Monday, 19 March 2012

Q&A: Ben Braga on the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille

Days before the French city of Marseille hosts the 6th World Water Forum (March 12-17) Ben Braga, president of the International Committee for the event and vice-president of the World Water Council, tells Nadya Ivanova that this will be the Forum of solutions and commitments.

by Nadya Ivanova
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    Water experts are convening on March 12-17 at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France, to seek solutions to 12 priority water targets. Image courtesy of 6th World Water Forum.

What can we expect from the 6th World Water Forum compared to previous forums?
This forum intends to be a little bit different from the previous ones in the sense that we have prioritized the actions on the ground that look for solutions to water problems in different areas. The focus is not so much on discussing, making diagnoses or trying to understand the problems, which is what we mostly did in the previous [forums].

Can you give us examples of something innovative that will come out of the forum?
One of the priorities that the forum’s committee has established is the harmonizing of water and energy. Another is promoting green growth and value ecosystem services. For example, in the latter, there is a target to propose a framework for action on green growth and water by the end of 2012 that supports the implementation of the Rio+20 agreements and that [takes into account the 6th World Water Forum’s] political declarations. The forum committee is working very closely with Rio+20 to bring these commitments into the Rio summit declaration, even though our forum declarations are not binding because we are not a governmental organization. We try to influence governments to make commitments themselves. That’s why the Rio+20 summit is so important to us – we want to introduce water [to government leaders] at the summit.
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    Residents of Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township gingerly step across flows of raw sewage in 2002 while delegates to the World Summit on Sustainable Development met across town to discuss global sustainability challenges. Ten years later and on the eve of the next Earth Summit in Rio, the U.N. still warns that meeting the Millennium Development Goals on sanitation is a long way off. (©J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue)
You’ve described the 6th World Water Forum as the forum of solutions and commitments. What concrete actions can we expect from the event?
There is an expectation that [the forum will] advance transboundary river basin management. There is an article in the forum’s ministerial declaration that incites ministers to look more closely at the issue of transboundary river management. There is another article about the recognition of water and sanitation as a human right. You know that the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution on this, but it is not binding. We are trying to see if in our declaration governments can be more specific about these two very sensitive and very important issues in the water sector.

What other water priorities would you like to push forward at the forum and in 2012?
Looking at the water problems around the world, my feeling is that we need to find a way of financing the least developed countries to allow them access to safe drinking water and sanitation. I think the Millennium Development Goals for sanitation are appropriate. The problem is that achieving this goal requires a lot of financial and human resources – you have to increase the capacity of local people to operate the systems after they are implemented.

Have you seen any innovative ways to address this?
The National Water Agency of Brazil uses subsidy mechanisms to give financial resources to municipalities to construct sewage treatment plants. But instead of just providing the funds to the mayor, the national agency first estimates the amount needed to construct the treatment plant. This amount stays in a savings account at a national bank, which guarantees that the money is going to be given to the municipality when the sewerage treatment plant is in operation. When people hear about this, they say, “Ah, but this is so obvious!” So, why didn’t you do it before? It is a very interesting way of giving the money, but at the same time you can only tap it when the sewage treatment plant is in operation. This [financing mechanism] is already in operation in Brazil and it has served more than 7 million people. So it’s not just an idea that will have to be carved and worked a lot. It’s ready. And countries in Africa or Southeast Asia could use the same procedure to increase the treatment of their effluent and increase the quality of their urban rivers.

How do you plan to keep the momentum after the event is over?
This time we have a platform on our website, called Solutions for Water, which will be kept after the forum is over and will be carried on by the World Water Council. Anyone who has access to the Internet could submit a solution [in that platform] to the targets listed on our website. So far we have collected more than 1,000 ideas to achieve those targets. Our idea is that this platform will [continue to live after the forum], and we will use it as a follow-up to the commitments that have been made during the event. We will use it and maintain it [so that we could] keep this momentum forward to [the 7th World Water Forum in] Korea.

Full interview available here.

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