World Water Day 2011

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So how is humankind going to get drinking water and grow food for an ever-increasing population? The participants at World Water Day 2011 are hoping to figure out that riddle before more of a crisis builds. Here’s a report about the goings on in Cape Town, South Africa from The Guardian (Lee Middleton):

In Africa, where the rate of urbanisation is the world’s highest and urban populations are expected to double in the next 20 years, water services have been on the decline since 1990. Amcow highlighted the opportunities provided by the conference for African ministers, mayors, civil society organisations and representatives of development banks and the private sector to discuss how they can move faster and more effectively in closing this gap and achieving millennium development goals. The critical need for collaboration and communication between sectors, and the need for visionary leadership to manage the planet’s limited water resources were recurring themes.

Conference sessions covered topics as diverse as how cities can decentralise urban water management systems to make them sustainable, the role of water in urban green growth, and how cities can address sanitation issues in rapidly growing informal settlements and slums. “Urbanisation, a greener world, and coping with climate variability – those are the three issues that just about every session is looking at in some way or another,” said Margaret Catley-Carlson, executive board chair of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

Numerous speakers highlighted the need for a shift away from “old models” of water management and business-as-usual thinking. “I see a transition from people being consumers of water to people being custodians of water. We need to manage water as a flux instead of a stock,” said Anthony Turton, director of TouchStone Resources, a natural-resource management company based in South Africa, at a World Bank panel on public-private partnerships.

The privatisation of water supplies has been a controversial issue in the past, sparking protests when attempted in Bolivia and South Africa. Last year, the African Development Bank recommended privatisation as the only way to meet the continent’s water and sanitation needs. However, Richard Makolo, leader of the South African Crisis Water Committee, reportedly called privatisation “a new kind of apartheid”.

“I think the issue of who owns the utility and who provides the service is much less than it used to be,” said Julia Bucknall, sector manager of the central unit for water at the World Bank’s Energy, Transport and Water department. “There are some basic fundamentals of good governance of water that need to be respected, independent of who owns them.”

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