range from US$3 to US$34 per collar invested, depending on the region.

"It is time to move towards a true valuation of water, through a mechanism that goes beyond economics to include social, equity and environmental values," said Kenji Yoshinaga, Director of the Land and Water Division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The morning opening session, featuring messages from UN dignitaries, will be followed by two days of technical sessions of the First Thailand Water Forum, on water issues in Thailand - water for agriculture, water for domestic and industry use, water for the environment, and stakeholder participation.

Agriculture is the largest consumer of water. On average, according to the FAO, it takes one metric ton of water to produce one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of wheat.

"The demand for food is not negotiable," Yoshinaga said. "To satisfy the growing demand for food between 2000 and 2030, production of food crops in developing countries is projected to increase by 67 percent. At the same time, a continuing rise in productivity should make it possible to restrain the increase in water use for agriculture to about 14 percent."

He sees the Water for Life Decade as a unique opportunity to adapt agricultural and rural development policies, accelerate changes in irrigation governance and support the integration of the social, economic and environmental needs of rural populations through water laws and institutions.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in New Delhi has been awarded the 2005 Stockholm Water Prize, the Stockholm International Water Institute, (SIWI) announced today.

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Sunita Narain, Centre for Science and Environment, at the 2002 Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
The influential Indian nongovernmental organization is led by Sunita Narain, an advocate for water, environment, human rights, democracy and health.

The award has been given to CSE for its efforts to build a new paradigm of water management, which uses the traditional wisdom of rainwater harvesting and advocates the role of communities in managing their local water systems.

In its citation, the SIWI Nominating Committee lauded Centre for Science and Environment, "For a successful recovery of old and generation of new knowledge on water management, a community-based sustainable integrated resource management under gender equity, a courageous stand against undemocratic, top-down bureaucratic resource control, an efficient use of a free press, and an independent judiciary to meet these goals."

The CSE will receive the $150,000 Prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden in August. The Stockholm Water Prize is awarded annually to individuals and institutions for their outstanding contributions to the world of water.

The 2005 Stockholm Water Prize is given for CSE's contribution to build a water literate society that values the raindrop and teaches society to learn from the frugality of our ancestors, to build a water prudent world. The movement has the potential to change the water futures of the world.

This year's prize to CSE acknowledges the growing crisis of water management in many regions of the South and the need for new approaches that provide local food and water security to communities.

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Indian women draw water from a well for domestic use. (Photo by Mauricio Rosales courtesy FAO)
"CSE's work, through its many publications, its research and advocacy has helped create new thinking on how traditional systems of water management, which use rainwater endowment, once rejuvenated could become the starting point for the removal of rural poverty in many parts of the world," SIWI said in its announcement of the prize.

CSE's work on rainwater harvesting at: www.rainwaterharvesting.org has shown the many ingenious ways in which people have learned to live with water scarcity. The solution, practiced diversely in different regions, lies in capturing rain in millions of storage systems - in tanks, ponds, stepwells and even rooftops - and to use it to recharge groundwater reserves for irrigation and drinking water needs.

"The work of CSE has highlighted that water cannot become everybody's business until there are fundamental changes in the ways we do business with water," SIWI said. The Indian organization says that government policy will have to recognize that water management, which involves communities and households, has to become the biggest cooperative enterprise in the world.

The organization argues that the prevalent mindset that water management is the exclusive responsibility of government must give way to a paradigm built on participative and local management of this critical life source. "This powerful idea is gaining ground to become the policy and practice in many regions of the world," SIWI said in its award statement.

Established in 1980 by environmentalist Anil Agarwal, CSE now has 125 employees.

Today in New Delhi, Greenpeace India and pollution impacted communities from across the country are gathering for a massive public rally to renew their demand for clean water, clean air, clean food and a future free of toxics.

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Women of bhopal lead the 'Bahut ho gaya' rally organised by Greenpeace on World Water Day on 22nd March 2005 (Photo © Greenpeace/Shailendra Yashwant)
"Our water resources - rivers, lakes, groundwater - are poisoned irreversibly, with the chemicals showing up in breast milk and human blood too," Greenpeace organizers say. "Entire ecosystems and the species dependent on them are under threat because of the uncontrolled release of chemical waste and effluents in our water bodies."

The World Water Day rally is led by the women of Bhopal, survivors of the world's worst industrial disaster, who 20 years later are still battling for provision of clean drinking water.

They are joined by people from other communities campaigning against similar challenges: The Kodaikanal community, impacted by the mercury poisoning of their pristine hill forests, a sensitive water-shed area, polluted due to the malpractices at Hindustan Lever's thermometer factory;

People from the community of Eloor who live by the River Periyar, marred by the environmental havoc caused by the unregulated industries of the Eloor Industrial estate are taking part in the rally.

