Water experts from around the world found themselves at a crossroads at the annual World Water Week in Stockholm in August. Eight of the workshops and one high-level panel discussion focused on hard versus soft solutions for the billions of people without adequate access to water and sanitation services – or, as the conference organizers put it, “to dam or not to dam”. The majority of speakers and participants chose the road marked “large-scale infrastructure,” leaving “soft solutions” to the world’s water crises mostly unexplored. Big money for big projects was announced, the social and environmental costs associated with dam building were hardly ever mentioned. As Jamal Saghir, the World Bank’s water and energy director, put it: “If Kenya wants our money for large-scale infrastructure, no problem.”
And yes, not only Kenya wanted the World Bank’s money for dams. Ministers from several African countries made a point to say it wasn't the Bank pushing them toward expensive dams, but that they had chosen this development path of their own free will. The strategies they announced were based on big infrastructure, to divert water from one region of the country to another, or to feed regional power grids that are yet to be developed. Sunita Narain from the Centre of Science and Development in New Delhi, India, and the winner of this year's Stockholm Water Prize, promoted a soft solution to water scarcity: rain-water harvesting. But she remained an exotic outlaw, an NGO poster child: She explained how more and more houses in Indian cities collect rainwater on their rooftops and how villages in Rajastan are blooming thanks to hand-made rainwater storages. And she stressed that small-scale, decentralised solutions are much cheaper and can be scaled up as finances allow.
Interestingly enough, even the financial argument did not seem to carry much weight with the institutions present in Stockholm, such as African governments, the World Bank and the World Water Council. Soft solutions were discussed as if they were a mere add-on, something civil society should deal with. It was therefore somehow appropriate that the World Water Week featured a poster exhibition for NGOs to showcase their small-scale success stories, whereas the World Bank’s approach was discussed in the main conference hall. Before the start of the conference, the organizers claimed: “Diversity will be on display at the 2005 World Water Week in Stockholm”. New and diverse strategies to solve water-related development issues and increase poor people’s access to water and sanitation were indeed on display. Anders Berntell, representing the organizers, called for a “people-centred approach to dam building”. He called for the application of the World Commission on Dams guidelines to ensure that the interests of the poor are at the centre of water development. Yet, his calls remained unanswered by representatives from governments and the development-aid industry. They appeared more interested in looking at posters of people (Ann Kathrin Schneider, International Rivers Network).
For more information on the world water week, see http://www.worldwaterweek.org
Further information on the International Rivers Network could be obtained at http://www.irn.org/
On 8.- 10. September the Heinrich-Boell Foundation and the Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies at Berlin’s Humboldt University held the international congress ‚Femme Global’ to discuss gender perspectives in the 21st century. Under one of the major conference themes 'peace and security’, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) organized the workshop on 'WWW - Women, Water, War’. The first presentation by Roula Zoubiane, a Lebanese Lawyer focussed on the historical development of water politics in the Middle East, highlighting Israel’s control of water sources and arguing that water, not oil, bears the potential for major future wars in the region: while oil fields are mapped and their ownership settled, many water sources are still unidentified. The second speaker, Regina Birchem, Biologist and President of WILPF, highlighted women’s plight in developing countries as providers of water to their families. She pointed to the burden of having to carry water for miles, the health risks of polluted water and the negative impact of water privatization for the provision of affordable water in many developing countries.
Both presentations pointed to important topics: the role of water in the Middle East future war or peace developments and women’s (and their families’) health risks from insufficient and dirty water. While the presenters provided interesting facts on water and war on the one hand, and women and human security on the other, only when pushed by the audience did they make some indirect links between all three elements of the panel’s title: by emphasizing the lack of women in the political system regulating Middle East politics and in the corporate system of water privatization. The impression that water (or other natural resources), wars, and women are still not really thought together was reinforced by the discussion taking place in another, larger panel: the 'feminist critique of new security concepts’ recognized a broad security concept, however, the specific role of our natural environment did not feature. (MF)
Femme Global congress website:
Link to WILPF’s environment programme:
Link to the German discussion paper for a feminist perspective on new security concepts
A key advantage that NGOs have over governmental agencies in crisis prevention is their proximity to local communities. It allows them to win the confidence of groups in conflict regions to whom government organisations have little access. This was one of the findings of the conference on the role of civil society in crisis prevention that took place in Berlin in mid June. The conference was organized by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The federal government's Action Plan for "Civilian Crisis Prevention" thus emphasises the need for enhanced cooperation between different policy sectors and stakeholders. To facilitate this process, the Action Plan now has an institutional framework, which includes an Interministerial Steering Group and an Advisory Board comprising researchers and civil society representatives.
The opportunities and limitations of such an institutional setup were one of the main themes of the conference. The conference took positive note of the fact that the Interministerial Steering Group includes ministries, such as for those for economic affairs or environment, which traditionally have not been directly involved in civilian conflict management. Their involvement considerably facilitates information dissemination and coordination; it also supports a more cohesive approach to crisis prevention. The Advisory Board provides expert inputs for the Interministerial Steering Committee and also plays an important role in ensuring multiplier effects. It was acknowledged, however, that the involvement of civil society cannot be restricted to this body alone. Decision makers must seek a much more broad-based dialogue with civil society. Apart from their proximity to local communities, civil society groups often have the added advantage that their activities are long term in nature and consequently tend to outlive governments. Leveraging this advantage in a systematic manner will continue to be critical to strengthening crisis prevention (DT).
For more information on the action plan "Civilian Crisis Prevention", see http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/www/en/aussenpolitik/friedenspolitik/ziv_km/aktionsplan_html
Friedrich Ebert Foundation: http://www.fes.de/ (in German).
"Climate change is not an illusion; it is happening before our eyes." With this statement (translation by the editors), Klaus Toepfer inaugurated the annual conference of the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE), evoking images of the catastrophic hurricanes and floods that struck the United States. Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), demanded that environmental disasters such as this should propel decreased dependence on oil and a move towards low carbon energy supply. He also underlined the link between natural resource utilisation and global security. In light of the predictions of future 'water wars' he asked, "What disarmament instruments do we really possess for such wars?" According to Toepfer, the efficient use of and equitable access to natural resources are critical for global security.
Toepfer was not the only one in calling for decreased dependence on oil. In his speech, Chancellor Schroeder demanded an energy policy that promotes regenerative resources and renewable energy. The Political Forum of the conference, comprising representatives from the parties in parliament, also dealt with the issue of a shift away from oil. Although party positions on environmental issues diverged considerably a couple of weeks before the elections for the Lower House of German Parliament, there was consensus on the goal of reducing oil dependency. Consequently, and given its relevance for energy supply in the future, consensus could also be achieved on the motto of the 5th annual conference of the Council for Sustainable Development: "From more to better" (EM).
For more information on the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE), see http://www.nachhaltigkeitsrat.de/english.html
Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015.Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
Climate Change poses greater security threat than terrorism. Global Security Brief No. 3. Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute.
Negotiation and mediation techniques for natural resource management. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).