UN's water report calls for urgent action

01 Apr 2009


Over 25,000 participants from 150 countries took part in the 5th World Water Forum, from March 16th to 22nd in İstanbul, making it the world’s biggest ever water-related event.

New Horizons - One thousand media representatives followed the event. Four thousand policemen were on duty to ensure security. 20 million dollars were spent for the Forum. Many recommendations, proposals, commitments, initiatives and a Ministerial Declaration came out of more than 100 sessions during the Forum. In one of the sessions on March 16, 2009, third edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR-3) was presented. The report warns against a water crisis if measures are not taken immediately.

Demographics and the increasing consumption that comes with rising per capita incomes are the most important drivers or pressure on water. Demand for energy – for heat, light, power and transportation – is increasing rapidly. The increase in the production of bioenergy has potentially important impacts on water quality and availability.

The world’s population is growing by about 80 million people a year, implying increased freshwater demand of about 64 billion cubic metres a year. An estimated 90% of the 3 billion people who are expected to be added to the population by 2050 will be in developing countries, many in regions where the current population does not have sustainable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Because of migration, the world will have substantially more people in vulnerable coastal areas, with 18 of the world’s 27 megacities (populations of 10 million or greater) in the next 20 years.

According to the UN’s water report, which is a joint effort of the 26 UN agencies and entities which make up UN-Water, working in partnership with governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders, more investments are needed in safe drinking water and sanitation. This investment is proved to contribute to economic growth. For each $1 invested, the World Health Organization estimates returns of $3-$34, depending on the region and the technology. Investments in water infrastructure by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1930 and 1999 yielded returns of $6 for each $1 spent and controlled flood damage despite rising population numbers and property value at risk over the period.

Institutional and human capacity development, to prepare institutions for current and future water and related challenges are also needed. Pluralistic governance, transparency and interactions among parties with different interests during decision-making are also necessary for a solution.

The third edition of the World Water Development Report draws attention to the fact that the world is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal target on drinking water. Current trends suggest that more than 90% of the global population will use improved drinking water sources by 2015. However, the world is not on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal sanitation target. Between 1990 and 2006 the proportion of people without improved sanitation decreased by only 8 percentage points. Without an immediate acceleration in progress, the world will not achieve even half the sanitation target by 2015. Based on current trends, the total population without improved sanitation in 2015 will have decreased only slightly, from 2.5 billion to 2.4 billion.

5th World Water Forum

Held every three years, the World Water Forum strives to gather people together from every horizon to find sustainable solutions to the water challenges that the world faces daily.

The Forum is a unique platform where individuals from both inside and outside the water sector can interact and debate, creating broader awareness for water related issues and a resolve to find solutions. In addition, it provides the opportunity for Ministers, Local Authorities and Parliamentarians to consolidate their different perspectives with those of experts and civil society.

After the previous Fora, held in Morocco (1997), the Netherlands (2000), Japan (2003) and Mexico (2006), the 5th World Water Forum was held in March 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Bridging Divides For Water

Given Turkey’s strategic position between East and West, North and South, but also the conceptual barriers between different water cultures, between developed and developing regions of the world, and the need to bring together the many ongoing initiatives around the world related to water issues, “Bridging Divides for Water” has been chosen as the overarching theme for the Forum in Turkey.

The six main themes of the forum were: “Global Changes & Risk Management”, “Advancing Human Development and Millennium Development Goals”, “Managing and Protecting Water Resources and their Supply Systems to meet Human and Environmental Needs”, “Governance and Management”, “Finance”, “Education, Knowledge and Capacity Building”.

For more information, please click here.

World Water Day: Shared Water – Shared Opportunities

Participants of the 5th Water Forum, celebrated the UN World Water Day before joining the ministers for the closing ceremony of the Forum. 22 March has been celebrated as the World Water Day since 1993. This year, World Water Day is dedicated to promoting responsible cooperation between countries in managing their shared sources of freshwater. Such an approach to managing water systems can boost international trade, economic development and strengthens peace, security and cooperative relations between countries. In recognition of these linkages, the theme of this year’s World Water Day is "Shared Water - Shared Opportunities".

Almost half of the world’s land surface is covered by shared, or transboundary, lakes and river basins. Clean, dependable sources of freshwater are necessary for every aspect of human life, including drinking water, sanitation, recreation and agricultural and industrial production. Nearly half of the world’s population is dependent on these shared bodies of water.

As climate change progresses and continues to alter the hydrological cycle, more and more countries will experience water stress due to inadequate sources of water and increasing variability in the availability of water..  Such a scenario, accompanied by excessive and inefficient water use, chronic pollution and weak or poorly enforced policies and laws, could cause tensions between countries that share the same rivers and lakes (transboundary waters). Currently, there are 145 countries that share one or more transboundary water systems.

