NGO Major Group Discussion Paper


In preparation for NGO participation in the 2nd World Water Forum in the Hague, the NGO coordinators (UNED-UK) and its advisory committee drafted a discussion paper, structured with reference to the seven key challenges identified in the Ministerial Declaration of the Hague. The paper was circulated for comment via the CSD Freshwater caucus and redrafted before the Hague meeting. It was then submitted for debate to NGOs attending the NGO major group sessions at the World Water Forum and has been redrafted to reflect their fairly extensive comments. The political nature of some of the issues under discussion inevitably means that the NGO community hold a range of opinions. This is not a postion paper, but it is a useful focus which reflects common concerns of a wide variety of NGOs involved in water related issues.

Access to water

Access to water, sanitation and a healthy environment are basic rights and must be respected as such. The UN ACC Task force on Basic Social services states that 'At the highest political level, there needs to be recognition that water and sanitation are basic needs and rights'.

The right to water must encompass both the quality and quantity of water provision.

People, especially the poor who spend a very high proportion of their income on water and sanitation services, need legal protection and political space to argue for better services and better access.

If water is to be demand responsive, service providers must invest time, resources, and effort to 'unlocking' demand from communities, individuals and women who have less capacity to articulate their demands and less power to get their demands heard.

Governments must make adequate budgets available so that adequate water services are delivered to the poor. In addition to water services, this requires massively increased investment in health care, education and poverty eradication. Funds could be realised through existing initiatives, such as the 20/20 intiative of the World Summit for Social Development 1995, and if Northern governments agreed to cancel the debts of developing countries, according to a framework set by the South and the integral involvement of civil society in defining and monitoring the used of the resources released.

Water is the common heritage of mankind and should not be negotiated as a commodity.

Democratic governance and participation

Water security will not succeed unless the needs, aspirations and knowledge of local communities drive the process. This requires an open and equal dialogue between service providers, policy makers and the community.

Access to information as a fundamental right should be more widely accepted. It is a prerequisite for participation in decision-making processes.

Participation in decision-making must be widened and deepened beyond current shallow levels, paying particular attention to women and marginalised peoples. A genuine participatory approach must be supported throughout all levels of management of international agencies, government departments and the private sector and viewed as part of a larger Agenda 21 process. Legal and institutional mechanisms must be put in place for the empowerment of communities to participate at all levels.

Capacity building is a core element for effective participation, through education, training, access to information and gender mainstreaming.

Water- users must be engaged at an early stage in the development of new technologies or investment programmes.

Community-based water management needs to be greatly extended across sectors, for example small-scale, and decentralised water harvesting projects or hydro-power schemes. This would reduce the occurance of alienting and inappropriate large scale projects.

There should be greater accountability of international agencies and the private sector contractors who provide water services or develop water management programmes. Prior assessment of the impacts of programmes is vital and must give weight to traditional and community user rights. The displacement of communities should not take place except in exceptional circumstances and only then with their prior informed consent and on the basis of negotiated agreements to which developers can be held accountable.

No use of force in the form of intimidation, repression or violence will be tolerated or accepted in any water project.

Protecting ecosystems

Restoring and conserving the hydrological cycle and natural ecosystems is the basis for sustainable water management and must become the accepted approach. Many freshwater ecosystems have been seriously degraded or destroyed and must be rehabilitated or restored for sustained provision of clean water. This needs to be integrated with the protection and restoration of the functional integrity and biodiversity of all ecosystems, as defined in Agenda 21.

An ecosystems based approach requires a greater degree of co-operation at all levels and across sectors - to develop suitable criteria and indicators for river basin management. Governments need to increase the collection of baseline data, and monitor the wise use of water resources for sustainable river basin management in collaboration with the wide network of existing research and civil society organisation

The social and environmental value of the goods and services provided by freshwater ecosystems should be reflected in demand management and polluter pays principles.

An integrated approach to water management must pay due regard to the pollution of rivers and ground waters by intensive agriculture and industrial production. Environmentally friendly and low cost technologies should be adopted for sanitation, wastewater treatment.

Greater institutional and policy links need to be made with existing multilateral environmental agreements such as the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on Desertification, RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands, Convention on Climate Change; or work programmes e.g. the joint work programme for 2000 -2001 between CBD and the RAMSAR Convention.

Food security

In recognition of the fact that adequate water supplies are essential for food security, water should primarily be used to improve peoples livelihoods and not appropriated for profit making purposes. An integrated approach to food security must also address land rights for women and all the landless people as part of a sustainable livelihoods strategy.

Land and water distribution must become more equitable than at present. Food sufficiency at the national level does not guarantee food security at the local level. In this context a particular reference is made to the disproportionate level of resources used for growing monoculture cash crops.

The use of biotechnology to produce crops in water scarcity, should not be promoted until there is a thorough understanding of the social and environmental implications. Genetically modified organisms must not be released into the environment or placed on the market without the prior informed consent of the public.

There needs to be greater recognition of those local technologies that offer a sustainable and cheap alternative to large-scale infrastructure projects. For example, soil and water conservation techniques or reinvigoration of old community managed irrigation channels.

Effective and far-reaching institutional reform is needed to devolve responsibility in a gender balanced way within the agriculture and irrigation sector. Too often institutional reform has not progressed beyond decentralising power to an existing social elite who tend to dominate participatory management.

