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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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Johannesburg Water Dome Event Looks to Turn Summit Commitments into Action during International Year of Freshwater 2003

Johannesburg, 3 September— The strong commitments made at the World Summit on Sustainable Development to improve access to clean water and proper sanitation for millions of people around the world must be matched with concrete action, according to freshwater advocates meeting at the Water Dome in Johannesburg, and next year's International Year of Freshwater will provide a major opportunity to galvanize efforts.

Through the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, countries have committed themselves to halve the proportion of people lacking access to clean water and proper sanitation by 2015. At present, more than one billion people do not have access to clean water and more than double that number lack access to proper sanitation facilities. Water-borne diseases are blamed for the deaths of five to six million people in developing countries each year.

Major water initiatives were announced in Johannesburg by the United States, which said it would spend up to $970 million over the next three years in the water sector, the European Union, which presently spends more than a billion euros a year on its European Water Initiative, and $500 million from the Asian Development Bank for the "Water for Asian Cities" programme.

At the Water Dome event, organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and UNESCO, Johannesburg Secretary-General Nitin Desai called the commitments to improve water and hygiene conditions "one of the biggest success stories at the Summit." He said, "Not only do we have clear goals for both water supply and sanitation, but the broader issues of water resources management have attracted the greatest attention in the partnership announcements." Desai noted that that action on the water agenda was central to the whole agenda of the Summit, including health, girls' education, land management, agriculture and biodiversity. "If you get the water management right at the village level, it will improve land management, fisheries, biodiversity, energy and poverty. Water connects all the areas of sustainable development."

" Water is the centre of the global debate," according to Koichiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO. "Freshwater is the interface between energy, health, food security and biodiversity." The International Year of Freshwater 2003, he said, would remind countries of the crucial importance of our water resources.

The timing of the new commitments on water and sanitation could not be better, Desai said, with the International Year of Freshwater, to be marked in 2003, providing an opportunity to sustain momentum and action to ensure that implementation efforts bring real results.

Tajikistan Deputy Prime Minister Kozidavlat Koimdodov, whose country was a prime sponsor for the International Year of Freshwater, said that water was crucial for sustainable development in Central Asia. Tajikistan was blessed with abundant water resources, according to Koimdodov, but recent droughts had affected agriculture that supports the population. He added that efforts were needed to conserve water resources in order to meet the goals of halving the proportion of people without access to adequate water supply and sanitation by 2015.

UN efforts to pursue the water agenda are well underway. There are 23 UN agencies participating in the World Water Assessment Programme to assist countries to measure their performance in implementation of promised water programmes. And a UN Task Force on Implementation of the Water-related Millennium Development Goals was embarking on a three-year project to identify next steps that had to be taken in water and other fields, such as poverty, health, and hunger.

"We have come an awfully long way since Rio," according to Albert Wright, a Co-coordinator of the UN Task Force. "Several years ago, who would have imagined that water would be right at the top of he global agenda? Because here, in Johannesburg, it is. Water awareness has been increased tremendously."

Setting goals and proper monitoring and up-to-date-assessment are essential for meeting the targets, according to Sir Richard Jolly, Chair of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. But he said that additional technical and financial support would be needed, especially in Africa, to build up proper monitoring systems.

The EU fully supported the International Year of Freshwater, 2003 as well as the 3rd World Water Forum to be held in Japan, according to Ambassador Dan Nielsen of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Environment and the European Union. Monitoring, assessment and reporting were essential, he said, in the water sector in Europe, which has more than 270 transboundary water systems. The EU had recently adopted the Water Framework Directive, which had modernized water legislation and management, based on good monitoring of groundwater, lakes, rivers, coastal water and the sea. The Directive was a strong tool to support decision making on water in Europe, not only in the EU, but in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that had applied to join the EU.

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24 August 2006