- WORLD WATER FORUM 2012: DEBATES AND CONTRADICTIONS
- WORLD WATER FORUM 2012: DECISION TIME?
- WORLD WATER FORUM 2012: WHO IS BUYING IN?
- Talkin' to the Next Generation: Lawrence Haddad on #ypff2012
Posted: 19 Mar 2012 07:53 AM PDT
Lyla Mehta and Harriet Dudley
This was our third World Water Forum, and compared with the other ones we've attended it was pretty tame, far more low-key and lacked open protest and contestation. The overall theme – Le temps des solutions – seemed rather bombastic given that solutions to addressing water and sanitation problems cannot come from a global forum in Marseille hosted by the World Water Council which has no official UN recognition. These instead clearly need to be context specific and stem from local communities who will have their own visions of water justice and sustainability. Like several others, we are sceptical of such global jamborees but still attended a few days in order to get a sense of what's new (or not) and to network and meet up with old and new watery colleagues and friends.
There were plenty of opportunities to do this at Marseille for in true French style the lunches were elaborate with wine flowing. So how much was new and how much was old wine in new bottles? Some issues appear to be repackaged in new lingo – so instead of large dams we have 'infrastructure', and one wonders where all this is going ten years on from the World Commission on Dams report.
Old players such as the World Bank and other conventional players are no longer involved in dam building. Instead, it's China, Brazil and others who are the new forces which may explain their large and elaborate Forum stalls (though of course the Brazilian stand was the only one with live music).
Dams are also part of the so called 'Green Economy' discussion of which also dominated this Forum, not surprisingly in the run up to to Rio+20. The 'Green Economy' seems to be slowly replacing 'Sustainable Development' as the new mantra. It is equally fuzzy and blanks out contestation, power and politics. Apart from the activists, very few people were asking 'Green for whom?' And 'how do we get beyond business as usual?'
The big corporations seem to be recognising the role of water as big business in this Green Economy, be it for waste water re-use or for legitimising their role in the water sector. It allows them to be green and 'responsible' whilst at the same time grabbing water and trampling on poor people's rights and livelihoods.
One refreshing change at this meeting was the mainstreaming of sanitation, and STEPS Centre friend Kamal Kar, the pioneer of community-led total sanitation was in demand everywhere. There were many sessions on sanitation and even one on menstrual hygiene.
The other development we were pleased to observe was the mainstreaming of the human right to water. Ten years ago there was so much resistance to discussion of this right. Sadly though, the official Ministerial declaration still does not explicitly recognise human right to water. This is no doubt due to the influence of powerful North American players such as Canada and the US, and their traditional resistance to socio-economic rights.
Not surprisingly, the post-MDG agenda and what will happen after 2015 was the topic of many sessions. It was interesting to hear speakers from the WHO / Joint Monitoring Programme. WaterAid and others admit that the current water and sanitation indicators are inadequate. There are currently three working groups (on water, sanitation and hygiene) that are seeking to develop more comprehensive and sophisticated indicators around monitoring access to water and sanitation.
It is good that normative issues such as non- discrimination, equity and rights are on the agenda (whether they will stay on the agenda until the end is up for grabs). The current water MDG for example ignores water quality, sustainability, gender dynamics, regional variation and equity as well as rapidly growing urban and peri-urban centres. This makes us think that last week's celebrations of meeting the water MDG were a bit premature.
Will the new water and sanitation target regime be any better? Or will it also overly focus on the process of number counting and indicator definition and monitoring? We believe that targets tell us little of what's happening on the ground, don't capture the diversity of local people's choices and preferences and ignore diverse pathways to sustainable access to water and sanitation that could be drawn upon and improved.
While targets galvanise action, help monitor progress and help politicians, do they make a difference to poor women and men? They are neither accountable nor justifiable. Is it time to say, no more targets? We unfortunately didn't make it to the Alternative Forum which is a shame. We were rather busy organising our own side event to launch the IDS Bulletin 'Some for All? Politics and Pathways in Water and Sanitation', based on outcomes from the second STEPS Centre Water and Sanitation Symposium, which traces the politics and pathways of water and sanitation since New Delhi 1990.
