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IWRA World Water Congress 2003 Madrid Spain
IWRA WWC2003 - default topic
Author(s): MORI Katsuhiko

MORI Katsuhiko
Department of International Relations, Yokohama City University. 22-2 Seto, Kanazawa-ku,
Yokohama, Japan 236-0027



The water crisis is a crisis of water quantity. Although 70% of the surface of the globe is covered by water, 97.5% of it is salt water.i Only 2.5% of global water is freshwater, and less than 1% of the freshwater resources are accessible for human use. With a rapid increase of human population, water stresses at both macro and micro levels have worsened.ii It is projected that about half of the worldís population will experience water shortages by 2025.iii The water crisis is a crisis of water quality. In developing countries, untreated sewage from expanding urban populations contaminates nearby rivers and lakes, and changing agricultural and industrial practices pollute watercourses. In developed countries, where stricter governmental regulations have been introduced, toxic chemicals persistently threaten human and ecological health. As water pollution increases, the volume of usable water further decreases. It is also a crisis of governance. There are inefficiencies and inequalities in water accessibility and distribution, and water-stressed areas are geographically dispersed. Socio-economic globalization adds a new global dimension to the water cycle. The production and export around the world of water-consuming agricultural and other products can affect global security by producing local and regional water conflicts. Therefore, we need more water, cleaner water, and better water governance.

To increase awareness of the importance of freshwater and to promote action at the local, national, regional, and international levels, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater.iv Water was also identified as one of the priority areas by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). WSSD reviewed progress of Agenda 21 adopted at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. Compared with air and land-based environmental issues, global responses to freshwater issues appear slow and delayed. Although progress on the climate change issue is still far from ideal, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol have been established. Similarly, although UNCED failed to reach a global forest treaty, a forest declaration is in place and, despite delays, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification has been formed. What can we say of an international regime on freshwater?

In responding to the water governance crisis, concerned professionals, academics, and international organizations took the lead in establishing, in 1996, the World Water Council (WWC), which organizes the World Water Forum every three years. During the period from Rio to Johannesburg and beyond, Japan agreed to host two important conference events in Kyoto: the 1997 Third UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP3) and the 2003 Third World Water Forum (WWF3). Just as COP3 was expected to translate the UNFCCC into actual commitments, WWF3 was also expected to translate the World Water Vision into actions and commitments. 

This paper aims to answer the following questions that were raised especially in Johannesburg and Kyoto: Why and how is the creation of an international regime on freshwater difficult and delayed? Why and how effectively did, or did not, the state and other major groups respond to the water governance crisis? In answering these questions, this paper first reviews and examines different, and sometimes competing, conceptualizations of water by elaborating the three pillars 2 of sustainable development. These include: water for sustained economic growth, water for sustainable human and social development, and water for ecologically sustainable development. Then, it examines different directions of water governance by looking at the local, national, international, and transnational levels.

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