Call for public awareness of water crisis

01 Dec 2006

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Following the launch of the 2006 Global Human Development Report on 9th of November, three initiatives on water issues have started at an international level.

New Horizons - The “Water Alert Campaign” jointly launched by UNDP and Italy’s leading advertising agency Publicis aims to promote greater world awareness of water issues. A race to confront the world water crisis: ‘Running the Sahara’ is orgaized by three runners and will be documented by LivePlanet, Allentown Productions and the Independent Producers Alliance (IPA) with UNDP’s technical and logistical support to the expedition. Also organized by UNDP, the “H2O Knowledge Fair” (first-ever virtual knowledge fair) supports the efforts to put water and sanitation at the heart of the global development agenda.

Water alert campaign

On 10 November, UNDP and Publicis Italy have launched a campaign to make the international community better aware of the fact that one in every six people in the world lacks proper access to safe drinking water.

The international advertising drive, started in conjunction with the 9 November release of UNDP’s 2006 Human Development Report, “Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis,” aspires to garner support for universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Newspapers and magazines in the developed world were invited to join the water challenge by publishing free of charge the campaign’s four print ads, designed pro bono by the Milan-based agency of Publicis.

Many of the 1.1 billion people deprived of sufficient safe drinking water must make do with as little as five litres a day for all their drinking, washing and cooking needs one-tenth of the average quantity that rich countries’ inhabitants flush daily down their toilets. Some 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation. In 2004, diarrhoea alone killed six times the number of people who died annually in armed conflicts in the 1990s. According to the Human Development Report, the US$10 billion investment required to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015 would generate US$38 billion a year in economic benefits.

The Human Development Report argues that poverty, power conflicts and inequalities, not scarcity, are at the roots of the problem, and proposes models of cooperation in water management.
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A race to confront the world water crisis: ‘Running the Sahara’

To raise awareness of the burgeoning global water crisis and the broader challenges of the developing world, Charlie Engle of the U.S., Canadian Ray Zahab and Taiwan’s Kevin Lin are going for a run--across the Sahara Desert.

Part personal quest and part advocacy campaign, the journey—the subject of a feature documentary film, “Running the Sahara,” directed by Oscar winner James Moll and narrated and executive-produced by Oscar winner Matt Damon—is taking Engle, Zahab and Lin across a continent through villages, oases and nomad settlements, past mosques and mountains and over camel tracks, in one of the harshest climates on earth. For the runners, water is a daily necessity. For the people of the Sahara and throughout the developing world, it is a lifelong concern.

Against the backdrop of the world-wide challenges the water crisis presents to development, the three men left St. Louis, Senegal on an extreme trek through that country, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt, and are set to finish the run in Cairo sometime around the end of January. Along the way - while running the equivalent of two marathons a day for 75 to 90 days - they are interacting with the people who live in the 3.5 million square miles of the Sahara and witnessing some of the work in human development being done by UNDP and others in the region. Among the UNDP and Global Environment Facility projects the runners are visiting are water-management, governance and peace-building efforts in Mali and Niger, a conservation project for medicinal plants in Egypt, dam construction in Mauritania and a school in Senegal. The trekkers reached the journey’s approximate halfway point this weekend.

In addition to the 90-minute film, slated for international release in late 2007, a website tracks the progress of Engle, Zahab and Lin, providing information about the people and projects they visit. Web visitors have the opportunity to learn more about the global water crisis and efforts to address it, including UNDP’s 2006 Human Development Report and its Community Water Initiative, which fosters community-based water and sanitation development and management. They can also pledge support on a per-mile basis for water projects through H2O Africa, the charitable component of Running the Sahara.

LivePlanet, Allentown Productions and the Independent Producers Alliance (IPA) are producing the film while UNDP is providing technical and logistical support to the expedition.

Through the eyes of three people embarking on an unprecedented test of endurance in a visually and culturally remarkable corner of the earth, viewers and Web visitors will share in the journey, and better understand the people and problems of the developing world, as well as the crucial importance of more-equitable distribution of global resources.

