Framing Future Actions

8 March 2000
Public event

Chair:

Tony Allan

Speakers:

Khalid Mohtadullah, Executive Secretary, Global Water Partnership
Alan Hall, Head of Framework for Action Unit, HR Wallingford

Description

The event comprised an overview of the Framework for Action document, which aimed to build capacity to deal with water crises.

1. Tony Allan introduced the meeting by stating that water had received less consideration than it should have at Rio: the lead-up to The Hague, in effect, was the (re)construction of the idea that water was indeed important. Evidence of crises around the world in relation to water had led to the awareness that capacity was required to do something about it. The Framework for Action (FFA) Process looked at this issue of capacity. Alan Hall had lead the FFA process (in the end, in parallel rather than sequential to the visioning process). The GWP, overseeing the exercise, was headed by Mr Mohtadullah, its Executive Secretary, and former head of the Pakistan Water Authority.

2. Mr Mohtadullah’s presentation comprised an overview of the FFA document. The GWP had taken on the FFA process because it felt it had the opportunity for working with regions/countries via its regional outlets and through these outlets to see how the vision could be implemented. The core basis for the FFA had been a large flow of information from the regions to the FFU, in addition to work undertaken by the thematic groups, he said. The end goal of the process was to achieve ‘secure water futures’, based on a global definition of water security. This meant that every person had access to enough safe water at affordable cost to lead a clean, healthy and productive life whilst ensuring that the natural environment was protected and enhanced - an ‘ambitious’ kind of security, as he put it.

3. The guiding theme of the FFA based on past experience of failed planning processes (including some from the speaker’s own experience in Pakistan), was the need for political will to be at the heart of the planning and implementing processes. One of the main efforts to be addressed during and post-Hague was to see political will used effectively in countries facing severe water constraints. Political will also had to be exercised at an international level in terms of reaching global agreement. Noting that agreement had been reached at Rio, he said that insufficient will had survived post-Rio to force governments to agree internationally binding conventions.

4. The FFA had, for first time, put the whole concept of water security forward as a basis for operationalising sound principles in water resources, he said. But if global water security were to be achieved then there would have to be commitment to achieving targets. The targets put forward in the FFA were: 1) comprehensive policies and strategies for IWRM should be implemented; 2) the proportion of people without access to hygienic sanitation facilities should be reduced by half by 2015; 3) the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water should be reduced by half by 2015; and 4) water productivity in agriculture should be increased by 30% by 2025. The latter’s significance, in particular, was highlighted. Water in agriculture, and how it was used, had immense significance for a country like Pakistan where, he said, 97% of available water was committed to agriculture; 50% of the labour force was employed in agriculture which also accounted for 97% of exports. Whilst emphasising the importance of irrigated agriculture for food production, water in ecosystems also had to be addressed. For this reason national standards to ensure the health of freshwater ecosystems should be in place by 2005; and be implemented by 2015.

5. Outlining the themes for action the speaker emphasised the significance of water governance, pivotal to which were the kinds of institutions in place (he cited the significance of Australian institutional reforms, and how these had set ‘new standards’ within the public sector). This contrasted with Pakistan where no formal water policy was in place. The challenge to water governance lay in deciding on the best kinds of institutional, technological, and financial innovations to proceed with. Generating water wisdom was the second major theme and centred on both raising public awareness and sharing knowledge about water. Mr Mohtadullah cited the environmental movement as an example of how effectively awareness had been raised, and suggested that this could represent the type of awareness raising ‘we need to bring about in the water sector’. Capacity building in order to be able to innovate was absolutely crucial and one of the main challenges remained to link existing research to the places/people who need it. Networking was very important, therefore, and the GWP served an important purpose in providng this link.

6. Tackling urgent water priorities, the third major theme, focused on protecting and restoring water resources and ecosystems, achieving water-food security, extending sanitation coverage and hygiene education, meeting the challenge of urbanisation and improving flood management. The last major theme was investing in a secure water future. It was estimated that there was a need for more than double the current investment level on an annual basis (from some $80 billion to $180 billion). But questions still needed to be addressed, including what arrangements would be in place to facilitate this and what was now required to take the investment process forward? Implementation on the ground was a key measure of success. The next Stockholm conference looking at the preparation of the national programmes of actions would be important in this respect; so would be preparations for the Bonn meeting (Dublin +10) in preparation for Rio (+10). A key question was how the GWP could get the private sector engaged.

