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03.04.2009 - Article
5th World Water Forum in Istanbul

Water as a Human Right at Stage-Center of Debate

At the 5th World Water Forum, 25,000 specialists, politicians, and representatives of both the private sector and civil society hailing from more than 100 countries, gathered in search of solutions to alleviate the water crisis. Switzerland too numbered among those countries strongly endorsing water as a human right.

The theme “Access to water and basic sanitation are human rights” was ever-present during the entire Forum which took place from 16 to 22 March in Istanbul. The attempts made by Switzerland, France, Spain, and several Latin American countries to enshrine this human right in the Ministerial Declaration were unfortunately to remain unsuccessful. In the end, solely the formulation “Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is a basic human need” met with a consensus.

Swiss Commitment

The Swiss delegation, led by Ambassador Martin Dahinden, Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Bruno Oberle, Director of the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), participated in various fora and panel discussions in which they spoke about the experiences made by Switzerland. On the ministerial level, Martin Dahinden co-chaired a 4-hour-long debate on the themes “Beyond the International Year of Sanitation” and “Implementing the right to water and sanitation” together with Uruguay’s Minister of the Environment.

As a result of discussions held by the parliamentarians at the Water Forum, an international Help Desk is to be set up for those parliamentarians requiring information and advice on the theme of water and sanitation. The participating city mayors adopted the so-called “Istanbul Water Consensus” which underscores the importance of urban and rural governments in providing water and sewage services, and calls upon national governments to accord enhanced importance to the water sector. A representative from the Lausanne city council and the director of the city water services reported on the experiences gathered in cooperating with municipalities in Madagascar in the domain of water management.

5000 Liters of Water for 1Kg of Rice

For the first time, the concept of a “water footprint” came up for serious discussion. A water footprint is a measure of the total water consumption of a company or a country. Seventy percent of Switzerland’s footprint extends beyond its borders, often into countries where water is scarce like China and India. For instance, some 5000 liters of water are needed to produce and transport 1 kg of rice from India.

Agriculture as being the largest consumer of water was a much more prominent theme of discussion than in the previous World Water Fora. In particular, the potential proffered by a more efficient use of water for irrigation came up for targeted discussion.

Helvetas Project wins an Award

During the Forum, the international ReSource Award for sustainable water management, endowed with a prize of USD 150,000, was conferred by SwissRe on Helvetas for a project in Afghanistan.

Switzerland was represented at the Forum by the SDC, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), and the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG).

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