Bonn Freshwater Conference Looks to Reduce Poverty and Promote Sustainable
Development Through Better Water Management
7 December, Bonn, Germany Growing demand, increased pollution and waste
have made the world's scarce supply of freshwater even scarcer, and for the
situation to improve, there must be greater commitment to action, according to
the representatives of government, business, and non-governmental organizations
that gathered in Bonn, Germany for the International Conference on Freshwater
There is enough water in the world for everyone in the world, the conference
concluded, but only if it is properly managed. Addressing water concerns,
conference participants agreed, is a significant element in promoting
sustainable development and poverty reduction.
To properly manage its freshwater resources, and to ensure necessary services
to the more than1.2 billion people who now lack access to clean drinking water,
and the 2.5 billion people who lack access to proper sanitation, the Conference
found that the world will have to more than double its investment in water
resource infrastructure. Estimates indicate that a global investment of up to
$180 billion a year is needed in water infrastructure, up from present
investment levels of about $70-80 billion.
Yet the water needed to meet basic human needs represents only a small part of
the bill--$20 billion is needed to meet these needs, up from the $10 billion
that is presently available. The largest user of freshwater resources is
In Bonn, representatives from 118 countries, including 46 ministers, agreed
that a lack of access to freshwater was a major obstacle on the road to a
safer, more peaceful, equitable and prosperous world. In a statement containing
action-oriented policy implications, the ministers looked to this August's
World Summit on Sustainable Development to help generate enough support
implement a sound water programme.
The Freshwater Conference is expected to have a major impact on the process
leading up to the Johannesburg Summit. Stressing the importance of freshwater
as a strategic resource for sustainable development, Johannesburg Summit
Secretary-General Nitin Desai told the Conference that he hoped the Summit
would borrow some of the key organizing elements of Bonn, such as the way
scientific and professional inputs were presented, the integration of social,
economic and environmental dimensions, and the focus on concrete steps to
achieve conference goals in an open and transparent process.
There was an emphasis on measures that could yield results at the Bonn meeting.
The Conference's outcome document stated, "There is often a gap between
making such policies and putting them into practice. So this conference focused
on practical ideas."
These ideas range from recommendations for better governance, mobilizing more
resources, and through increased sharing of technology and knowledge. The
conference called on the international community to provide greater assistance,
in the form of official development assistance and transfer of technology. The
conference also endorsed greater decentralization in implementing policies, and
strongly supported efforts to promote gender equity, and that water management
policies should allow men and women equitable access to water resources.
The outcome of the Bonn Conference will be presented to the second preparatory
meeting for Johannesburg Summit in January by Germany. Hans-Peter Schipulle,
Deputy Director General, Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation,
said that the Bonn Recommendations, as they now stand, are neither negotiated
nor binding. Nevertheless, since 118 governments, 47 intergovernmental
organizations and 73 major groups contributed to the process, there is
widespread support for the outcome.
In the ten years since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, water experts have
developed a series of ideas that have come to be known as commonly agreed
principles on water resource management. Yet poor governance, a lack of
resources, and a lack of technology have hampered implementation.
The ministers attending the Bonn meeting agreed that governments have the
primary responsibility for ensuring that there is a dependable and fair system
for distributing water resources. Acknowledging the tension between the idea
that water is both an economic and a social good-many regard access to
freshwater and sanitation as a human right-the ministers called on the private
sector to play a role in developing water capabilities, but cautioned that
privately managed distribution systems did not imply private ownership of the
The discussion of poverty alleviation through improved water management,
according to Willem Alexander, Prince of Orange, Netherlands, "implies
recognition of the rights of the poor." Noting that at an earlier meeting
on freshwater resources, in the Hague, stakeholders demanded governments to
recognize access to water for drinking and productive purposes as a basic human
right, the Prince said, "here in Bonn, we will have to respond to this
demand. However, getting water recognized as a basic human right will be a
lengthy UN process which won't render immediate benefits. It is therefore
important that we simultaneously use our time and energy to work on practical
solutions which will benefit the poor in developing countries."
China is one country looking for practical solutions, quickly. Chen Lei, Vice
Minister of Water Resources, China, said that the continuous increase in demand
for water in his country has become a major restricting factor for China's
sustainable economic and social development. With an insufficient water supply
in over 400 cities, he said "the demand for water supply will become
larger and larger with the improvement of people's living standards and social
and economic development. Therefore, the contradiction between water supply and
demand will become even more serious."
Ronnie Kasrils, South African Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, said it
is not coincidental that many of the larger environmental problems we face are
in countries with weak, ineffective or corrupt governments; neither is it
coincidental that there is a clear correlation between good governance, social
and economic development and environmental conservation. He said, "The
recent tragic events of September 11th emphasize the urgency of addressing the
needs of the poor in all sectors to end the marginalization of the excluded -
for all our sakes."
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Department of Economic and
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24 August 2006