Governments Should Focus on Ensuring Water Supplies and Stopping Water Conflicts in the Future

A global ministerial statement on water management in a time of increasing water shortages and stress should squarely address the need to reduce more and more likely future conflict over water.

“There are several ways to reduce the likelihood of future water conflict but the most urgent and significant is to bring into effect a global agreement for managing the rivers that form or cross international boundaries,” said Dr Lifeng Li, Freshwater director for WWF International.

“We understand the ministers are still wrangling about including a reference to UN Watercourses Convention in their statement but avoiding all reference to it would be very strange. The Convention is the only global agreement focusing on water security and reducing political tension between nations. In a world of climate change it’s more important than ever that it is brought into force.”

The convention received overwhelming support from nearly all countries in a UN General Assembly vote but has languished in limbo for more than a decade with too few countries ratifying the treaty to bring it into force.

If brought into force it would provide the basis for avoiding conflict over the rivers, lakes, wetlands, and aquifers draining almost half the world’s land area, accounting for 60 per cent of global freshwater flows and vital to providing water to 40 percent of the world’s population.

Dr Li said he would be looking for governments to acknowledge the role of the Convention in the ministerial declaration emerging from the 5th World Water Forum, now going on in Istanbul, Turkey. The Forum, criticised for paying insufficient heed to the water needs of the poor and the environment, has the overall theme of Bridging Divides on Water and concludes on World Water Day, also with a theme of shared transboundary waters.

WWF is also looking to both the ministers and the Forum for strong statements on the human rights to adequate water and sanitation and the need to include all stakeholders in decision making on water infrastructure and management.

Water management also needs to be sustainable and protective of the natural systems providing the bulk of humanity’s water, Dr Li said.

Dr Li noted that the ministers appeared to be committing themselves to assessing the impacts of climate change when what was needed was action to drastically reduce emissions and deforestation and adapt to impacts already occurring and reliably anticipated.

WWF also is calling for engineering solutions to be properly assessed in the light of other less destructive alternatives in accordance with existing and emerging international standards for consultation and environmental sustainability.

“We are looking for a clear statement that balances all competing interests and doesn’t disproportionately favour those of the construction industry and utilities,” Dr Li said.

“Water is the most basic of commodities and needs to be kept available for all. Ensuring that natural ecosystems keep providing us with water is fundamental. The ministerial and forum declarations should both emphasise this and reflect it in their proposals.

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