World Water Day 2012



Posted on 22 March 2012  | 
The focus of this year’s World Water Day is food security. Just back from the World Water Forum in Marseille, France, and looking ahead toward the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, two of WWF’s water experts reflect on recent successes and remaining challenges.

Lifeng Li
is Freshwater Programme Director at WWF International.
Flavia Loures is Senior Programme Officer and specialist on the UN Watercourses Convention.

Q: Why are gatherings like World Water Forum important?
Flavia: The forum and similar meetings offer opportunities to build partnerships across a broad array of stakeholders. It’s a chance for direct dialogue between technical experts and ministers or heads of state. This is especially important to the effort to bring into force the UN Watercourses Convention. It’s much easier to build consensus when people are speaking face to face -- it becomes clear that our dependence on water should unite us, not divide us.
Lifeng: They are also incredible learning opportunities. The science of conservation and the challenges we face are not static. They evolve, and we have to keep sharing the best available experience and expertise to deliver solutions. I think the organizers of this year’s World Water Forum made a wise decision to focus on solutions and commitments. This kept everyone action-oriented, and builds transparency and accountability as we go forward.

Q: What was achieved during World Water Forum 2012?
Flavia: The week started with an offer by France to host the first conference of the parties upon entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention -- a strong show of support. This was followed by commitments by Luxembourg and Denmark that they will formally announce ratification within the coming weeks. The two new contracting states would bring down to only nine the number of additional ratifications needed for the Convention to come into force.
Lifeng: We heard representatives from China, Mexico and the World Bank express support for environmental flows -- the minimum amount of water needed to maintain the health of lakes and rivers. We also welcomed new standards from the Alliance for Water Stewardship and the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, illustrating an emerging trend toward balancing development and environmental protection. These standards aren’t final or perfect, but they show significant movement in the right direction.

Q: What are some key challenges that remain unresolved?
Lifeng: The World Water Forum is always an exciting week, but what follows is the hard work to carry forward the good discussions and bring pilot projects to scale. In particular, those in the water sector need to expand our spheres of influence to those who don’t see themselves in this arena. These might be policymakers with responsibility for energy, agriculture or health. Single-sector responses aren’t getting the job done -- we need to help people see the connections.
Flavia: We need to shore up efforts to cross the finish line on the UN Watercourses Convention. Once in force, it will strengthen the regulatory framework for the management of freshwater resources, thereby setting the stage for more advanced discussions on the links between energy, water and food security.

Q: Looking ahead to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20), what would be some key successful outcomes?
Lifeng: The Ministerial Declaration of the World Water Forum specified three priorities:
  • Accelerate the implementation of human right obligations relating to access to safe drinking water and sanitation for everyone’s well-being and health, in particular for the most vulnerable, and improving wastewater management.
  • Recognize the inter-linkages between water, energy and food security, and ensure full policy coherence and well-functioning water-related ecosystems, with a view to exploiting synergies and avoiding adverse consequences across sectors, as a basis for sustainable growth and job creation.
  • Incorporate water in all its economic, social and environmental dimensions in a framework of governance, financing and cooperation, taking into account the progress achieved toward the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and beyond.
We are in a time with multiple challenges and demands, so it’s essential that all our solutions, policies and practices are consistent and coherent. I would be very happy to see these priorities advanced in Rio.
Flavia: There is a good chance that some of the countries that we have been supporting are ready to announce ratification of the UN Watercourses Convention or their intent to do so by June. To our knowledge, countries including Niger, Ghana, Benin, Senegal, Ireland, UK, Italy, Slovenia, Poland, Honduras and Papua New Guinea are all well advanced in the process. This kind of global momentum could yield significant progress for the convention.
WWF's program Equitable Payment for Hydrological Services seeks to assure the ecological integrity of water producing ecosystems while assuring adequate water supplies for human populations.
© Claudio Vasquez/WWF Enlarge
Natural hydrological processes occuring in the Danube floodplains help cleanse water and reduce high water levels on the mainland.
Natural hydrological processes occuring in the Danube floodplains help cleanse water and reduce high water levels on the mainland.
© WWF DCP Ukraine Enlarge
A woman collecting water from the river that flows from the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda.
A woman collecting water from the river that flows from the Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda.
© WWF-Canon / Simon Rawles Enlarge

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