Water issues trickle down to local level

Keystone

Swiss officials are hoping that a major conference on water, which opened in Mexico on Thursday, will help push water issues higher up on the political agenda.

This content was published on March 16, 2006 - 13:11

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has also welcomed the World Water Forum's emphasis on local action in water policy.

The 4th World Water Forum, jointly organised by the World Water Council and the Mexican authorities, gathers around 130 government ministers, as well as representatives from international agencies, local authorities, non-governmental organisations and the industry.

Organisers say the theme, "Local Actions for a Global Challenge", has been chosen because local participation is key in helping countries achieve the water-related United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

They include halving the number of people without access to clean drinking water by 2015. Water is also an important factor in meeting the millennium targets in health and nutrition.

Local perspective

François Münger, a SDC senior advisor who is attending the forum, said the SDC welcomed this year's theme.

"We are convinced that water has to be managed at the lowest level possible because these authorities normally have a lot of responsibility, for example, in water and sanitation services," he told swissinfo.

Münger added this year's forum was unique because it brought together those working in the field and those making the decisions.

The abundance of projects presented would help the SDC gain a better understanding of current water projects being carried out around the world, he said.

"We also expect the conference to highlight water issues at a global level and put these issues higher on the agenda of the decision-makers and the governments," added Münger.

Expertise

Switzerland will be participating on three levels. At the ministerial conference, officials will take part in the final declaration - which the SDC hopes will mention the role of local authorities - and be present at two round tables.

The SDC and its partners will hold a special session on local participation in watershed management - areas in which water is drained towards a specific point or area.

There is also a special exhibition, called "The Fountain of Experience", which will highlight Swiss expertise – from the authorities to the NGOs - in water issues.

Münger says that water is a very important topic – the SDC currently spends around ten per cent of its bilateral budget on water issues – but he hopes hygiene and sanitation will not be forgotten.

"We are on the way to reaching [progress in the MDGs] in the water sector, but it's very different when we are speaking about sanitation."

"The international community has to make a large effort on this issue, such as improving access to latrines. We'll take this important point to Mexico."

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

According to the latest UN water report:
Mismanagement, limited resources and environmental change mean that 1.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe water.
Diarrhoea and malaria kill around 3.1 million people, of which 1.6 million could be saved if they had better water and sanitation.
Water use has increased six-fold during the last century, double the rate of population growth.

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In brief

The SDC has four main messages for the World Water Forum in Mexico, which runs from March 16-22.

The public and private sector and civil society should respond to water MDGs and the poor should have access to water, basic sanitation and irrigation.

The protection of ecosystems is the best way to ensure enough good quality water and reduce water-related disasters.

Farmers and businesses should make water a core element of their strategy.

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