An international meeting on the future of the world's fresh water resources is marking World Water Day today with a renewed effort to ensure that more clean drinking water reaches the 1.1 billion people who do not have access to safe water, but the crisis is complicated by the impacts of a warming climate, an world renowned atmospheric chemist told delegates.
In addition to drinking water scarcity, about 2.6 billion people, four out of every 10, lack access to sanitation. This situation is a humanitarian crisis - dealing with it must move to the top of the global agenda say ministers and water experts meeting here for the 4th World Water Forum.
In his keynote speech to the Forum Tuesday, Nobel Prize Winner in chemistry Mario Molina warned that climate change and inappropriate water management might intensify global warming by the end of this century, creating "an intolerable risk."
If the current global warming trend is maintained, the temperature of the planet will rise eight degrees Celsius during this century, "an increase of historic proportions," said Molina, who shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the destruction of the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons.
Molina said intensifying rains and droughts are related to climate change and to the melting of glaciers. Climate change has exacerbated flooding and water scarcity, he said. The year 2005 "was the warmest in the last thousand years," Molina pointed out, showing charts of "paleo-climate data," extracted from drops of water encapsulated within glaciers and information from the outer rings of trees in ancient forests.
Director-General of UNESCO Koïchiro Matsuura says the theme of Water and Culture is of particular significance for UNESCO, which is leading the activities surrounding this year's World Water Day.
"To achieve sustainable solutions that contribute to equity, peace and development, water management and governance need to take proper account of cultural and biological diversity," Matsuura said. "For this reason, UNESCO believes that the cultural dimension of water deserves further exploration so that its many ramifications may become better understood.
" Modern approaches to water resource management have tended to be overwhelmingly technology-driven in their attempt to solve the world's urgent water problems, he said. But, he said, technology alone will not lead us to viable solutions.
"Traditional knowledge alerts us to the fact that water is not merely a commodity," Matsuura said. "Since the dawn of humanity, water has inspired us, giving life spiritually, materially, intellectually and emotionally. Sharing and applying the rich contents of our knowledge systems, including those of traditional and indigenous societies, as well as lessons learned from our historical interactions with water, may greatly contribute to finding solutions for today's water challenges."
"The nexus between culture and nature is the avenue for understanding resilience, creativity and adaptability in both social and ecological systems. In this perspective, sustainable water use and, hence, a sustainable future depend on the harmonious relationship between water and culture," the UNESCO director-general said. "Consequently," he said, "it is vital that water management and governance take cultural traditions, indigenous practices and societal values into serious account."
The global water crisis is growing, UNESCO said in a statement to mark World Water Day. The water crisis threatens the security, stability and sustainability of the planet and consequently, humanity itself. This is why the period from 2005 to 2015 has been declared the International Decade for Action Water for Life.
Reiterating that lack of access to water is a major source of death and disease in the world, World Water Council President Loïc Fauchon announced the launch of the Council's Water for Schools initiative, which seeks to provide access to water in 1,000 schools in 10 countries.
The representatives of Asian countries Tuesday announced the creation of the Asia Pacific Water Forum in a region particularly hard hit by disasters. A recent UNESCAP study showed that the Asian and Pacific region accounted for 91 per cent of the world's total deaths due to natural disaster. The average annual economic damage has increased from US$10.6 billion over the past five decades to US$29 billion over the past 15 years.
Ryutaro Hashimoto, former Prime Minister of Japan and president of the Japan Water Forum, and chair of the UN Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, supported the agreement creating the Asia Pacific Water Forum. He reminded the audience that 60 percent of the world population lives in the Asia Pacific region and explored how to obtain financing for local water projects in his keynote address.
Kim Huk Su, executive secretary for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), said that there are two major priorities for the new regional forum - the need for tools to support Integrated Water Resource Management, and "radically" more effective risk management and risk prevention.
Kim said that although the Asia-Pacific region has the highest economic growth rates in the world, it also has the lowest per-capita fresh water availability, and the highest number of people living below the poverty line.
New investments in water management and development are essential for growth in developing countries, and they need to be sustainable – achieving the right balance between water security, and social and environmental protection – said a new World Bank report, Water for Growth and Development, presented at the Forum. "Simply constructing new infrastructure projects is not enough on its own," said Kathy Sierra, World Bank Vice President for Infrastructure. "It is essential to manage and govern water resources effectively."
Public financing for basic water security has been and will remain essential, but the scale of needed investments cannot be provided by public funds alone so the private sector will have an important complementary role to play, said the World Bank report. "All investment, whether public or private, should be complemented by robust regulatory and monitoring frameworks, designed with the active participation of water users and civil society."
But privatization of water is just what many people fear, because the essential liquid could be priced out of their reach. Some 10,000 people marched in the streets of Mexico City on Saturday, demanding that water services not be privatized.