International Conference on World Water Resources at the Beginning of the 21st Century: Water - A Looming Crisis?
More than 300 water experts met at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, from 3 to 6 June 1998, to discuss the looming global water crisis. This well attended conference sounded the alarm over global fresh water supplies.
It was opened by its organisers, UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor; Guy Lemoigne, Executive Director of the World Water Council (WWC), John Rodda, President of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS), all of whom emphasised the urgent need to improve data collection and water resources assessment to render possible sustainable water management policies. On behalf of the UN system, Dieter Kraemer of WMO addressed the opening session.
Mr Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, opened the conference. He stressed the great importance UNESCO attaches to water-related issues in the world and to the role of this conference in making recommendations for future water resources management. He emphasised UNESCO's long-standing focus on water issues, and stressed the alarming problem posed by dwindling fresh water resources: "In 25 years, per capita annual water availability has dropped by about one third."
Mr Mayor declared that cultural and ethical answers are also needed to deal with this problem, and pointed out that this is why water is one of the main subjects to be tackled by UNESCO's World Commission for the Ethics of Science and Technology, established last year. Mr Mayor also said that UNESCO will host the World Water Council's Vision Management Unit which is
to determine a global Long-Term Vision for Water, Life and the Environment for the 21st Century. Furthermore, he announced that "Because of the threat of conflict which severe water shortage entails, our Organisation plans to establish the world's first International Centre for the Prevention and Management of Water Related Conflicts," probably to be headquartered in the Spanish city of Valencia.
"Water-related conflicts can be prevented if it is recognised that water has been one of humanity's learning grounds for community building," Mr Mayor said. "We should therefore see water not as a potential source of conflict but rather as a source of agreement that can serve as a paradigm for the sharing of knowledge and resources essential for the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace," he urged.
In his opening address, Mr Lemoigne highlighted the purpose of the World Water Council, established in 1996, "to represent key stakeholders in water and raise consciousness, including at the highest level, on issues relating to water resources and water management." "Our main objective," he said, "is to be an international think-tank on water policy" and contribute to policy-makers' ability "to meet consumers' demands for quality water at a price they can afford."
Mr Rodda of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS) noted that, unlike 30 or 40 years ago, when policy makers ignored hydrologists who began sounding the alarm over the imminent fresh water shortage, the public was now aware of the problem. He hoped
that UNESCO's ruling body, the General Conference, would take note of the meeting's recommendations and added "we must ensure that our voices are heard at next year's World Science Conference and at the United Nations' General Assembly. He also stressed the need for progress to be made in the collection of accurate data on water.
Like Mr Rodda, Mr Kraemer of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) highlighted progress in public awareness of the "pressure on water resources" and its potential to create international tensions. Speaking of the monograph on water resources presented at the Conference, he said it "confirms the view that in many parts of the world development policies relating to water are not sustainable." He furthermore deplored the deterioration in data collection efforts since the mid-80s and called for greater attention to be paid, not only to improve the sustainability of water management for human consumption, but also for greater respect for aquatic ecosystems.
The introductory keynote lecturer, Mr M.K. Tolba (Egypt), urged the scientific community to make clear, concrete and realistic recommendations. The participants, from all over the world, most of them scientists, participated actively in the three-day conference during which Igor Shiklomanov of the State Hydrological Institute of St Petersburg (Russia) presented a 7-volume monograph - World Water Resources, A New Appraisal and Assessment for the 21st Century - prepared within the framework of UNESCO's International Hydrological Programme.
The monograph is the result of a decade of international co-operative research undertaken within the framework of IHP and provides an updated assessment of freshwater resources world-wide and addresses the problems of availability, protection and management of water resources. The work was lead by Professor I. Shiklomanov and his colleagues at the State Hydrological Institute in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation. On the first day of the conference, they presented the main findings of this decade-long research. Participants also received a popularized summary of the monograph. Other globally oriented presentations were also made, dealing with the world's snow and ice resources, the world's groundwater resources, and water-related topics such as health, food and the environment.
On the second and third days, five working groups held parallel sessions, each tackling a specific topic of the conference's central issue - water resources: (1) data and improvement of water resources assessment, (2) water quality and environmental impact, (3) impact of human activity on water resources, (4) the extremes of water resources and their management, and (5) economic and social aspects of water resources. The Académie de l'Eau organized and supported working group 5. WMO was responsible for working group 1.
Each working group featured several keynote and selected speakers who shared their experience and presented their research results. In-depth discussions between the participants followed. It was from these presentations and discussions that each working group distilled its recommendations for both the international scientific community and the world's water resources managers and policy makers in order to achieve the goal of sustainable development and to counter the looming water crisis. These recommendations are of particular importance as they combine the views of hydrologists from all over the world, making the conference truly international and global.
On the last day, in plenary session, in-depth discussions, facilitated by Dr. J. Delli Priscoli, took place concerning the working group reports which were synthetized as the «sense of the conference». The final «sense of the conference» as adopted by the participants is displayed on the following pages.
"SENSE OF THE CONFERENCE"
Water: a looming crisis?
