Thursday, August 24, 2006

Stockholm Water Week blog | WaterAid

This is World Water Week in Stockholm.  Here are excerpts from the blog of Water Aid CEO Barbara Frost.  Link: Stockholm Water Week blog | WaterAid.

This week experts from 140 countries will address issues relating to water, environment, livelihoods and poverty reduction at the Stockholm World Water Week.

Day 3: Citizens' Action sparks action

23 August 2006

We were really pleased to see around 40 people attend our side event on WaterAid's Citizens' Action campaign. Citizen's Action helps poor people gain access to the water and sanitation services to which they are entitled by supporting them to hold their governments and service providers to account. 

The event was expertly chaired by Piers Cross from WSP Africa, an international partnership to help the poor gain sustained access to improved water supply and sanitation services, and was set in motion with a presentation by WaterAid UK's Policy Officer Peter Ryan and WaterAid Ghana's Head of Policy Abdul Nashiru Mohammed. In the presentation they outlined the initiative, its challenges and its impact on West Africa.

I was very impressed by the depth of interest in Citizens' Action and the enthusiastic discussion that followed the presentation in which contributions were made by a number of participants including members of African governments and civil society as well as major private sector operators. Interest in setting up and supporting Citizens' Action initiatives was generated too, which was especially pleasing.

There was a fascinating example today of the use of film to highlight critical issues in water and sanitation. Film speaks a universal language and so overcomes many barriers. Plus, the first Stockholm World Water Week Film Festival attracted a vibrant crowd which all served to give us food for thought on using film in our programme and advocacy work.

There also has been plenty of debate around energising UN Water, the committee charged with coordinating UN activities in water and sanitation. This harmonising goal is one which we support; strange then that there is a clamour to house a 'body' in a number of EU member states, when the need is solely a small coordination function?

Find out more about WaterAid's Citizens' Action campaign.
Day 2: Pushing the agenda

22 August 2006

World Water Week probably appears like chaos in action to someone looking in from outside. The days are long and intensive and there is a constant swell of people moving between seminars, workshops and meetings. Much of our business is done in corridors where we take opportunities for chance meetings to advocate and disseminate our policy positions.

In the gender seminar today, we took the chance to push WaterAid's agenda on issues of accountability as it resonates strongly in this context. Holding service providers and governments to account for poor service provision should lie at the heart of women's struggle to break free from poverty and disease.

We came to Stockholm with the aim of engaging in the ongoing discussions about the future of the European Union Water Initiative (EUWI). Some advocate that the delivery of basic services, including those of water and sanitation, should be included within an infrastructure partnership.

However, we believe strongly that this would lead to the EU diverting its gaze from the overriding issues of getting water and sanitation to the poor and urge others to lobby for the creation of a separate mechanism in the EU to help deliver this.

The other main items of the day included the launch of the Water Integrity Network, which brings corruption to the forefront of the sector agenda, and whether decentralisation is a pre-requisite for sustainable service delivery. It is noteworthy that almost 100 percent of contributors in this session believed it is.
Day 1: Staying focused

21 August 2006

At the 2006 Stockholm World Water Week, WaterAid will discuss the real water crisis facing over a billion people every day, a crisis not simply of scarcity but, crucially, of inequality.

WaterAid will demonstrate how accountability, securing local funding and catalysing local governments' capacities are all key to achieving a world where everyone has access to safe water and effective sanitation.

Our arrival in Stockholm coincided with the end of an eight week long drought and unusually high temperatures. Swedish Water Minister Carin J�mtin remarked that while these had been a matter of discomfort to Swedes, they are a matter of life and death to many people in the developing world. This struck a particular chord with me, as it's easy to lose sight of the issues at the heart of the problems when striving for solutions.

It was interesting to hear this year's Water Prize Laureate Professor Asit Bitwas, a man known for challenging the status quo, not mincing his words about the plethora of such gatherings, and challenging whether or not the $205 million he estimated had been incurred in implementing the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico in March this year had bought a single drop of safe water to those who don't have it.

For this reason our attendance at these events is always a matter of carefully weighing up the likely benefits against the costs and we shall continue to measure whether or not we have achieved our objectives in coming to these gatherings.

The good sessions today were those that were rooted strongly in the realities of people's lives, and not those where abstract and depersonalised presentation made them detached from the experience of poor people.

Find out more about the Stockholm World Water Week.

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