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Sunday, March 16, 2003

Will the Tokyo Delegates Get Wet or Cold Feet?

With all attention centred this weekend either on Iraq or 'atypical pneumonia' (and with those in need of some light escapism knee-deep in Warren Buffet-type armaggedon warnings) this one may not get the attention it deserves. The UN predicts that around the globe by 2020 the average water supply per person will be one third less than it is now. With agriculture responsible for of 75% of global water consumption, and third world populations still growing fast, some sort of resource crisis seems quite possible:

The 10,000-plus delegates to the World Water Forum in Japan have a challenging week ahead. They must work out how to reach the UN target of halving the numbers of people without clean water by 2015. They will have to tackle drought, floods, climate change, and the prospect of conflict over water. More than two million people die annually from water-related diseases like cholera. The forum, the third of its kind, runs from 16 to 23 March, and is sponsored by the World Bank, the UN, and many non-governmental groups. It is being held in three cities - Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga.

Many of the conference sessions are precisely geared to generating ways of preventing water being wasted, be it through improved supplies or better irrigation methods. But controversially, the conference will also examine how much water supplies could be improved with the involvement of the private sector. Many NGOs have balked at that idea, insisting water is a right for all and should not be charged for. Indeed, the Blue Planet Project - a coalition of environmentalists, human rights activists, and anti-poverty campaigners - was formed in direct reaction to the "Water Vision" proposed at the last World Water Forum. This vision endorsed a for-profit view of water as a resource, they claim. However, the success of water charging schemes in places like South Africa has encouraged both businesses and governments to consider a greater role for private sector involvement in the water supply.
Source: BBC News

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