Monday, March 30, 2009

The 5th World Water Forum: Looking for Both Creek and Paddle?

This year’s World Water Forum already had identified the root causes of the global water crisis, but can it formulate viable long-term solutions?

By: Ringo Bones

The 5th World Water Forum held in March 16, 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey had a renewed assessment of the Earth’s freshwater resources as the 26 United Nations agencies highlighted the leading causes of our chronic global freshwater shortage. Though the worsening effects of climate change and global warming on freshwater supply stability has yet to be assessed, the policymakers attending the meeting noted that the leading factors driving the demand for potable freshwater are: Population growth and urban migration. Rising living standards that inevitably leads to changes in food consumption – i.e. increased meat consumption, which requires more freshwater to produce, instead of grains and vegetables. And finally increased energy production via hydropower / hydroelectric dam infrastructure and biofuel farming. Before we delve deeper into the issue of our global freshwater sources, here’s a brief introduction of what is the World Water Forum.

The World Water Forum is scheduled to take place every 3 years. Organized by the World Water Council, which is a membership organization comprising of large development banks, associations of professional engineers, various academic institutions, some of the largest aid and environmental organizations, various United Nations agencies, national and local government agencies, and various dam construction companies.

Notable policymakers who presented their assessment of the problem of freshwater supply during this year’s World Water Forum is UNESCO Director-General Ko├»chiro Matsuura, who presented the report to the World Water Forum on behalf of the UN. The UNESCO Director-General said: “With increasing shortages, good governance is more than ever essential for water management. Combating poverty also depends on our ability to invest in this resource.”

The assessment report presented during this year’s World Water Forum finds that corruption in the water management sector may account for the need of an additional 50 billion US dollars in order for the Millennium Development Goals on water sanitation to be achieved. Water sanitation for the impoverished regions of the globe is one of the 8 goals of the UN's Millenium Development Goals agreed by all of the worlds countries and major development institutions back in 2000 and set to be accomplished by 2015.

Typical examples of corruption in the water management sector include falsified water meter readings, favoritism in public equipment bidding, and nepotism in allocation of public contracts. The report estimates that part of the budget set for water development that can be siphoned off through corruption in some countries run as high as 30%. Plus the environmentally dubious use and mismanagement of scarce freshwater resources to make arid lands into productive farmlands – propped-up as “prestige projects” by some countries - needs to be addressed.

Poverty is also an integral part of the water supply safety issue because the number of people living on less than US$1.25 a day is roughly equal to the number of people who are denied access to safe drinking water. And yet more freshwater is diverted in raising the rich man’s cow and raise biofuel for the rich man’s car just because the impoverished folks lack adequate “buying power”.

Pro-environment protestors during this year’s “Forum” criticized large-scale hydroelectric dams – in spite of their low carbon footprint energy production - because they pose heavy environmental impact and risk. The latest dam breech disaster in Indonesia in March 27, 2009, which killed 77 at last count - with dozens still missing - tragically affecting nearby inhabitants, can only attest to this. Could the Three Gorges Dam in China dwarf this disaster someday?

Even though the World Water Forum finally acknowledges extreme poverty, efficient energy utilization, and environmental concerns as part of the problem in maintaining a constant supply and availability of safe freshwater at a reasonable cost. The problems posed by armed conflict, infrastructure to maintain peace and order, and the worsening impact of climate change and global warming seems to be not on the main agenda – again. Programs started by the UN to avail impoverished areas safe drinking water at a reasonable cost seems to get extensive press coverage these days. Though large-scale implementations of these programs are still hindered by the uncertain long-term peace and order situations of these regions. Looks like peace and conflict resolution is an integral factor of making freshwater sanitation programs afloat in these impoverished regions.