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Swiss "satisfied" with water declaration

Fresh water is vital for development Keystone

The fourth World Water Forum in Mexico has finished with countries, including Switzerland, signing a text underlining the importance of water for development.

This content was published on March 23, 2006 - 10:07

But the declaration stopped short of demanding that water be recognised as a human right – a move criticised by several countries and by many non-governmental organisations.

The week-long Mexico forum, organised by the World Water Council and the Mexican authorities, wrapped up on Wednesday after a two-day ministerial meeting.

In a joint declaration, representatives of 148 countries acknowledged the crucial importance of water, especially fresh water, for all aspects of sustainable development.

They also reiterated, as at the last forum in Kyoto three years ago, calls to halve the number of people with no access to clean water by 2015 – as set out in the United Nations millennium development goals.

Reaffirmation

Remo Gautschi, deputy director of the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development (SDC) and head of the Swiss delegation to the forum, said that the declaration had reaffirmed what had been decided in past conferences.

What was new was the stress on the involvement of local authorities on all levels of water policy, he added. "Local Actions for a Global Challenge" was the theme of this year's meeting.

"Switzerland is satisfied with the content, but of course we would have been happier if the declaration would have been more action-oriented, especially regarding environment," Gautschi told swissinfo.

"But it's a text which found the consensus of all the nations involved so you can't ask for a maximum."

Four countries - Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Uruguay - approved the declaration with reservations, stating in a separate declaration that "access to water with quality, quantity and equity, constitutes an fundamental human right".

Criticism

The lack of reference to water as a human right was also criticised in a joint statement by NGOs from four continents, including Alliance Sud, a group of six leading Swiss development organisations.

They called on governments to strengthen the human right to water and for this to be included in a formal declaration at the new UN Human Rights Council. They also called for water to be protected from private intervention.

"NGOs managed with their opposition and protest actions to make the right to water a dominant theme at the official forum," said Pipo Hofstetter from Alliance Sud.

"[Governments] must give content to and set into action the right to water, and not leave it to the big companies and their lobbies, who dominate the water forum," he added.

In all, 13,000 representatives of governments, international agencies, local authorities, non-governmental organisations and the water industry took part in the forum. The next one will take place in 2009.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

The 4th World Water Forum, organised by the World water Council and the Mexican authorities, took place in Mexico from March 16-22.

The Swiss delegation was headed by the SDC's Remo Gautschi and included representatives of the Federal Environment Office and Federal Agriculture Office.

Bruno Oberle, head of the Environment Office, represented Moritz Leuenberger, the Swiss president and environment minister.

Apart from participating in the ministerial conference, the Swiss delegation also held a special session and exhibition.

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