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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 11:26 GMT
Water forum 'no talking shop'
By Ben Sutherland
BBC News Online in Kyoto

Speakers at the opening of the Third World Water Forum promise the conference will be about action not words.

Forun, AP
Christian, Buddhist, and Shinto representatives conduct an opening ceremony
They say it will offer practical solutions to the global water crisis - or at least that was the message from the opening ceremony here in kyoto.

Dr Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, president of the World Water Council, did not take long before launching into his vision of how the conference would meet "the greatest challenge of the 21st Century - fresh water".

And he outlined four key priorities that he said the forum would not only address but solve.

Millennium targets

Firstly, he said, there needed to be a focus on the ethics of water use worldwide.

In particular, he proposed both water rights and global regulation.

This is interesting in the light of the last Water Forum in The Hague three years ago, which was criticised by some water organisations as making the case for water as a saleable commodity, and not necessarily a basic human right.

Mr Abu-Zeid said the forum would also look at funding for water to target those most in need.

To this end, a dedicated funding facility will be set up to help meet the UN Millennium targets of halving by 2015 the proportion of the world's population without access to clean water and basic sanitation.

Additionally, money would be used to provide relief to those countries whose debt repayment costs prevent them from providing their people with the necessary water supplies.

Military conflicts

Water would also be looked at in the context of world peace and security, Mr Abu-Zeid said.

Global water use has more than doubled since 1950
One person in six has no regular access to safe supplies
Contaminated water gives 200m people a year water-related diseases
Agriculture uses about 75% of global water consumption and industry 20%; much of it wasted
He stressed that it was essential that water supplies be protected during military conflicts.

This is a key action point, as water infrastructure is often devastated - either accidentally or otherwise - during war.

"Water is a catalyst for peace and source of security for nations, communities and individuals alike," he said. "This notion should be engrained and made a fundamental part of the new world water order."

Finally, Mr Abu-Zeid stated that the water crisis in developing countries around the world had to be tackled.

"The poor and the needy come first," he said. "Economic and water poverty are synonymous."

'Promotion of partnership'

He outlined a number of ways the forum would look at dealing with this problem, including improved irrigation - "more crops per drop" - and supplying better information about water.

Some campaigners here are calling for an immediate halt to all dam projects
The BBC's Ben Sutherland in Kyoto

And in an echo of The Hague conference, he added that the public and private sectors would be encouraged to work together in a "promotion of partnership".

Whether all these aims will be achieved is perhaps doubtful. A prominent "water clock" at the conference highlights that if the Millennium Goals were on target nearly 200 million more people would already have access to clean water than actually do.

The three-phase conference is being held in three locations - Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga in western Japan.

Delegates will discuss how to meet targets for wide access to water set at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in South Africa last year.

The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"There's plenty of agreement here about what the problem is"

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