18 March 2006
Water Policy Programme
Comment

Day 2 of the forum focused on water for growth and development. WPP covered twelve sessions throughout the day. This was an important day giving the water sector a chance to showcase new thinking on availability, access and use and growth issues. 

Alan Nicol, WPP Programme Manager attended a presentation in the morning by the Bank at which the senior water adviser spoke of countries that were 'hostage to hydrology'. The subtext was that some African countries were also 'hostage' to northern environmental constituencies' prevention of more water storage (i.e. dams), thereby hindering growth and development. Other panel comments and interventions highlighted the labour time lost to water collection and the huge GDP peaks and troughs in countries such as Kenya when drought hits. Yet little connection was made between storage, energy through hydropower and the benefit sharing that would be necessary at local levels. Concepts of pro-poor growth (or even acknowledgement of the debates) were singularly lacking, as were the inputs of representatives from other sector institutions, whether government, private sector or civil society. As some of the delegates acknowledged afterwards, the presentations suggested the Bank's desire for a simple narrative to justify future large mega-project funding.

The stand set aside for local action presentations began to fill up, at last. But in the sessions themselves the inclusion of a local action sometimes seemed more like a project advertisement. An example of a local action was presented from Ethiopia based on a project in the Awash Valley. The participant from the Ministry of Water spoke of large-scale sugar cane production for the European market (seeking a significant global share), but was vague on the detail of local action versus national development. Where the assumed 80,000 jobs would be created was glossed over and problems of earlier mega-projects in Ethiopia barely touched upon-in particular their failure to engage with local communities. Afterwards the presented acknowledged that the scheme was so potentially conflict-laden at a local level that the Ethiopian PM had taken personal charge. This aspect of the local action was not debated in the session, however. 

Other sessions focused explicitly on local actions, capacity development and community empowerment. Some interesting cases of real local initiatives were presented, accompanied by a meaningful discussion of their achievements, potential vulnerabilities and varying relations with governments. However, these sessions seemed to stop here, with little attempt to relate the local actions to broader themes and higher level processes, and a very limited discussion of the potential for scaling-up.

At the same time, a session on international financing mechanisms for local water projects included on the panel, as representatives of 'local' actions, mostly government ministers and staff from regional development banks. So far there seems to have been little attempt to bridge the evident disjuncture between local action and broader processes.

Groundwater and recharge points were strong subjects throughout several of the sessions, and are set to continue through the forthcoming events. One session discussed innovative solutions for system reliance, identifying the role of the water manager and methods to better predict and prepare them for climate variation. One of the main points brought out was that despite the importance of this role not only in the water sector but also development of agriculture, hydro-electric power and industry, there was only one water manager present, bringing attention to the fact that important links in information transfer were missing.

One participant from India spent two sessions plaguing the panels with apt and direct questions about the problems of assuming growth linkages between more money for water supply and water management and the needs and challenges of institutional and capacity-building environments in Africa. Clearly challenging some of the received wisdom from water professionals, he was told (by a USAID representative) that his questions were 'too broad'. This seemed to encapsulate the sector's lack of peripheral vision and continued self-serving approach to 'why water is so important for Africa (and elsewhere)'. If the Forum has one outcome of worth, it would be a clear set of questions about what the actual water sector-growth linkages are. This would then highlight the critical need to bring non-water people to such events, and perhaps even, to stop having enormous water-only fora.

Only one reference to the previous day's mass protest was made, and although the participant was commemorating this particular session of the forum for addressing problems being raised in the march, the lack of reference throughout still begs the question as to whether these voices were actually heard.

The WPP team will be providing a daily blog on Forum activities and will post a final Forum report on World Water Day, 22nd March.

For more information on WPP visit www.odi.org.uk/wpp