World Water Week opened in the Swedish capital this week with impassioned warnings by the Prime Minister, Mr. Frederik Reinfeldt, and UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, that the world was not doing enough to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people without safe access to water and basic sanitation by 2015.
|Prime Minister Reinfeldt addressing World Water Week|
To celebrate the arrival of Homo Urbanus in recognition of the fact that half of humanity lives in cities and towns, this year’s theme for the event, Progress and Prospects on Water: Striving for Sustainability in a Changing World was considered fitting in a world beset by problems caused by rapid urbanization and by climate change.
In his opening address, Prime Minister Reinfeldt, said, “Sweden had a long tradition when it comes to emphasizing water as a priority within the framework of our foreign aid.” However, he pointed out the increasing challenges posed by climate change, saying efforts to improve people’s access to water is being threatened by flooding and increased drought that would follow climate change.
“It will need investments in renewable energy sources and bio-fuels. It will need efficiency and modernization of farming. It will need aid to give people access to essential sanitation,” he said. “And perhaps most crucial – it will need a security and peacekeeping perspective to bring security and peace to areas where conflicts exist or may arise over access to water.”
In keeping with the overall theme of World Water Week, Mrs. Tibaijuka’s keynote address dealt with Water for Thirsty Cities. It emphasized that urbanization was leading to a major demographic, especially in Asia and Africa. The result was a divided city. What was worse, the problems caused by urbanization, when compounded by those caused by climate change could only exacerbate the already miserable conditions of the urban poor.
|Mrs. Tibaijuka with participants at the conference.|
“Everywhere the urban poor live in places no else would dare set foot. In Sub-Saharan Africa slum dwellers consititute over 70 percent of the urban populations. In other parts of the developing world that figure is 50 percent. In many slums at least 30 percent of the recent migrants were environmental refugees!”
As our climate changes things were getting worse, threatening more extreme weather. UN figures showed that in 2006 alone, 117 million people around the world suffered from some 300 natural disasters, including devastating droughts in China and Africa, and massive flooding in Asia and Africa, costing nearly $15 billion in damages.
Everywhere it was the urban poor who lived in places no-one else would dare set foot – along beaches vulnerable to flooding, alongside railway lines, on slopes prone to landslides, near polluted grounds. They scratch out a living in shaky structures that would be flattened the instant a hurricane hit causing untold loss in lives and destruction.
|Mrs. Tibaijuka with the Swedish royal family at the reception.|
“In this new urban ages, the mega-cities, therefore loom as giant potential flood and disaster traps,” she said.
Mrs. Tibaijuka called for more investment in the water sector and donor support, while making a case for more innovation in public private partnerships to help deliver the Millennium Development Goals.
World Water Week in Stockholm is the leading annual platform for international discussions on water, in its broadest sense. It brings together a range of experts and others to advance efforts related to water and sanitation, the environment, livelihoods and poverty reduction. This year the conference has attracted over 2,000 participants.
|Mrs. Tibaijuka delivers her address to participants.|
Despite the success of the conference itself, the Prime Minister and the Executive Director were not alone in sounding a note of caution.
Mr. Anders Berntell, the Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute, pointed out that, with over 1 billion people without a safe water supply, the world was falling behind in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
“At the current rate, the target of halving the proportion of people without basic sanitation by 2015, with the net result that at least 2 billion people will still be without adequate sanitation,” he said.
Despite this, he said investment in water remained low. “I think it is time that we ask ourselves: why? Why do not governments in developing countries, donor agencies and financiers priortise water higher? Why are other issues, other sectors higher on the political agenda?”
|Mrs. Tibaijuka with some speakers at the conference.|