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World Water Forum Delegates Endorse Urgent Global Priorities - 2003-03-23

Close to a hundred countries attending the third annual World Water Forum have endorsed urgent global priorities for easing clean water scarcity. But some delegates are criticizing the final declaration as short on specific action.

More than a billion people lack access to safe water. An estimated five to seven million people die every year from water-borne diseases, including more than two million children under the age of five.

After a week of meetings in Kyoto, Japan, ministerial delegates to the World Water Forum adopted a declaration on tackling the growing crisis of water scarcity.

The document outlines ways to use regional financing and management to improve sanitation and address water concerns for several billion people around the world

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky praised the outcome, saying an integrated management plan will be developed by 2005 to protect water, which is essential to sustainable development and to ease poverty and hunger.

World Water Council Vice-President William Cosgrove says the forum addressed the problem in a more comprehensive manner. "The single most pressing issue, in my mind, is that, while there are some aspects to this problem that are global, it must be dealt with by every government in each country. Up until now, in most countries, leaders have, even though they say that they understand the importance of the issue, have not responded by putting [it] into their development plan and their poverty reduction plans. When one thing that we certainly know, by now, is that, without government commitment, that we don't make any progress," he says.

But some European and Latin American representatives say the ministerial declaration lacks specific commitment to action, and the language is weak.

The declaration does not designate water as a basic human right, something the United Nations endorsed last year. It also does not back the creation of an international watch-dog agency to monitor progress on water-related goals.

Some non-governmental organizations walked out of the Friday session to protest a panel report proposing to raise an additional $100 billion a year in non-government funding to improve water sanitation and infrastructure. While the report was not adopted in the final declaration Sunday, critics say elements of the plan would amount to the privatization of water, something that would make conditions even tougher for the poor.

Vandana Shiva of India, who heads a Himalayan-based environmental research organization, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, is one of those critics. "The protests were amazing, colorful ones, wonderful, full of joy, but with a very clear message. Our water is not for sale, and we are not going to let public money be used to hand over our water resources and our water supply systems to big giants," he says.

The Third World Water Forum brought together 12,000 participants to tackle water shortage.