UN agencies focus on sustainable management plans ahead of World Water Day

21 March 2003 –

A range of United Nations agencies is set to join forces with world leaders and experts gathered in Japan to generate creative and responsible strategies to avert a future water crisis caused by population growth, pollution and climate change.

The head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today told ministers meeting in Kyoto for a key conference on water that improving the sustainable development and management of water for agriculture is essential to enhance food security and alleviate poverty.

Speaking during the high-level segment of the Third World Water Forum, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said investment in small-scale irrigation, rural infrastructure and market access will be vital for any success in the fight against hunger and poverty. "The international community and the countries concerned need to make improved agricultural water management a political and financial priority," he said.

In many developing countries, water is already scarce and the competition from industrial and domestic users is intensifying. FAO estimates that by 2030, one in five developing countries will be suffering actual or impending water scarcity. Mr. Diouf stressed that without support for low-cost, small-scale irrigation and drainage in poor rural communities in the developing world, "we will annually be pouring, as this year, hundreds of millions of dollars in food aid to avoid starvation."

The ministers at the Kyoto Forum are expected to make recommendations that will be included in the meeting's final declaration. In particular, the ministers will call for improved governance of agricultural water use through efficient water resource management, increased research and development, including traditional knowledge, and broad cooperation and public-private partnerships in agricultural water management.

Meanwhile, on the eve of World Water Day 2003 - an event planned to inspire political and local-level action to promote responsible water use and conservation - the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has announced a joint initiative with the World Water Council which will help prevent and resolve possible "water wars" in the future. Based at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the new facility will react to crises and assist or intervene in disputes at parties' requests. It will provide a range of services, including technical and legal advice and training in water negotiations.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to launch a new journal on water and health, in conjunction with the International Water Association (IWA). The publication is designed to bring up-to-date information to government officials and professionals whose work affects people's access to water and sanitation. It will deal with diseases associated with microbial and chemical hazards and insect vectors, and will span aspects of science, policy and practice.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), meanwhile, stressed that World Water Day 2003 is scheduled as the highlight of the UN International Year of Freshwater. The theme for this year's event is "Water for the Future" - calling on everyone to observe sustainable approaches to water use for the benefit of future generations - and the agency said that in a refugee context, water is very often the key to life or death. UNHCR has launched a global survey on water supply for refugees to identify the major gaps in providing safe water to some 20 million refugees and displaced persons around the world. When the survey is completed, UNHCR said it would be able to better shape and direct its water projects.

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