the commitment

Paula J. Dobriansky outlines the international strategy for meeting the world’s water needs and describes what the United States of America is doing to implement it

Let me describe an all too common situation in the developing world. In an alleyway on the outskirts of a large city sits a gaping earthen pit. At the bottom of the pit, a small water line lies exposed, possessing so little water pressure that it cannot supply the single above-ground tap nearby. Local residents climb to the bottom of the hole, where the steady drip from the punctured line fills their buckets. Getting enough water for a family requires patience, and there is no guarantee the water is safe. Clandestine connections such as this provide the only access to water for many poor residents of peri-urban areas. Combined with a lack of sanitation facilities, unsafe water supplies promote the spread of devastating waterborne diseases, and pose a daily health risk to the people that use them. This is simply unacceptable.

Appropriate management of water resources is essential for economic growth and human health. People depend on water to drink, to grow food, to generate energy, to provide transportation, and to maintain healthy ecosystems. Mismanagement of water resources can exacerbate the effects of floods and droughts and increase disease. In cases where water is shared among many users, increased tensions may lead to conflict.

Important steps
The international community has taken important steps to address world water needs, with special attention to the more than 1.1 billion people who lack access to safe drinking water and the 2.4 billion who lack access to adequate sanitation. Work has been done to develop a strategy to address these and other global water challenges. At the 2nd World Water Forum in The Hague and the International Conference on Freshwater in Bonn, consensus was reached on the importance of several themes to water management. I want to highlight five key conclusions:

1. Governments must prioritize meeting the basic water and sanitation needs of their people in development and poverty reduction strategies.

2. Governments must work together to manage shared water resources.

3. Water must be managed in an integrated manner, optimizing its use among competing demands while protecting land, freshwater and marine ecosystems.

4. Potable water, sanitation and hygiene are inextricably linked, and action must be taken in each area to reduce the threat of water-related diseases.

5. The global community will need to mobilize all sources of financing, including domestic capital, to address water-related infrastructure needs.

World leaders, meeting in Monterrey in 2002, broke new ground by recognizing the shared role developed and developing countries have in addressing these problems. For donor countries, this meant a new commitment to providing the kind of development assistance required to open markets. For developing countries, this meant a new commitment to good governance, to investing in their own people and to creating the domestic conditions required to enable effective use of donor assistance and employment of all resources, particularly those in the private sector.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, countries agreed to a framework for sustainable development that is built on the principles of Monterrey. It focused on implementing a water strategy based upon work completed in The Hague and Bonn. WSSD outcomes were anchored by the idea that sustainability requires national governments to take responsibility for their own development. Partnerships among stakeholders were identified as a key means to implement this new agenda. The water and sanitation goals that emerged from WSSD provide important focus to global efforts. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI) reaffirmed the Millennium Declaration goal of ‘halving, by 2015, the proportion of people unable to reach or afford safe drinking water', and set a complementary goal to increase access to sanitation. The outcomes of WSSD helped the world expand beyond defining the water problem to focusing on potential solutions.

New partnerships
In Johannesburg, the United States announced several partnerships and initiatives relating to water. We launched the ‘Water for the Poor’ initiative, a three-year, $970 million dollar collection of activities in three key areas: drinking water and sanitation, watershed management, and increasing the productivity of water use. Working in partnership with non-governmental organizations and the private sector, we aim to improve sustainable management of freshwater resources in developing countries, and put into action the JPOI. At WSSD, the United States also launched the ‘White Water to Blue Water’ partnership, which promotes the practice of integrated watershed and marine ecosystem management in support of sustainable development. Our partnership includes the nations of the wider Caribbean. Together we are developing new approaches in areas such as wastewater and sanitation, sustainable agricultural practices, tourism and maritime transportation.

Joint projects
At WSSD, US Secretary of State Powell and Japanese Foreign Minister Kawaguchi announced the ‘Clean Water for People’ initiative. Under this initiative the United States and Japan will embark on a number of joint projects to promote access to safe water in the developing world. Since this announcement in September 2002, the United States and Japan have engaged in joint visits to review projects in key areas, and shared ideas through technical representatives. During the 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga, Japan, we joined other countries in reporting on the progress of our WSSD initiatives, as experts exchanged ideas on new areas for action.

Recently, we have given considerable thought to complementing our WSSD initiatives with augmented efforts and new partnerships. Increasing access to water in the developing world – by drilling wells, establishing rainwater collection, and improving water distribution networks, among other activities – will be critical. Ensuring the quality of both existing and future water supplies will be equally essential. Finally, as the demand for infrastructure develops, financial resources will be required. Ensuring the sustainability of solutions is vital. Developing nations and their partners need to identify mechanisms that, once launched, will operate and grow on their own, providing needed resources and services.
No person should have to climb to the bottom of a mud pit, or walk 6 kilometres, to get the water they need to live
To address the critical need for financing, the United States has successfully implemented the Development Credit Authority (DCA) programme in several countries. DCA is a US Agency for International Development financing tool that mobilizes local capital to fund sustainable development initiatives. Using a risk-sharing approach with non-sovereign partners, DCA encourages financial institutions to lend to viable projects that otherwise might not be funded in underserved markets worldwide.

The United States has also developed and successfully implemented a financial mechanism that may have great applicability in the developing world – the State Revolving Fund. These funds provide an effective means of mobilizing domestic capital for infrastructure development, using a variety of mechanisms including pooled debt, direct loans, credit enhancement and risk-sharing with local lenders. A revolving fund provides long-term, sustainable support for infrastructure investments. If handled correctly, the fund can operate indefinitely – offering continuous opportunities for investors and support for borrowers, while developing local capital markets.

It has also become apparent that household-level interventions are an effective and efficient way to meet basic water needs. For example, several cost-effective products exist that disinfect water after it is collected for household consumption. These include dilute chlorine-based solutions and other water disinfectants or filters, which can be locally produced.

When demand for available and effective products is created, and coupled with education and hygiene programmes, field experience shows that a 50 per cent or greater reduction in water-related disease among target populations can be achieved in a short period of time. Once the demand for these products has been established, the market grows and becomes self-sustaining. For example, in Zambia and Madagascar, $600,000 in donor funding helped create a market for water disinfectant products that have reached more than 2 million people. While this is only a short-term solution, it lays the groundwork for fee-for-service infrastructure. Communities experience the benefits of clean water, and lives are saved.

On-the-ground action
These are just some of the ideas and on-the-ground actions to address the world’s water challenges that the United States is exploring and implementing with our partners. The United States is working actively to help bring relief to the millions who suffer from water-related diseases, and the hundreds of millions for whom getting enough water is a daily struggle. No person should have to climb to the bottom of a mud pit, or walk 6 kilometres, to get the water they need to live, and no one should die from the water they drink. On World Environment Day, the American people join the world community in renewing our commitment to make this a reality

Dr. Paula J. Dobriansky is United States Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs.

PHOTOGRAPH: Tom Stoddart/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | World Environment Day | Water is life | The water century | Taking it at the flood | Renewing the commitment | Waterless cities | Keeping pollution at bay | People | At a glance | Changing agenda | Nor any drop to drink | Bridging troubled waters | Books & products | Getting there | Sinking fast | Waste not | Water – the poor’s priority | Atomic power

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Water, 1996
Issue on Freshwater, 1998

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Freshwater wetlands
Mangroves and estuaries