Water is life

“What is needed, along with fresh water, is fresh thinking. We need to learn how to value water. It is one of the crueller ironies of todays world water situation that those with the lowest income generally pay the most for their water.”

Marking World Environment Day, 5th June 2003, Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, pointed out that “fresh thinking” means finding practical, appropriate solutions to ensure the reliable and equitable supply of water, particularly for the one person in every six who lives without regular access to safe drinking water.

There are many communities throughout the world who have devised practical solutions for harvesting and conserving water. Many of these simple and effective local solutions should be valued and more widely utilized and supported by the larger global community.

In recognition of this need the United Nations Environment Programmes International Technology Centre in Japan is compiling a database (www.unep.or.jp/ietc/database/). The database will include water-saving tips, technologies and policies drawn from both the developed and developing world, including small island states.

The database includes many examples of both the undervalue and wanton use of water in many parts of the world and the reverence and value given to it in other parts. The database also presents case studies from around the world where, for example, leak detection has been adopted to reduce huge losses from water supply networks. In Malta, losses from pipes were cut from 55 to 25 per cent.

In March 2003, the 3rd World Water Forum was held in Japan (www.world.water-forum3.com). As well as over thirty commitments being made to address the issue of water and climate, Forum participants also took part in a continuation of the Dialogue on Water and Climate (www.waterandclimate.org) which was launched at the 2001 International Conference on Freshwater in Bonn, Germany.

The Dialogue was intended to facilitate the exchange of information and strategy potentials between the climate community and the water management community. One of the results was the creation of an informal Water and Climate Alliance, intended to act as an international umbrella for as diverse and broad a range of groups and organizations possible to encourage capacity development on water and climate impacts.

One of the main recommendations made at the final session of the 3rd World Water Forum concerned water cycle research and global monitoring. The recommended points for action are:

  • integrate methods from natural and social science disciplines to describe complex webs of interdependencies between humanity and nature;
  • create alternatives for future regional water resources management;
  • initiate and support a large data consolidation effort in the area of water and climate;
  • halt further deterioration of hydrological and meteorological data collecting networks;
  • enhance support of outreach activities and data exchange policies;
  • establish an international ground-based observational network of the water cycle by engaging a broad group of participants;
  • develop comprehensive and continuous satellite to ground observing strategies, especially for rainfall;
  • establish information systems and services for integration of the observational, model and social water/land use data and products and for international distribution of data for interpreting scientific outputs for actual social applications; and,
  • establish administrative expertise and governmental cooperation from all countries to apply the newly integrated water cycle information for maximum societal benefit.

More than two billion human beings are dying through a lack of water. Sadly, the tragedy of the water crisis is not simply a result of lack of water but is, essentially, one of poor water governance. This is one of the overarching conclusions reached by contributors to the World Water Development Report Water for People, Water for Life (www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr/).

Water for People, Water for Life, released in March 2003, represents the collaborative work of 23 United Nations agencies and commissions and is a product of the United Nations Water Assessment Programme.

According to the Report: “In truth it is attitude and behaviour problems that lie at the heart of the crisis. We know most (but not all) of what the problems are and a good deal about where they are. We have the knowledge and expertise to begin to tackle them. We have developed excellent concepts, such as equity and sustainability. Yet inertia at leadership level, and a world population not fully aware of the scale of the problem (and in many cases not sufficiently empowered to do much about it) mean we fail to take the needed timely corrective actions and put the concepts to work.”

Further information
See the “Freshwater” issue of Our Planet, Volume 14(1), available from UNEP, PO Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya, or online at: www.ourplanet.com. The United Nations World Water Development Report can be obtained by writing to UNESCO Publishing, 7 Place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris 07 SP, France or online at: upo.unesco.org.