Virtual Water Fair

UNDP launched its first online knowledge fair on water with the participation of experts on this issue, backing the call to action in this year’s Human Development Report to put water and sanitation at the heart of the global development agenda.

The “H2O Knowledge Fair”, held between 15-17 November, offered on-the-ground experiences of the issues highlighted in the 2006 Global Human Development Report (HDR), Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis. Organized by UNDP regional centres in Bratislava and Beirut for the countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and Northern Africa, the three-day event aimed to provide a forum to discuss issues, exchange good practices, and initiate new partnerships. The participant countries were Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Macedonia, Morocco, Romania, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

The interactive fair featured some 40 good practices and experiences in water governance from 18 countries, with multi-media presentations of projects and practices, virtual “booths”, three live discussion forums, profiles of practitioners and experts in the water community, as well as information and useful references and links.

The live discussion forums tackled three main topics: National Planning Processes: Capacity Constraints and Links to Transboundary Water Management; HDR 2006 Findings: relevance and implications for our regions – moving from words to action; and New Approaches for Stakeholder Management in Water Projects.

Funded through UNDP’s Global Knowledge Management Project, the online approach brought the fair directly to the participants and connected them virtually to each other and to a wealth of experience on water issues in the above-mentioned regions.

Transboundary waters and Turkey

As stated in the 2006 Human Development Report, hydrologists typically assess scarcity by looking at the population-water equation. The convention is to treat 1,700 cubic metres per person as the national threshold for meeting water requirements for agriculture, industry, energy and the environment. Availability below 1,000 cubic metres is held to represent a state of “water scarcity”—and below 500 cubic metres, “absolute scarcity”.

H2O Knowledge Fair web site has fact sheets for 13 participant countries. One of them is on Turkey. According to the information provided on the water fair web site, Turkey has 26 key hydrological basins, one fourth of which comes from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.There is an uneven distribution of water availability within Turkey’s regions: the Western part consisting of Marmara, Aegean, and the Central Anatolian regions, is relatively water poor, while the rest of Turkey is relatively water rich. The western region is densely populated and heavily involved in cash-crop production. In order to address the variability of water resources and their uneven distribution, the government has built more than 550 multipurpose reservoirs.

The Water Fair web site states that Turkey’s surface water resources are threatened by point sources of pollution (municipal and industrial waste) and diffuse pollution from agricultural activities. Deterioration in the quality of surface water has been observed in areas where agriculture is intensive, as a result of the use of pesticides. Large volumes of untreated wastewater are dumped into water bodies. The absence of an effective protection zone is adversely affecting the quality of groundwater reserves.

Exhibits: Experieces from Turkey

Three exhibits on Turkey took place at the H2O Knowledge Fair: “A Project Worth its Salt” (from Lake Palas), “Preserving the Pearl Mullet” (from Lake Van) and “Sugar Beet Irrigation” (from Kayseri):

A Project Worth its Salt: Lake Palas is one of the most important natural habitats in Turkey. At the same time, many local inhabitants earn their livelihood by extracting salt from its shores, harming the environment in the process. This project aims to preserve the lake without depriving the local population of its income.

Preserving the Pearl Mullet: Pearl mullet is the only fish species that exists in the salty and highly carbonated waters of Lake Van. Now widespread fishing during reproduction season threatens the future of the species. This project first focused on enforcing the fishing ban, but then switched gears after this largely failed. It is now emphasizing on education, alternative income-generating activities, and the creation of appropriate conditions for fishing outside of reproduction season.

Sugar Beet Irrigation: In the semi-arid lands of Central Anatolia, wetlands have been severely degraded through unsustainable water use, notably for irrigation of large sugar beet fields. The use of modern drip irrigation systems in place of more wasteful surface irrigation can save significant amounts of water. The Global Environmental Facility's Small Grants Programme (SGP) provided financing to the Kayseri Sugar Beet Cooperative to improve its drip irrigation system and disseminate good practices through an awareness-raising campaign.