H.R.H. Prince Talal donates one million dollars to UNESCO solidarity fund for safe water at close of International Year of FreshwaterUNESCO’s Special Envoy for Water, H.R.H. Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, announced the donation of one million dollars to the Solidarity Fund for Safe Water for All as UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura formally closed the International Year of Freshwater (2003) at Headquarters.
This is the first donation* to the Solidarity Fund, approved by UNESCO’s General Conference in November 2003. H.R.H. Prince Talal made the donation on behalf of AGFUND (Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organization). The Prince is president of AGFUND, which has contributed more than $24 million to 68 UNESCO projects and has supported more than 900 development and humanitarian projects with diverse partners, including 32 water-related projects worth $31 million.
As UNESCO Special Envoy for Water, H.R.H. Prince Talal has taken an active role in helping to draw the attention of heads of states, specialists, civil society and youth to the need to resolve water problems around the world. The donation to the Solidarity Fund will help UNESCO continue to promote the ideals of the International Year of Freshwater.
The International Year of Freshwater was “an unequalled opportunity not only for reaching all regions, countries and communities with clear messages that our international mission has allowed us to distill, but of listening carefully to what the world, at all levels, has to say on the vital subject of water,” said the Director-General.
UNESCO and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) were the lead agencies for the Year. To help coordinate the water-related events of diverse partners, including UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, national institutes, schools and youth groups around the world, UNESCO created a website, www.wateryear2003.org, that has won numerous prizes for its updates and information resources, including a photo library, national and regional scientific reports. At the same time, the Organization worked on several fronts - namely science, education and conflict resolution - to promote a better understanding of the need to protect this critical natural resource.
The single most important contribution to the Year was the first World Water Development Report, the most comprehensive overview of the state of the resource, released at the Third World Water Forum (Kyoto, Japan, March 2003). To compile the report, entitled Water for People - Water for Life, 24 UN agencies worked jointly through the World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) to monitor progress against water-related targets in such fields as health, food, ecosystems, cities, industry, energy, risk management and governance. UNESCO took the lead in preparing the report and hosted the WWAP secretariat.
By the middle of this century, at best two billion people in 48 countries will be faced with water scarcity, according to the report, and at worst seven billion in 60 countries, depending on factors like population growth and policy-making. “Water supplies are falling while the demand is dramatically growing at an unsustainable rate,” said Mr Matsuura, quoting from the report. “Over the next 20 years, the average supply of water world-wide per person is expected to drop by a third.”
The International Year of Freshwater encouraged governments and civil society to respond to this looming crisis. The impetus generated by the Year and the World Water Development Report prompted the UN General Assembly to declare an International Decade on “Water for Life”, 2005 - 2015.
In terms of education and training, the highlight of the Year occurred in March, when the IHE (International Institute for Infrastructural, Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering) of the Netherlands joined UNESCO. Based in Delft, the IHE has a longstanding reputation as a world leader in water education, dedicated primarily to students from developing countries. By joining UNESCO, the new UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education has gained an international mandate and is becoming the hub of a global network of UNESCO-related regional centres, UNESCO Chairs, networks and partnerships in water education and capacity building. The new institute will play a leading role in responding to the Director-General’s call to radically reform water education programmes and to double the number of water professionals around the world.
The Year also provided new impetus for UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP), which organized a wide range of scientific conferences and training programmes covering such diverse topics as wastewater technology, flood forecasting, glacier measurement, rainwater harvesting and the use of isotopes to map aquifers. In particular, the IHP produced the first global map of groundwater with several partner organizations and the first world map of transboundary aquifers (groundwater shared by countries).
This scientific work is complemented by IHP’s new focus on developing ways to prevent and resolve water conflicts. Work is now underway to finalize arrangements for a new Water Cooperation Facility, which will be based at UNESCO, to help countries resolve conflicts over shared rivers and aquifers. A series of reports and training projects on conflict resolution have also been developed with diverse partners, including the UNESCO-IHE Institute.
*On July 17, 2003, H.R.H. Prince Talal announced the decision to donate one million dollars to AGFUND-UNESCO water projects while attending a conference at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft (Netherlands). However, UNESCO requested that the donation be postponed until the creation of the new UNESCO Solidarity Fund for Safe Water for All.