Posted: 19 Mar 2012 05:59 AM PDT
There was a certain sense of excitement around the Forum and the slogan 'a time for solutions', set the tone. It's time for post MDGs and Rio+20. As a result, a few trendy words and concepts were floating around: the green economy, the human right to water, the water-energy-food nexus. There was a widespread belief that we need to rethink and renovate the global water governance system. And the human right to water is certainly seen as a way to improve ways to monitor access to water and sanitation or as a strong norm and safeguard against the technological driven green economy agenda.
Overall, many participants emphasized that something new was needed and that we are at a critical juncture in the way water should be managed and governed. However, one should not get carried away in our way of looking forward without looking back. This is what we did in our session, in part as a way to critically reflect on how global water governance is evolving.
Interestingly, one can see this tendency again to dichotomise how water should be approached. While debates 20 years ago were around water as a human right versus water as an economic good, one can again see a tendency to oppose the human right approach to the green economy. At the same time, if human right and equity are considered as central to new monitoring systems, other critics will argue that human rights has been mainstreamed, a little bit like the concept of green economy right now.
Looking backwards, one can see that dichotomising or mainstreaming key concepts have polarised and in some ways limited the debate and failed to recognize the complexity and multi-dimensional aspects of water.
However, the most worrying aspect is the failure to recognise the limits of global collective action and the 'business as usual' scenario that these multi-stakeholders forum have the capacity to generate and address global water issues. Isn't it time to question to what extent these forums are effective in addressing and improving global water governance? Are these not a mascarade to cover for the lack of commitment by governments to address these fundamental issues?
In the forum gazette no. 2, Sujiro Seam wrote an editorial on the commitment of political leaders to the Forum and how this political process constitute a crucial component to define the priorities for water in the perspective of the upcoming Earth Summit 2012.
But the commitments by these governments are non-binding and we are at the Sixth World Water Forum hoping for a sea of change from unfortunately nowhere...until we address questions of accountability, these multi-stakeholder forums will not be about decision time!
Posted: 19 Mar 2012 05:50 AM PDT
World Water Forum six is drawing to a close here in Marseille. Booths are emptying and participants are dwindling at the slightly drab Parc Chanot. The monolithic Art Deco architecture and box-like hangars host 'water security' debates, parliamentarians' session, African ministers councils, and the occasional riot police (amongst many other characters and processes). All are focused, to a greater or lesser extent, on the huge range of global water issues.
The programme addresses a simple theme – Le temps des solutions – but behind this lies a surprisingly low level of energy (perhaps a certain ennui setting in?) which begs the question, who's to take forward these ideas or will they simply evaporate into the ether? There is no question that the hosts and organizers cannot lead on this – the World Water Council has no accepted global mandate.
At the same time, the other side of town, the alternative forum takes place, but you wouldn't know it. There is no visible protest, no guerrilla posters or fliers, nothing in fact to stir up the rather torpid atmosphere over here. It's all pretty anodyne. One participant tells me that these global gatherings have probably reached their sell-by date, made superfluous in part by advances in digital networking (a large number of delegates from all corners of the globe seem to spend chunks of time on their touch-pads networking with the rest of the world).
One feature of the event remains fascinating, nonetheless. And that is the opportunity it provides for a snapshot of who is buying into or opting out of global water issues (DFID is invisible, for example, as are other aid agencies). But the BRIC(K)S are out in force. China has multiple organisations in attendance, Korea (to host the 7th Forum in Daegu in 2015) is very present, and Brazil and Russia are both showcasing their water management expertise (and coffee brewing prowess in the case of the former).
Evidence, if it were needed, that future water 'solutions' are more than likely to come from factories, financing frameworks and policies in these countries than from the more established aid-academic-policy making environments in Europe and elsewhere. The 7th Forum could (and should) be a landmark. This one isn't. So see you there!
Posted: 19 Mar 2012 05:45 AM PDT
Today is the first day of the Young People, Farming and Food conference in Accra, Ghana. Lawrence Haddad, director of the Institute of Development Studies,has written about the conference on his blog:
"The organisers aim for youth and children to participate in the development of this policy agenda.
You can keep up with more blogs from the conference on this website and on Twitter.
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