Water is life

Spotlight on Water: Preview

Click to enlarge. Image by Rob

Civilisation was born with water. Water is indeed the basis of life. Yet mankind has not been wise enough to live with water. Time has come to act, and that is why Japan will be hosting the 3rd World Water Forum and an International Ministerial Conference in the Kyoto region, cradle of Japanese civilization since more than 2,000 years ago.

The water situation differs from region to region, and from country to country. Also, the issues needed to be addressed in urban areas are different from those in rural areas. As for drinking water and sanitation, it is estimated that about 1.2 billion people, i.e. one out of every five people, do not have access to safe drinking water, and that about 2.4 billion people, i.e. two out of every five people, do not have access to basic sanitation. Thousands of children die every day of diseases related to water. The situation may deteriorate. It is, therefore, the responsibility of leaders of the world to make every possible effort to improve them.

The 3rd World Water Forum is being held in the prefectures of Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka in Japan on 16-23 March 2003. During that period, about 350 sessions will be organised on various aspects of water with the participation of thousands of people from all over the world. To conclude the Forum, a Ministerial Conference, in which ministers responsible for water from around the world and relevant international organisations, including the OECD, will participate. The conference will be held on 22–23 March in Kyoto. Together with Ms. Chikage Oogi, Japan’s minister of land, infrastructure and transport, I have the honour of chairing the Ministerial Conference. I look forward to it, not only because the Conference is an important follow-up of last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development WSSD) where water was regarded as one of the five major sectors, i.e. water, energy, health, agriculture, and biodiversity (WEHAB) which the UN secretary-general emphasised, but also because water-related issues are indeed one of the highest items on the international community’s agenda.

In the Ministerial Conference, we will discuss the following five issues: safe drinking water and sanitation; water for food and rural development; water pollution prevention and ecosystem conservation; disaster mitigation and risk management; water resources management and benefit sharing.

In addressing these important issues, we aim to encourage ownership and good governance of countries in need and foster the partnership of the international community to support the ownership. We will launch a Portfolio of Water Actions, compiling voluntary contributions from countries and international organisations of programmes in the fields of water, to strengthen ownership and partnership. We will also adopt a Ministerial Declaration.

In the Ministerial Declaration, to be issued on 23 March, the ministers should specify areas of priority in the fields of water, and how to address them. In tackling the issues of ownership and partnership, how to empower the communities concerned is an important question. In the details of the Ministerial Declaration, we look forward to seeing what will develop and how, in the follow-up of the previous World Water Forums and the WSSD and in view of the other important international meetings ahead, such as the G8 Evian Summit and the Third Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICADIII) scheduled later this year.

Water means many things to us!

©OECD Observer No 236, March 2003

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