Does the world face a looming water crisis? Yes. A new global assessment of regional freshwater resources confirms that a quarter of the world population still has no safe water supply and a half lacks adequate sanitation. As a consequence people are still dying from lack of adequate water services and water-related diseases. Global water quality is still declining and organic micro-pollutants continue to degrade ecosystems and habitats. Furthermore, water quality data are still unavailable in many parts of the world and inadequate in others, while in certain regions networks continue to degrade.
There are various crises. Certain parts of the world are experiencing growing scarcity, worsening pollution and over-consumption, exacerbated by drought and floods; for example in the Sahel and Lake Chad. Locally and regionally, water resources are often exceeded by the demand for water. Demands for water services are growing, and frequently along transboundary and international rivers. Population growth environmental change such as watershed degradation, including climate change, can make the prospects for continuing economic and social development look bleak. With increasing demands, managers face growing uncertainty and the prospect that their decisions will fail to provide water of adequate quantity and quality, and protect against floods, pollution events and water-related diseases.
But trends are not destiny. A variety of human actions can mitigate this water crisis, change trends leading to greater crises and create opportunities for improving the quality of life, maintaining ecosystems and generating wealth and sustainable development.
A number of global gatherings have addressed water as a major issue, from the 1977 UN Water Conference in Mar del Plata, Argentina, to the U N Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the recent UN Commission for Sustainable Development negotiations on fresh water. Many recommendations from these meetings have become the practice of certain international and national programmes. But much remains to be done, especially to raise the salience of water issues to political decision-makers. This conference and its recommended actions are directed to the water community and policy makers.
First, humanity must decide to take action. Indeed, the water community is obligated to proactively seek such opportunities. Second, human actions must be taken within the framework of new partnerships among the full spectrum of users of water services, those who pay and those who benefit, political and technical professionals, ecosystems and engineering, citizens and private and public decision-makers, and science and humanity. Third, action must be participatory, transparent, creative and technically sound. Fourth, improved cost effectiveness and increasing confidence, new technology, new concepts and new ideas leading to increasing flexibility of water resources systems and the institutions that manage them are needed. Five, improved assessment and management of risk, increased reliability of traditional, technical and new demand orientated data, improved awareness of water and enhanced public participation are needed.
Better information on the quantity and quality of surface and ground water, on related areas, such as on the flora and fauna in water bodies is required. Integrated approaches to database and information management should be adopted. They should include data on natural and artificial flows. They should stress the importance of the length of record and the range of variables so those trends may be identified. The variability of water resources in space and time, and not simply average conditions, should be available. Water related information systems should be integrated with other aspects of water management systems, especially on demand and use, and with information on comprehensive environmental management. Time and space scales of hydrological processes especially for ground water are important.
While, participants acknowledged a basic human right to some minimum water need, quantifying that need is difficult. Water and sanitation budgets should be dramatically increased and come closer to commitments for defence and security.
The effects of human activities on water resources and the environment, in general, have to be separated from those resulting from the natural variability of climate. This is particularly important where water resources are already under great stress, such as in arid and semi-arid areas. Stakeholder participation is vital to sustainable water resources management, backed by the development and implementation of new water laws. Effective policies to protect water resources, particularly groundwater resources, have to be launched.
Policy analysis using computer simulations and measures for analysing current trends were seen as useful tools for addressing future water issues, but an integrated approach to planning for future water requirements is necessary. Such integrated approaches must consider the full spectrum of options, from structural (such as dams and channelisation) to non-structural (such as conservation, pricing and bio-engineering).
A better understanding of the history of water management and its lessons is needed. Technical and non-technical people involved with water need to better communicate and educate each other. We need more and better training for younger generations. Continuing and increasing education coupled with technology transfer is needed. For example, lessons learned from floods in certain countries could provide assistance to others such as: infiltration facilities, flood proofing techniques and quantitative precipitation forecasting. Protection by dikes is necessary on large rivers while effective warning and evacuation systems are vital in order to reduce the toll of deaths.
Improved and integrated water management requires a better sense of the costs and value of water. Water pricing in agriculture, the dominant use of water world wide, highlights this need. Water is a social as well as an economic good. Participants debated the meaning of "value", "price", and economic good. Some suggested using services rather than economic good. Others suggested using opportunity costs. Participants agreed that water services should not be free of charge but paid for at a socially affordable level. However, that level will differ among cultures and circumstances.
A variety of institutional and legal systems exist which allow nations to make their own approaches to water resources management. They include public and private options, usership as opposed to ownership and demand management against needs based planning. Integrated water resources management has to take into account economic, social, cultural and environmental aspects along with principles such as "the polluter pays". While water markets function in some areas the viability of market mechanisms requires study. Participants called for a major world forum to debate the theoretical and practical issues behind the notion of water as an economic good.
While water offers potential for conflict, it provides a powerful tool for co-operation. Water has often been the vehicle for parties in adverse relationships to talk. It has been and should be seen as a major opportunity for second track diplomacy and peace building.
These actions are directed to ongoing global efforts such as: the International Hydrological Programme (IHP) of UNESCO, the 1999 World Science Conference, the Water Vision of the World Water Council, the Second Global Freshwater Assessment and the Encyclopaedia of Life Support Systems.