“The risks from failing to act are increasingly understood to be high, and include economic instability, loss in quality of life, reversal of gains in poverty reduction and more frequent disaster and ecological degradation,” said Alexander Likhotal, the President of Green Cross International, addressing the ‘Peace with Water’ conference at the European Parliament on 12 February, 2009. “Policies and investments that mobilise effective and timely adaptation in the water sector are therefore vital.” His statement in the session on ‘Right to Water’:
”The Right to Water is both a very ancient and a very modern concept. The first conceptual reference is found in the 5th millennium BC. Chapter 125 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead containing so-called Negative Confessions says:
-I have not killed.
-I have not given the order to kill.
-I have not inflicted pain on anyone.
In the same list we find:
-I have not held back the water when it should flow.
-I have not diverted the running water in a canal.
Seven thousand years ago people already understood that water was a limited natural resource and fundamental for life and health. This recognition was based on ethics.
So where do we stand today?
According to the 2006 Human Development Report (UNDP, 2006), at least 700 million people in 43 countries currently live in countries facing water-stress. This figure will reach 3 billion by 2025 as populations grow. At the same time, demand for water is rapidly rising. By 2050, an additional 2.7 billion people will need to be fed worldwide. Meeting this challenge will fall increasingly on irrigated agriculture, which alone currently accounts for more than 80% of the water use in developing countries.
Industrialisation will drive up demand further. Symptoms of water stress seen today, such as sinking groundwater and rivers that no longer reach the sea, are expected to worsen acutely. At the same time, according to reliable estimates, if governments of the developed world were to allocate $50 US per capita towards fighting the water crisis, it would take only 10 years to resolve it.
Some figures to compare:
Farmers’ subsidies in the developed countries amount to USD 2 per day per cow. That means USD 700 per year per cow – no problem, but 50 dollars per year per human being, an insurmountable obstacle?
This figure amply demonstrates that our water policy is bankrupt!
However, for the last few decades, water and sanitation has been seen as a purely development or technical issue, with the legal and political dimensions underplayed. Yet, as shown in the UNDP Human Development Report 2006 – “Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis”, lack of access to basic levels of water and sanitation is primarily due to exclusion and neglect of the poor and not, as commonly assumed, lack of sufficient water resources or lack of technical solutions.
There is an emerging international consensus on the issues of water management including agreement that:
* Water is key to development
* Water is a key social and economic resource for any nation
* The right to water must be protected for equity as well as sustainable development
* Water is key to improved health, nutrition and quality of life
* The private – public partnership is essential for development of the water resources
* Community based management is essential to conserve, properly utilise and develop water resources
* Sustainable water resource development is possible only through an integrated approach to soil, water, forest and livestock.
This final point is also important in the context of protecting the rights of future generations to sustainability of the world’s water resources and to inherit a clean and healthy environment.
Finally, it is increasingly being recognised that water and sanitation management requires effective government at the national and local levels. Issues of good governance – which are traditionally perceived as part of the human rights agenda – are therefore particularly pertinent to the water sector. These include the necessity for transparency, the elimination of corruption, strengthening of democratic participation at all levels of national and municipal government and public control over relevant private activities.
Meeting global water security needs in the future is thus a major challenge demanding concerted global action. The effects of climate change on water resources, however, are set to compound this challenge enormously. Examples of the projected impact of climate change on water and water resources include (IPCC, 2007):
• expansion of drought affected areas, especially in regions currently facing water stress;
• higher flood risk caused by more frequent heavy precipitation events;
• decline in water supply from mountain glaciers and snow cover, decreasing water security for one-sixth of the world population;
• increasing damage from coastal flooding due to sea-level rise;
• increased deaths, disease and injury due to floods, storms and droughts;
• lower food security and increased malnutrition, especially in tropical regions, caused by more frequent droughts and floods.
Climate change is already impacting the most vulnerable communities in the world. President Museveni of Uganda has called climate change an act of aggression by the rich against the poor, and its effects are already creating heightened tension within affected regions as natural resources – particularly water and arable land – become scarcer. The crisis in Darfur – where 200,000 people have already died – is at its heart a struggle between nomadic and pastoral communities for resources made scarcer by a changing climate. In the 1990’s alone, resource conflicts led to the deaths of 5 million people worldwide and to the displacement of millions more to already crowded cities. The fact that climate change will increasingly affect those very cities, particularly large ones, becomes a concern for every country, especially considering that more than 3.3 billion people live in cities, which is more than the world population in 1960.
As such impacts strengthen with time, the difficulties and cost of expanding and sustaining water security will rise, and potentially very steeply. The risks from failing to act are increasingly understood to be high, and include economic instability, loss in quality of life, reversal of gains in poverty reduction and more frequent disaster and ecological degradation. Policies and investments that mobilise effective and timely adaptation in the water sector are therefore vital.
Therefore dealing with climate change and its consequences on water resources will require more than a quick technological fix, as more developing countries become urbanised and aspire to standards set by high-consuming nations. Increasingly, climate change experts, water professionals, rural and urban planners will need to work together to define strategic priorities for adaptation to climate change. Strategies will need to take into account the concerns and needs of the various stakeholders, whether urban or rural. The way forward to meet the climate change challenge is an integrated approach that will help develop innovative solutions and prevent conflicts over natural resources.
To galvanise the action needed, the priority given to adaptation of water services and management of water resources to climate change needs to rise quickly. Significantly more attention and legitimacy is needed at the level of national and international politics and governance systems to build leadership of meaningful national adaptation agendas.
It is therefore the strong conviction of Green Cross International, the organisation I represent, that the only practical way of addressing the water crisis is through consolidation of civil society and the creation of legally binding mechanisms for resolving major water-related issues.
Unfortunately in real life these goals are not necessarily easily compatible. Civil society remains fractured, segmented and not consolidated. They rarely abide by the “Ockham’s razor” principle- entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity. A “pie in the sky” approach is often preferred to consistent but low public visibility efforts as civil society unfortunately remains not immune to politicising, populism, personal or “corporate” egoism and narcissism.
Green Cross International, with its partners, is working on expanding the implementation of the human right to water within national legislation by accelerating the enforcement of those legally binding instruments that already exist on water issues. For example, GCI has been promoting the UN Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, adopted in 1997, with the objective of gathering the required number of state ratifications for the Convention to enter into force. The Convention was adopted on 21 May 1997 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, but only a few countries have since ratified it. This is a good example of the need to strengthen the existing initiative and work jointly with governments, the civil society, and businesses to consolidate efforts.
Concluding, I would like to commend the efforts of all those who have contributed to put together the World Water Protocol. At the same time, I would hope that it capitalizes more in the future on existing initiatives and the current global water agenda. Just an example – I could hardly see how a policy paper can not even mention the United Nations Watercourses Convention or recent and important UN Human Rights Council efforts on the right to water and sanitation.
And finally, I believe that local, national, and international businesses could contribute to overcoming the water crisis, provided that they work under the control of public authorities and that they respect the fundamental values included in the right to water principle. Therefore their role should be discussed when addressing a world water policy. Regardless of one’s preferences, private entities play a big role in water agenda. Ignoring reality never pays. As president Gorbachev rightly said, by ignoring business we just provide business with a pretext to ignore us.
Note: The views expressed above may be used freely by media and others provided proper attribution is done.