Summary of UN Water: High-Level International Conference on the Midterm Comprehensive Review of the Implementation of the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”, 2005-2015
June 8-10, 2010 – Jay Colingham
The opening session and plenary session were marked by appearances from most major countries involved in relief and development funding and many countries acting as the major recipient of money. The speeches from India, Nigeria, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan were not typical. India spoke about where they were decades ago and where they are now. The transgression is taking place and is working well where it can and is steadily occurring in the harder to reach areas. Less boastful than hopeful, India provided the listeners with solutions and an invitation to seek suggestions. Nigeria iterated a haunting message of failure and marked the National Department of Statistics as a source for misled beliefs of steady growth. In the first Session, this was reported again. Tajikistan talked about the power of controlling water and it’s importance to their community. Less factual and more theoretical, the message described how mastering water makes your people happier. As listed in the press, the tone was that providing water universally and giving everyone access is very important. We must be good Sheppard of our resources and not act with impunity towards our neighbors. Uzbekistan countered this with a message that water is a universal resource and should not be owned but instead used with responsibility. This message set the tone for the conference and became the resounding question of whether international law protects headwaters or all who have access to a waterway in preserving the resource. The rest of the speakers mostly talked about how water is important to everyone in the world, their country, and might list one project they do in their own country.
Round Tables began in the afternoon of June 8th. The first set included Accelerating Progress towards water-related IADG, including MDGs, and ensuring women empowerment, Transboundary Water Cooperation, Water Quality, and two side events Use of Tajikistan’s hydropower potential and its Importance for resolving the Water-Energy Issue in Central and South Asia, and Progressing on IWRM, Sanitation & Health – Promoting National target-setting.
In Water Quality, the discussion centered on how to get quality water to citizens and what the problem with bad water is. The statement that, “bad water is the same as no water” resounded throughout the 6th session as well. General statements by India and China could be simplified to the notion that safe drinking water is the responsibility of the national government and effective plans to make it available to all is needed in the political will of the representatives and those charged with the duty of governing others. The representative from Nigeria also spoke (he is the Minister of Water and Sanitation and was on the MDG target committee for Nigeria). His message could be summarized as such, ‘that while Nigeria is supposedly improving statistically, the numbers are certainly wrong and most likely due to sampling errors from the Department of Statistics’. He believes that the deterioration of current systems and lack of maintenance has driven the actual numbers down but are artificially high from bad statistics. He gave plenty of examples as to why this is and made a point for the discussion to recommend identification that developing countries cannot truly identify the quality of water and sanitation for all. Tajikistan’s many attendees concurred with this statement. Christian Zurbrügg of eawag gave some methods for educating people on the needs of sanitation. One such example was the feces dissolved in a bucket method that shows how you can contaminate your water but cannot see it is dirty. The villagers’ disposition to avoid drinking this water should provide proof that it is not clean and they should act.
The morning Round Tables included Water resources and adaptation to climate, change and disaster risk reduction, Sustainable financing, and Integrated water resource management, energy, agriculture, and food security. The side-event sessions included a Seminar on waste-water Revolution and Program of Actions for Rendering.
At the integrated water resource management, energy, agriculture, and food security round table, the demonstrations started with systems of monitoring water with technology. Using foliage coverage, water run-off, and radar methods to determine waterways under ground for up to one kilometer deep were the main points for seeing where water is. The other presenters spoke of Integrated Water Management. The importance of incorporating agriculture, irrigation, water source, distribution to industrial and domestic users, and the treatment of wastewater were all emphasized. Some corrected the presenters and made note that high-tech wastewater treatment was often counter productive in developing countries due to high-energy use and cost. Many simpler methods can be used that serve an equally functional purpose. While technology is important and can be helpful, it is best to look at the whole system before you choose your methods. Some high tech means of securing water may not be the best and often creates problems for other dependent systems like irrigation and industrial use.
The Plenary Session before lunch included opening statements from the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rahmon and the President of the Islamic republic of Iran, Dr. Ahmadinejad. President Rahmon spoke about the importance of water and the need of clean water in Central Asia. He promised to provide water and electricity to all of Central Asia and says that there is more than enough in Tajikistan for everyone. His proposal of a meeting of leaders from the five countries in the region to discuss the methods of distribution was inspiring and left many interested to see how discussions would commence.
President Ahmadinejad spoke afterwards about the impact of poor religious practices playing the major role in the lack of sanitation and deaths of people. He suggested that new technology like solar, wind, and hydroelectric solutions are in the right direction but that nuclear is the real option for sustained power. Ahmadinejad mentions the need to provide smaller, under developed nations with nuclear power so that they can provide for their people, have industry, and produce exports for others. His other statements were in support of Tajikistan and policy of headwaters being the point of control and ownership for water. His only other major statement was in support of his countries cheap, UN backed nano technology that is used to filter water at less cost and with less chemicals. Iran had a booth at the exposition with one apparatus set up to view. It is supposedly a very functional system for making potable water. After the speech, both presidents left quickly and the representatives from other countries spoke.
The afternoon entailed the wrap-up sessions for both I, II, III, and IV, V, VI. The Wrap-up provided the UN a suggestion that technology be supported by the UN and used wherever possible, that clarification on the priority of water rights to governing bodies takes place, and that new discussions on the monitoring of water quality and availability are made available to developing countries while models for government distributed water be pursued in others.