What is the World Water Forum? -- information paper from WWF Living Waters Programme
Information March 2003
What is the World Water Forum?
International interest in water issues has grown rapidly over the last few years. In response to this heightened interest, the Brundtland Commission (The World Commission on Environment and Development), proposed "sustainable development" to the world in 1987, and identified water as a key issue amongst global environmental concerns in its report "Our Common Future".
At the Water and Environment Conference held in Dublin in 1992, discussions of water and environmental issues were extensive. Later that year, at the Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the importance of securing freshwater resources was advocated. This attention in the 1990s to water issues was tempered by the global realisation by experts that international co-operation on water issues was proving inadequate to the task of responding to disasters including frequent droughts and resultant desertification, large-scale floods and the pollution of both surface and underground water. There was also global realisation that the world's limited water resources were being badly managed, and that a mechanism was needed particularly to bring together professionals from all water-related disciplines and, in addition, to gather all water resource stakeholders.
Two international organizations were established in 1996. The first was the World Water Council (WWC), an international think-tank for water issues, established through the initiative of water specialists, the academic community and international organizations. The second was the Global Water Partnership (GWP), an organization created with the joint support of a number of international funding organizations, with a mandate to support integrated water resource management in developing countries.
1st World Water Forum
To encourage the development of such positive international trends, to support the deepening of discussions towards the solution of international water issues in the 21st century, to formulate concrete proposals and to bring their importance to the world's attention, the World Water Forum was proposed by the WWC. The 1st World Water Forum was held in Marrakech, Morocco in March 1997. At this Forum the WWC was given the mandate to develop a vision for Water, Life and the Environment in the 21st Century.
2nd World Water Forum
Preparation for the 2nd World Water Forum, including the creation of the World Water Vision, consisted of a number of lead-up international conferences, complimented by extensive worldwide internet discussions of water issues involving more than 15,000 people of the world. 5,700 people genuinely concerned about water gathered from all over the world for active discussion of water issues and the World Water Vision was presented. A Ministerial Conference, with the participation of 114 ministers and officials from 130 countries, was held to coincide with the Forum and adopted the Declaration of The Hague. Meanwhile, the GWP conceived a Framework for Action that delineates a strategy for the realization of the World Water Vision by 2025 and prioritizes actions to that end. Framework for Action was presented at the 2nd World Water Forum as well.
The 2nd World Water Forum brought together many of the world's government and multilateral water investment and management organisations, and many private companies. It had three main outputs:
· 'Ministerial Declaration' adopted, but with no official status since this was not an formal UN intergovernmental meeting;
· 'Vision for Water in the 21st Century' prepared by the specially appointed Commission of the 'great and good' in the water area;
· 'Framework for Action' to implement the Vision.
The Ministerial Declaration and the Vision it adopted helped to bring some focus to the global debate on how to supply water and sanitation services to the world's poor. However, the Framework for Action developed by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) was criticised by many, including WWF, as a flawed framework. It did not integrate ecosystems aspects properly and was developed in a non-transparent way by a small group of 'technocrats'. The Framework largely disappeared from view after the 2nd Forum.
More generally, the Forum's Vision also failed to adequately address the underlying problems concerning global water management. It failed to recognise that it is investment in a healthy environment that will ensure provision of reliable supplies of clean water for people and nature. Instead it treats nature as just another competing user of water. It failed to adequately consider how to maintain the other values of health freshwater ecosystems, such as the fisheries that sustain millions of the world's poor. Instead the last Forum proposed more investment in an engineering led, business as usual approach, to build more dams, pipes, taps and toilets. Many of the solutions proposed by the Forum will further degrade the freshwater habitats that are the source of water.
The Declaration has informally guided the investment strategies of many aid agencies and multilateral development financiers. It has influenced key global decisions, such as the UN Millennium Development Goal, to halve the number of people without access to these services by 2015, and World Summit on Sustainable Development targets. But these words were not matched by any clear targets or commitments to action by the more than 100 governments that were represented in The Hague. A few individual countries, such as the Netherlands hosting the Forum, made specific financial pledges of support separately.
3rd World Water Forum
The National Steering Committee was established in January 2001 to make the 3rd World Water Forum a successful conference with broad participation from relevant water sector institutions, organizations, academics, experts, NGOs and others.
According to Mr. Ryutaro Hashimoto, Former Prime Minister of Japan and Chairman of the National Steering Committee of the 3rd World Water Forum, "The 3rd Water Forum is expected to play a critical role in solving water issues in the 21st century. We hope that, through broad discussions, the many participants at Forum will identify the concrete actions needed to solve water issues." The Forum is organised by a consortia of government, business and multilateral development organisations. In WWF's view, there is insufficient involvement of community and environmental representatives.
The World Water Council - instigator of the World Water Forum series - aims:
· To raise the importance of water on the political agenda
· To support the deepening of discussions towards the solution of international water issues in the 21st century
· To formulate concrete proposals and bring their importance to the world's attention
· To generate political commitment
The Forum provides space for expression of opinions in each individual sector, and also for discussions across sectors and regions.
For further information:
Lisa Hadeed, Communications Manager, Living Waters Programme, Tel: +41 79 3721346, email: LHadeed@wwfint.org
Mitzi Borromeo; Press Officer, WWF International, Tel: +41 79 4773553 ; MBorromeo@wwfint.org