People from Patancheru, where lakes have borne the brunt of chemical poisoning from the Medak Industrial Estate, and fisher folk from Orissa, who are trapped between Oswal Chemicals and the poisoned sea-inlets are participating in the rally today.

"The Honourable Supreme Court of India has repeatedly ordered closure of these factories and similar polluting behemoths across the country; it has even appointed a monitoring committee (SCMC) to ensure that its orders are followed and remediation measures are in place," said Greenpeace India. "But unfortunately nothing has changed because of the lack of political will, and corruption in the highest offices of the state and central government."

To spur official action these community representatives are demanding that the government:

The European Commission said the EU will use this decade to achieve "good water status" for all European waters.

The Commission’s Directorate General Joint Research Centre marked the start of the Water for Life Decade with the publication of a new report linking climate change and water issues, "Climate Change and the European Water Dimension."

European Water Directors from EU Member States and the European Commission requested the report, which was co-authored by 40 scientists from across Europe. It will be used to make an assessment of existing European water policy and examine whether it can accommodate real or anticipated impacts of climate change.

The European report is issued "against a backdrop of increasing scientific evidence of global warming," the Commission said.

The International Panel on Climate Change finds that the average global temperatures over land surfaces have risen by 0.6 ± 0.2°Celsius in the period from 1861 to 2000. This is unprecedented within the past millennium, while projected increases over the 21st century are from 1.4 to 5.8 °Celsius.

"This would have significant impact, real and potential, on aquatic ecosystems such as the world’s oceans, European lakes and seas, and Mediterranean coastal lagoons," the Commission said.

Alterations of biological, chemical and physical characteristics of European water bodies are already happening, the report finds Sea level rise is affecting aquatic ecology, intensifying coastal erosion, affecting nutrient and sediment transport, and resulting in a redistribution and loss of marine organisms.

The report documents an increase in both floods and droughts. Annual snow and rainfall over Northern Europe has increased by between 10 percent and 40 percent in the last century, while the Mediterranean basin has experienced a reduction of up to 20 percent.

The authors emphasize the urgent need for a new approach to the problem, through the development and application of climate change scenarios at the scale of regions and river basins to assess the response of land and water systems at local level. Then mitigation strategies can be developed and their costs assessed.

For the complete report and fact sheet outlining key findings and recommendations: http://ies.jrc.cec.eu.int/

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An English stream flows clear. Keeping Europe's waters clean is a key concern of European nongovernmental organizations. (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
Twenty-two environmental groups from 18 European countries gave their governments a negative rating on water management, according to a November 2004 survey conducted by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and WWF, the conservation organization, on the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, Europe's central water law since 2000.

The survey covered key elements in achieving "good status" for all waters by 2015. These included the national transposition of EU legal requirements, public participation, and assessment of the environmental condition and economics of water usage.

The four key findings, results released March 10, are:

  1. Environmental groups have high expectations regarding what can be delivered by the Water Framework Directive in terms of environmental improvements.
  2. Quality of Water Framework Directive transposition and implementation is low, giving a poor basis for achieving its "good status" objective. However, there were some improvements in the quality of public participation during the year 2004.
  3. Environmental groups have insufficient capacity to fully participate in implementation of the directive.
  4. Governments and authorities are reluctant to seek participation of environmental nongovernmental organizations in what they call "technical" work or to communicate this work in a transparent way.
"Only three countries - Ireland , Finland and Romania - seem to have established water authorities with sufficient competences to deal with all water problems at the river basin level as required by EU law, says Stefan Scheuer, EU Policy Director at the EEB. "Only eight countries include the overall Water Framework Directive objective of achieving "good water status" by 2015 in their national laws."

"The vast majority of countries fail to establish proper legal and administrative provisions to improve water management as required by EU law," Scheuer said. "This is bad news for the environment, for the credibility of Europe and for the use of taxpayers' money. These countries risk conviction in courts and will have wasted valuable time in terms of fulfilling the law's 2015 goal."

Countries have major problems assessing and communicating the state of their aquatic environment and the economy of water uses. In only one country - Estonia - was the government able to provide figures on the environmental and resource costs of water use as required by European law.

"We wonder how cost-effective water management decisions are taken in the other countries without such information," says Scheuer.

On the basis of the survey's findings, recommendations for environmental groups, the European Commission and national governments have been developed.

Environmental groups should launch complaints at national courts and at the European Commission level about bad legal practices in implementation of the Water Framework Directive, WWF and the EEB recommend.

The European Commission should thoroughly check the quality of national laws, especially respective administrative arrangements and environmental objectives, and start infringement procedures without delay.

EU member states should increase investments in efficient and sustainable water management, train water managers to deal with non-scientific aspects of their work and continue and build on good examples of public participation.

The International Decade for Action - Water for Life 2005 - 2015 will coincide with the International Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, which is also set for 2005-2015.