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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Bonn Freshwater Meeting to Contribute to Action Agenda at Johannesburg Summit

{short description of image}   Bonn, Germany, 3 December 2001—With clean freshwater supplies growing scarcer around the world and in developing countries in particular, government representatives are gathering in Bonn, Germany today for a one-week conference aimed at hammering out strategies that will help manage fresh water supplies better.

It is expected that the recommendations of the International Conference on Freshwater will be incorporated into the preparatory process for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which will take place next year in Johannesburg.

The problem is not that there is a lack of fresh water to go around, but there is a problem of how it is used and managed. Fresh water for household use is not a major cause of water scarcity. About 1.2 billion people lack access to adequate, safe and affordable water, mostly in rural areas of Asia and Africa due to inadequate investments in water supply and sanitation-not because the water is scarce.

Agriculture, on the other hand, accounts for about 70 percent of all freshwater use, and in some areas, such as North Africa, West Asia and South Asia, agriculture accounts for between 85 to 95 percent of all water use.

According to Nitin Desai, Johannesburg Summit Secretary-General, managing freshwater supplies is one of the single most important issues that must be addressed in order to promote sustainable development. "It is crucial to understand that water has to be recognized as a social and economic good that needs to be managed within a sound framework," he said.

"It's a strategic tool that can help people, especially in rural areas, to improve their standard of living. A well managed supply of clean water supports crops and sustains livelihoods, reduces disease, and ensures that ecosystems are safeguarded for the future."

This is not the first time the international community has addressed the problem of freshwater, and it was included as a chapter of Agenda 21, the global plan of action for sustainable development that was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

The difference, according to Arthur Askew, Director of the Hydrology and Water Resources Department for the World Meteorological Organization, is that freshwater is now considered a "crucial" issue. "Fresh water is a serious issue for the world today, one that will become even more challenging in the future," said Askew. But, he explained, the positive development is that there is now a greater interest from many players, including many developed countries, to address the crucial questions of availability and ongoing management of the world's fresh water supplies.

Askew said the meeting would tackle a number of issues, but it would not be a renegotiation of Agenda 21. "Everyone is saying, 'don't renege on Agenda 21.' It's still valid, even though nothing like enough has been done to implement it."

One of the most important issues to be settled, he said, concerned whether water will be viewed as an economic good. "Some cultures and religions have difficulty with this, but we need a proper realization of the value of water. It is a commodity which has economic value."

Manuel Dengo, Chief of Water and Natural Resources and Small Island Developing States for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said he expected the meeting to tackle ways to promote dialogue between the various sectors of society, governance, financial issues, capacity building, and technology transfer. Noting that disputes often led to conflict over freshwater supplies, he said he hoped the conference would provide leadership on conflict resolution mechanisms.

Other issues on the agenda include the role of gender in water management and the effects of corruption of the proper management of supplies. Dengo said "I do hope they will be able to come up with a set of tangible outputs that will be taken forward and make a real difference in many parts of the world."

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24 August 2006