water century

Ryutaro Hashimoto
says that resolving water issues will be the paramount challenge of the 21st century, and describes the work of this year’s 3rd World Water Forum in addressing them

I am deeply honoured that Japan had the opportunity to organize the 3rd World Water Forum in the venues of Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka; rich in culture and history and in their association with water.

The 21st century has been called the century of water – 2003 is the International Year of Freshwater. Some 2 billion people in the world are facing water shortages. Our planet Earth has been losing the balance between the amount of usable water and the demand, and even the balance of the ecosystem and our ability to co-exist with nature. The imbalance between the volume of available usable water and the demand for that water has led not only to shortages but to other serious problems as well, such as the decrease of groundwater reserves, water pollution and general deterioration of water resources. These have in turn led to a decrease in the diversity of water-related species and an increase in the number of species on the verge of extinction around the world.

Retreating glaciers
‘The Earth is bleeding,’ says Japanese alpinist Ken Noguchi, referring to the abundant water flow from melting glaciers in the Himalayas. It is a heartbreaking metaphor for the impact of global warming and the retreat of glaciers. Noguchi frequently climbs Mt. Everest to clean up the mountain. He has told me many sad stories reflecting the change in nature and the tragic accidents befalling mountaineering parties in areas where nothing of the sort had happened before. It is indeed as if the Earth were screaming. One such warning cry came in the form of last year’s series of floods in many locations around the world – including Europe, which seldom suffers from flooding.
Resolving water issues is the paramount challenge of the 21st century
It is no wonder that we are hearing the term ‘water crisis’. Moreover, considering the continuing increase of the world’s population, it is no exaggeration to say that resolving water issues is the paramount challenge of the 21st century if we are to protect our mother Earth.

However, it was also patently clear at the Johannesburg Summit last August that the world’s attention is keenly focused on water issues. The international community agreed at the Summit that there is an urgent need for a new approach: by 2015 ‘we must reduce by half the proportion of people’ with no access to safe water and sanitation facilities. Although the Summit was highly valued for its new objectives with concrete numerical criteria, there is also a need to decide upon concrete means of achieving those objectives and to sustain them from now onwards.

Responsibility and leadership
The 3rd World Water Forum was the first international opportunity to follow up on the Summit and work towards such concrete actions. Japan successfully organized the 3rd World Water Forum – the first to be held in Asia – with a sense of responsibility to provide leadership in this important movement, which will help to decide the future of the Earth, our planet of water.

Over the past three years several organizations have contributed to the preparation of this serious mission, working to ensure that the Forum would be a conference to realize action, a suitable follow-up to Johannesburg, and not a ‘conference for conference’s sake', dealing in abstractions. I am proud that this three-year process, which involved massive participation, offered up a Forum suitable for converting the World Water Vision – the fruit of the 2nd World Water Forum held in The Hague – into concrete action.

The process established three guiding principles, that this Forum be:

1. open to all;

2. created through partnership by all;

3. focused on translating visions into concrete actions and commitments.

In order to realize these principles, we established the Virtual Water Forum (VWF) on the Internet and the Water Voice Project, which collected voices on water at the grassroots level.

The VWF hosted more than 150 sessions involving more than 5,000 registered participants, and the discussions are continuing now, even after the Forum’s conclusion. Similarly, our Water Voice Project, intended to complement the VWF, collected some 30,000 voices from around the world thanks to the cooperation of more than 2,000 volunteers and some 160 partner organizations: these voices are brought together in the Water Voice database, which is accessible along with the Virtual Water Forum at the Forum’s website:

During this preparation period we also created a water network linking the activities of many conferences on water held around the world and encouraged organizations to hold sessions at the World Water Forum itself. As a result, the Forum hosted 349 sessions classified in 33 major themes and 5 regional days (see below).
All of us must continue to do our utmost to step forward and resolve water issues

Dialogue for change
The last three years’ preparation has been a bottom-up approach that included a great number of participants not seen in other international conferences. The Forum brought together participants from both developed and developing countries, with dialogue as the key element, to come up with water actions appropriate to this century of water.

I hope that the 3rd World Water Forum helped the process of overcoming today’s serious water problems and deepened global understanding of world water issues so that we can leave a better planet to our children in the 21st century. But, as the 3rd World Water Forum itself concluded, we cannot take its outcome for granted. All of us must continue to do our utmost to step forward and resolve water issues. I hope this approach will long continue

Ryutaro Hashimoto is Chairman of the National Japanese Steering Committee of the World Water Forum.

PHOTOGRAPH: Gutierrez Santoya Antbrida/UNEP/Topham

Agriculture, Food and Water
CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Panel
Children’s World Water Forum
Dams and Sustainable Development
Financing Water Infrastructure
Gender and Water Panel
Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) & Basin Management
Public Private Partnership
Science, Technology and Management Panel
Union Panel
Water and Cities
Water and Climate
Water and Cultural Diversity
Water and Energy
Water and Governance
Water and Information
Water and Parliamentarians
Water and Poverty
Water and Transport
Water Development Partners Panel
Water for Peace
Water Journalist Panel
Water Supply, Sanitation, Hygiene and Water Pollution
Water, Education and Capacity Building
Water, Food and Environment
Water, Life and Medical Care
Water, Nature and Environment
Youth World Water Forum

Special Programmes
Agricultural Ministers’ Meeting on Water, Food and Agriculture World Water Actions
World Water Assessment Programme

Regional Days
Day of Africa
Day of Asia and Pacific
Day of Europe
Day of the Americas
Day of the Middle East and Mediterranean

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