Very vague

Delegates came and talked but failed to arrive at any conclusions at the World Water Forum

Published: Sunday 30 April 2000

There is no doubt in the minds of anybody that the world is steadily heading towards a global water crisis. For one water was always a scarce resource and of late the scarcity is growing. Coupled to this is the problem of pollution of water sources by domestic sewage, agricultural run off and industrial effluents. The International Water Management Institute in Colombo has estimated that even if the global water use efficiency was increased to 70 per cent by 2025 there would still be a demand for 17 per cent more water.

There is a way out. It lies in setting up a framework of management through private contractors and local communities. While the first option is expensive the second is low-cost and has been around for centuries. This option involves a low-cost low level of technology, based on local skills and local material, both abundantly available. The other that of private contractors could be high tech and could be used for sewage treatment and or to help recycle water. A litre of water could be recycled fifty times over to make it equivalent to 50 litres.

Communities need not wait for any agency to deliver water to them. They have been taking care of their needs for a long time much before the government stepped in. At the same time it is vital that governments play the role of facilitators and also encourage the full cost pricing of water in the urban sector. Today water is subsidised in such a manner that the subsidy only benefits the rich. Water treatment in India is being implemented with the help of aid programmes as even the richest of the rich cannot afford the cost of treating the sewage, that is largely their creation. At the same time privatisation of the water sector remains an extremely controversial issue and is opposed by a large number of unions and non-governmental organisations.

It is very clear that a water crisis is going to hit us because of the total incompetence of the water bureaucracies of the world that cannot see it coming. Delegates at the recent World Water Forum at the Hague should have discussed the issues and come to some conclusion. If they do not want privatisation they will have to ensure that state agencies begin to function properly. But the delegates just ducked all these issues.

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