Impacts of Global Water Forums

January 4, 2005

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent at global forums to discuss water-related issues over the past 25 years. The benefits of spending such enormous amounts of money, and of the time and efforts necessary to organise such events, are not known, and also not known if such forums have had any perceptible impact in improving the water availability and use conditions, management practices, and human welfare of billions of people in the developing world. Yet, such global forums, where water policies and issues are discussed, have become increasingly more expensive and frequent. For example, the United Nations Water Conference, which was held in Mar del Plata in 1977 at a very high decision-making level, was a modest affair. Even then, it was unquestionably the most important global forum on water that has ever been held which had the highest impacts. In contrast, the global forums of the post-1992 period, where water issues discussed at some depths, have become increasingly more and more expensive. For the three World Water Forums that have been held during 1997-2003 period, each had cost significantly more than the previous one.

While the costs have escalated exponentially for these global discussions, no serious study has even been conducted as to what have been the impacts, individual or collective, of all the large global forums, and if more efficient and cost-effective alternatives are available to such global forums. This project analysed the global forums where water was an important issue for discussion, starting from the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm in June 1972, to the Third World Water Forum held in Japan in March 2003.

The impacts of the past global water forums were evaluated, on the world in general, and on certain important water-oriented countries in particular. The main objectives of the project were:

  • carry out a realistic and objective assessment of the overall impacts of the past global water forums;
    what steps should be taken to increase the positive impacts and reduce the negative impacts;
  • how can the cost-effectiveness of such forums be improved so that the results of such discussions become instrumental in directly improving human welfare conditions, both nationally and internationally;
  • what steps should be taken so that such forums directly contribute to improved national water policies, and to the strengthening of the water institutions in developing countries, and also encourage the participation of all the appropriate stakeholders, including the NGOs and the private sector;
  • even though such forums are global in character, how can the discussions and the results be directly linked to the needs of the local communities, or regions;
  • how could such forums facilitate generation of investments needed for future water developments and management in developing countries, both from internal and external sources;
  • how best the results of such forums be disseminated so that their impacts are increased, and the recommendations are implemented; and
  • how can the future global forums be organised so that they become more impact-oriented and more cost-effective than ever before.

This evaluation process started from April 2004, and was completed on December 2004.

Participants from over 123 countries submitted their views. These were analysed. In addition, detailed analyses were prepared for specific regions, which include Australia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Japan, Scandinavia and Southern Africa.

The Centre organised a workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, during 29-30 January.