7. Supplementing the first speaker’s address, Alan Hall asked, why ‘water security’? The FFU had, he said, tried to ‘popularise’ water, and to come up with a term that was ‘intuitively well understood,’ particularly by politicians. In addition they had tried to avoid the term ‘water sector’ (believing it to be cross-cutting) and chose instead the term ‘water domain’, to get a broader concept of water across. Some had asked, however, what was new since Mar del Plata in 1977? Answering this point he outlined four differences: 1) the process itself had been unusual in that 20 regional consultations had gone on amounting to an extensive consultation process (added to which were thematic discussions); 2) four major groups had been identified for the forum, namely youth, NGOs, the private sector and gender; and in so doing had shifted the debate from the usual ‘water community’; 3) there had been greater differentiation between resources, per se, and their use (e.g. between service delivery and water resources management); and 4) specific actions had been highlighted in the FFA, including investment (money released from debt relief should go to water supply and sanitation), and there was also a suggestion to establish ‘blue funds’. Every region had come up with its own FFA and, in general, the process itself had begun to create more linkages between NGOs, engineers, etc.

8. The ensuing discussion focused on issues including investment, the private sector and narratives on the ‘water crisis’. Asked why the distinction had been made between water and the environment Mr Mohtadullah said that he was ‘looking forward’ to an outcome similar to the environmental movement, and stressed how closely water and poverty were linked to environmental issues. A former senior water official in Pakistan had stated, he said, that the biggest environmental problem faced was to see hunger experienced by its people. Alan Hall added that he did not think the two issues were separate, rather they would like to see water more ‘integrated’ as part of the environment debate. Whether or not there was in fact at present a ‘crisis’ was also raised. The FFA had settled for a ‘looming’ water crisis, not wanting to oversell but still wanting to ‘draw attention’ Mr Hall said. Tony Allan added that he had observed that pessimists were wrong about the volumes in the water crisis but were useful because they brought attention (to the issues), whilst the optimists were right but ‘dangerous’ because the caused attention to wane.

9. The $80-$180 billion increase in investment sounded high but in fact was really only ‘peanuts’ according to one comment (the equivalent of about 9% of one day’s trading on the London foreign exchange market). Given that the money was mainly coming from the private sector, the question was who would be paying it back? Therefore in what direction was the FFA going in terms of paying for water? Alan Hall replied that following extensive discussions it had been decided that at some stage in the future there had to be full cost recovery. Subsidies, such as there were, should be transparent, time bound, and targeted within a regulatory framework. But if the focus was on water resources development then these were time horizons which did not fit with private sector funding ideas, it was further commented. Hence there was a conundrum between involving the private sector and the desire to finance activities which were meant for long-range development. Important in this respect too, was therefore consumer orientation and the empowerment of customers. If the idea was to empower water users/customers to finance investment which may be long term then there was a potential problem in bringing together the ideas of sustainability, private sector funding and customer orientation. Alan Hall replied that in some circumstances it would take a long time for change, although the big irrigation users – including India, China and Indonesia – were being serious about the issue of change.

10. The water crisis ‘narrative’ was raised and a suggestion made that some of those responsible for the narrative were perhaps being disingenuous. Was there really a water crisis? Tony Allan (using the Chair’s prerogative) said that as scientists cannot find the right numbers, there was not the precision in the methods required and so there was an inevitable turn to politics (where dealing with imprecision was the norm). In other words there was a conscious attempt to establish the case for giving water priority. A reply from the floor in response to this suggested that therefore the real value of an event such as The Hague was its role in clarifying the competing narratives about a subject and coming up with a set of propositions about the problem area that people could agree on. (Would the police in The Hague need as much tear gas as those in Seattle?!). Would there be protest about the narratives contained in the declaration? Important statements were emerging: namely ‘we need more dams’, ‘time to privatise the water\industry and demolish the parastatals dominating the industry in so many countries’, ‘full cost recovery is OK provided we have targeted subsidies for the very poorest’. Each of these narratives had been contested during the meetings series, it was argued. In reply Alan Hall answered that there would be some controversy in The Hague ‘but not much’. Some of the arguments being put forward would raise much more controversy at a local level - e.g. full cost recovery was a major issue in Tamil Nadu. Another issue was that of private sector capital, and the reluctance to accept it and to put the regulatory structures for cost recovery in place which would ensure private sector efficiency.

11. Questions on water security, scarcity and targets followed. Whose water security was posed? The idea was to build up from the household level, it was suggested. On the question of whether the whole process had been adequately consultative Alan Hall suggested that this would be a big problem to be addressed at The Hague meeting itself, although he emphasised that there had been a ‘unique attempt’ over 18 months, though some regional groups had been more broadly consultative than others. Whilst there had therefore undoubtedly been variation in the consultative process, much had improved as the process had progressed.

12. Did improving water use efficiency by 30% in agriculture rely on better use of water across the board or better plant breeding, perhaps using GM crops? In reply it was stated that 30% represented about 1% per annum, equivalent to the Green Revolution. The emphasis was on increasing yields from 1-2 tonnes to 2-3 tonnes per ha. A whole range of changes would be required including changing attitudes. Recognised as ambitious, nevertheless a figure of 30% had been fixed on to imply another green revolution in agriculture this time linked to water. The main challenge remaining, Mr Mohtadullah stated, was how to take the FFA forward and, principally, how to assist countries in developing their own action frameworks.