Although water-related conflicts between countries do occur, only rarely has water been the main reason behind tensions that can escalate into war. Since 1948 there were 37 incidents of acute conflict between countries over water. Yet, during the same period, over 300 international agreements were signed on transboundary cooperation, such as a 1960 treaty that laid out a plan of use of the Indus water basin between India and Pakistan and a 1995 agreement on the use of shared waters in southern Africa. Such responsible and shared management of transboundary waters has many benefits, as it builds mutual respect, understanding and trust among countries and promotes peace, security, trade, and job creation. In other words, sharing water provides opportunities for better lives and livelihoods.

One of the most striking successes in shared waters management is the treaty governing the use of the Danube River. The Danube is the most international river basin in the world, passing through 13 countries before emptying into the Black Sea via Romania.  The past 150 years has seen the steady degradation of the ecosystems of both the Danube and the Black Sea. After the fall of the Soviet bloc, however, the countries along the Danube have cooperated on the monitoring and improvement of water quality and quantity in addition to instituting a damage control system to minimise accidental chemical spills. 

This regional cooperation yielded many results, such as the establishment of 75 water quality monitoring stations in the Danube basin and agreement on governance reforms to reduce nutrient pollution. Through these reforms and major investments, industrial, municipal and agricultural pollution was reduced virtually eliminating dangerous oxygen depletion in the western area of the Black Sea and leading to measurable signs of ecosystem recovery.   The restoration of the Danube River and Black Sea illustrates and underscores the significant environmental, socioeconomic and political benefits that can be gained through multi-country cooperation on transboundary waters.

For more information on World Water Day 2009, please click here

Water Exhibit in Istanbul

Water Exhibit prepared by the American Museum of Natural History has been brought to Turkey under the framework of the partnership initiative between UNDP and The Coca-Cola Company. Held as part of the events of the 5th World Water Forum, the exhibit at İstanbul Technical University Natural History and Science Museum will be open until June 14.

Turkish Minister of Trade and Commerce Zafer Çağlayan, who participated in the official inauguration ceremony on 18 March, stated in his opening speech that in order to solve issues regarding water, states should increase infrastructural work on clean water. Çağlayan also thanked UNDP and Coca-Cola for bringing the exhibit to Turkey.

After the inauguration, there was a “policy dialogue” event of UNDP at the exhibit on March 19. Cihan Sultanoglu, Deputy Director of RBEC of UNDP, in her speech pointed out the importance of water scarcity and its impacts on social and economic developments (please click here to access the speech of Cihan Sultanoğlu). She mentioned UNDP’s “Every Drop Matters” project, which is implemented in partnership with Coca Cola, as a good example aiming to increase access to safe drinking water in the region. Sultanoğlu said that one of the successful outputs of this partnership was to bring this prominent exhibition to Istanbul.

During the policy dialogue, a panel of UNDP water governance experts shared information about their individual projects and how their collaborative efforts are contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and improving access to water and sanitation services.  They also stressed the importance of effective water governance, pointing out the strong correlation between proper governance and economic growth and poverty reduction.  The audience also engaged in the panel, raising thoughtful questions about the role of dams and asking whether or not enough is being done in order to reach the MDGs by 2015.  Panel members noted that despite their efforts, much more needs to be done, and called upon all agencies at all levels to replicate their efforts. 

The panel consisted of Andrew Hudson, Principal Technical Advisor for GEF International Waters; Paul Taylor, Director of Cap-Net; Sulan Chen, Global Environment Facility, Land Degradation, POPs and International Waters Programme Specialist; Bogachan Benli, Project Manager of “Every Drop Matters” project; Håkan Tropp, Water Specialist, Energy and Environment Practice; and Alastair Morrison, Project Manager of the UNDP Water Governance Facility at SIWI, with Senior Water Resources Advisor Dr. Joakim Harlin as the moderator.    

The Water Exhibit, previously held at American Museum of Natural History in New York between November 3 2007 – May 26 2008 and later in Singapore, will be presented in South America, Asia, Australia and North America by 2011.

The Water Exhibit, which aims to contribute to protection of water resources, presents interactive installations to help people of all ages to discover characteristics and miracles of water. Demonstrating the significance of water in human life, the Exhibit consists of 10 parts which include disparate living things that collect, store and use water in a unique way, information regarding amount of water in different parts of our planet, people’s habits on water usage, examples of accessing clean water and local stories of people.

To see photos of the Water Exhibit, please click here.

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