World Water Day, March 22
Water and Governance: some examples of good practiceWith the publication of “Water and Governance : Some Examples of Best Practice”*, the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), chaired by Jens Erik Fenstad of Norway, intends to contribute to the spreading of new attitudes about water that will encourage well-being and help the environment. Five cases studies are presented from Ecuador, Japan, the Philippines, the Nile River Basin and South Africa.
Water affects everyone. We all need it and this common good of humanity is valued and respected by every culture and every religion. COMEST has been working since 1999 on the ethics of freshwater. A brochure published in 2000, produced by a sub-commission chaired by Lord Selborne, former President of the Royal Geographical Society, dealt with the ethics of freshwater use. For the sub-commission, the fundamental principles in this area are : human dignity, participation, solidarity, human equality, common good, stewardship, transparency and universal access to information, inclusiveness and empowerment.
Because these principles are sometimes difficult to put into practice in a region where there is a vast hydrological basin or in an urban community, two good practices can help to resolve the problems : partnerships which help the different communities or groups concerned to get a better understanding of their respective needs ; and operating on a local level - thus finding practical solutions to genuine problems.
The new COMEST booklet presents five case studies of good practice. The first concerns Lake Biwa (Japan), where the protection of biodiversity enhanced the local autonomy and the local economy thanks to the participation of the local residents. Lake Biwa, the biggest lake in Japan and one of the ten most ancient lakes on the planet, was threatened with eutrophication in the 1970s. The local community campaigned for the regulation of the use and sale of synthetic detergents containing phosphorus. A systematic plan accompanied by legal measures was put into action to preserve the quality of the lake's water. The action of the people living around Lake Biwa shows that the determination of a community, even a small one, can protect a common good.
A new legal framework in South Africa provides the second case study. In a country where many cannot afford to pay for services such as water and connection to a water purifying system, the introduction of the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) provided a legal framework, which also aimed to develop civic responsibility. The National Water Act includes an important sub-section, the Human Rights Reserve, the objective of which is to put into place a fair distribution of water, in terms of both quantity and quality, for all South Africans, and to do so by taking into account the protection of the country's ecosystems.
The third example is from the Philippines. In a country that is falling prey to deforestation, the double statute of the territories inhabited by the indigenous population - which are both ancestral areas and protected natural zones - has led to conflicts between the indigenous communities and officials at a national level who are responsible for the management of these areas. In Besao, these territories have been recognized as ancestral domains and the dap-ay, or traditional councils, have been strengthened. This respect for traditional governance and customs, foremost among them the belief in the sacred character of the forests, has facilitated the maintenance of the forests.
In Licto, Ecuador, a national project has taken into account the contribution of indigenous women, who are generally in charge of agricultural production in this area. They opposed a project that failed to take heed of the complexity of distributing water to small communities scattered around the mountains. A system adapted to the local conditions has succeeded in meeting the needs of social groups who were previously antagonistic. This case study includes a presentation of different techniques, used in Ecuador and elsewhere, that are reliable and easy to maintain and use: desalination through solar power, lavatories cleaned by solar power and earthenware buckets and filters, and pumps operated by pedals or ropes.
The final example comes from the Nile Basin, which presents a freshwater problem that straddles many borders. Six of the ten countries that share the Nile River signed an agreement in 1994 to create a technical cooperation committee to promote development and environmental protection of the Nile. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) was launched in 1999 in order to bring about a lasting improvement in the well-being of all of the communities who share the river. While there are many divergent interests, the aim is to create an environment in which the parties can share their points of view and listen to others.
This document (in English and French) can be consulted at: www.unesco.org/shs/comest_freshwater
A print version will be available in the near future.
For more information go to: www.waterday2004.org