Field Report: World Water Forum


At the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, we have the great opportunity to meet and coordinate our water program with other members of the Green Cross family -- to be among the group of hundreds of international NGOs. Green Cross International (GCI) founder Mikhail Gorbachev's opening address was very good; he emphasized that the economic model, characterized by a focus on consumption, has not led to sustainable solutions. We need to think of how to change the model and define the goals of economic development -- solidarity, the struggle against poverty, etc. All our efforts should be backed by human rights. "Let's think and act on common principles."

From his speech: "Water is at the heart of our economies, our societies, our futures. Water is the basis for all development and its strategic importance has demonstrated it can serve as a vehicle for peace and also tension. The risk of competition between regions and countries may only increase if we do not find a way to protect and share water.”

More: President Gorbachev's complete speech.


More observations on the forum:

Climate Adaptation: Comments about climate change made by John Matthews from Conservation International resonated. We should not think in terms of climate change -- that has always been there -- but climate adaptation, which forces us to think of change as a process, where step-by-step decisions are needed. Ecosystems want to adapt to climate change and will do so, as they have in the past -- obviously, that does not mean do nothing about it, but understand and adapt to the process.

Rivers and Dams: David Purkey, from the Swedish Environment Institute, in a session devoted to rivers and dams, wondered aloud whether we should always expect every river to do everything -- in other words, rather than applying every measure to every river, is it possible to think that some should be allowed to serve certain communities -- could be downstream farming, fish spawning, etc. -- at the price of not meeting other requirements.

Smart Water for Green Schools: The Green Cross presentation on Smart Water for Green Schools, which has been particularly successful in Ghana and Bolivia, underlined the necessity of involving communities, especially women, at an early stage and throughout. When people have contributed their actual sweat to building water provision and sanitation facilities, they are going to maintain them. The communities' heavy involvement and identification with the respective projects is essential to their long-term success.

Waterways Convention: Progress has been made toward ratification of the Waterways Convention, which aims to regulate the non-navigational aspects of trans-boundary rivers and the riparian communities along their banks. But eleven countries are still needed to meet the 35 required for ratification. Green Cross and World Wildlife Fund have been working on for this for many years and the old discussions particularly on obligations in Articles 5 and prevention of harm in Article 7 continue. The question remains whether one should push for ratification as it stands, addressing amendments later, or tackle those now. From my perspective, a big sticking point is that the earlier convention covered river basins and not waterways; this makes a huge difference, as basins include the larger amount of green water, not only the blue water of the rivers themselves.

Green Cross Ambassador: Famke Janssen was named a new ambassador for Green Cross International."Sustainable solutions to the global water crisis will not be found without engaging and understanding women’s unique relationship to water," she said in a speech during the conference.

Alternative World Water Forum: I also attended the AWWF -- in French, the Forum Alternatif Mondial de l'Eau (FAME). In the AWWF's own words, its objective is to create a concrete alternative to the sixth World Water Forum (WWF), which was organized by the World Water Council. They do not recognize the Council as heading the global governance of water. There is still separation between policy-makers, embodied by the numerous government authorities, international organizations and development banks at the WWF, and civil society (i.e. the people) represented by the NGOs. Unfortunately, there was scant coverage at the WWF of both societal and environmental issues, compared to policy and infrastructural discussions. Indeed, there was mention at several sessions of the need to combine the tops-down with the bottom-up approach for any progress to be made, but the ground-roots voices were seldom heard, even during question times. This appeared to be true of practically every aspect of the forum -- provision of safe drinking water, sanitation, trans boundary river issues, integrated water management, climate change and, most importantly, "solutions" to the problems, which is what this 6th WWF was dedicated to.

As we progress from the battle for the right to water, which has generally been granted, toward its implementation, I strongly believe that those people most affected -- to say nothing of the ecologically sustainable world that we hope to achieve -- must be given more attention if all stakeholders are to buy into policy decisions that affect all our futures. The 6th WWF's recognition of this fact is a good step in the right direction -- a recognition, too, that technological solutions alone are not enough. Building on progress made, all of us look forward to stronger signs of implementation before the 7th WWF in Korea in 2015.