Food and water security is intrinsically linked to trade and in particular the promotion of international free trade according to the World Trade Organisation model. Market access issues, including the high tariff level and restrictive tariff quotas are important issues. Perverse subsidies should be removed to enable small and medium sized farmers to compete with subsidised industrial agriculture, both in the North and South.

Baseline mapping of existing resources and land uses should be offered in all regions to assist the optimal location of crops. However the suggestion that water intensive crops are confined to areas with a sufficient water supply has potentially serious trade implications for many developing countries.


Shared and transboundary water resources.

Where water resources are shared between different countries or regions, the political problems of securing effective and equitable integrated management can be acute. Greater responsibility for down-stream, or cross border impacts must be assumed with respect to pollution, water flow and ecosystem impacts.

This requres international and national co-operation on shared resources between neighbouring countries or provinces, more usage of formal and informal dispute resolution mechanisms between stakeholders, and wider provisions for non-discriminatory access to justice. Work has already been done regarding these sorts of mechanisms and such examples need to be shared more widely. For example, UNECE Convention on the protection and Us of Transboundar Watercourses and International lansk, the 1998 Convention on the Proteciton of the Rhine.

Adequate legal frameworks for the entitlement, allocation and re-allocation of water, and compliance with an agreed legal regime should be developed in consultation with the local communities.

Valuing Water

The poor already subsidise those richest in society for their water use. Equity and social justice should guide and inspire the mechanisms for bearing collectively the costs of all water services to safeguard the quantity and quality of water for life. There is an urgent need for a full and open public debate between governments and the different stakeholders on the socio-economic implications of full cost recovery policies.

The poor alrady subsidise those richest in society for their water use. Therefore, research needs to be undertaken on mechanisms to adepquately and in a tranpsrent manner, subsidise a critical level of clean water for the poor. Water is a public good, and all funds raised through full cost recovery must be re-invested in the provision of improved water services for people and the environment.

Suitable mechanisms need to be developed for full cost transparency and classification of water price according to its quality.

Water intensive, polluting or other socially negative water users should be finacially penalised or prohibited and communities should receive compensation for the worst of these abuses.

Any investments in water must be transparent and well regulated. If water services are contracted to the private sector, regulations must be strong yet realistically enforceable and provide a means of true accountability to the stakeholders. Regulators should publish the performance standards on which they evaluate the concessionaires. An increased reliance on regulations requres strengthening the role and capacity of the public sector.

The emphasis on (large scale) privatisation of water is rejected. Control of access should remain in the hands of the users and water user associations or other modes of community managed water services who often best serve the provision of quality and affordable water.

Privatisation as a conditionality imposed by multilateral financial institutions is rejected.

Trade liberalisation of water and waste-water services under the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services is to be avoided on socio-economic, environmental and ethical grounds.

Managing Risks.

The avoidance of threats should be prioritised as far as possible. There should be formal recognition of the fact that human activities cause or aggravate many of the world's floods and droughts e.g. deforestation, intensive agriculture, large dams, climate change.

The threat of pollution from urban -industrial-agricultural development is growing throughout the world. In recent months, the threat of inorganic contamination of water supplies from arsenic, fluoride, and other substances has increased as a result of over-pumping of aquifers for agriculture and industry. This has caused deaths and high rate of morbidity amongst local populations. The quality of water must be recognised as presenting a severe health risk to people and the environment and should become more central in planning water security or Integrated Water Resource Management strategies.

Poor people who live in marginalized and hazardous areas of the world are extremely vulnerable to hazards. Local communities at risk of flood, drought or pollution, require full support in consolidating and developing appropriate early warning systems and contingency strategies. Eradication of poverty would help minimise the impacts and reduce the risks.

Mobilisation of international forces must be better coordinated to ensure preparedness to meet natural and human induced risks.

Integrated water resource management (IWRM).

As referred to above, the principle and practice of IWRM must recognise and develop formal procedures for local consultation and participation of local women, men, children and other stakeholder groups. This requires a change in the working practices of all sections of society to devolve decision making away from specialists and to enable a circular flow of information, which develops the design and management of IWRM. For real integration and decentralisation, great numbers of people need to be equipped with the skills to facilitate the process.

The World Water Council and Global Water Partnership

The report of the World Water Commission, World Water Vision and the Framework for Action are not accepted as a satisfactory basis for further action. Although the process initiated some good community based participation and consultation in some regions and sectors, which resulted is some positive action points and recommendations, such as community-based rights, the mechanisms for integrating this into the overall reports were flawed. The process was dominated by technocratic and top down thinking which has resulted in documents with an emphasis on a corporate vision of privatisation, large-scale investments and biotechnologies as being key answers - whereas the real problem is one of mismanagement and inequity. The FFA and WWV give insufficient emphasis and recognition to the rights, knowledge and priorities of local people and communities.

If the Global Water Partnership and the World Water Council continue they must become more accountable and transparent. Their governance should be reconstituted in a more transparent and legitimate way and their work should be regularly reviewed by the United Nations (through the CSD) and by the stakeholders themselves.

Key points for action

Ultimately water security can only be achieved in conjunction with redistribution of resources and an end to poverty.

Northern governments must make water security a strategic priority for multilateral and bilateral overseas development aid and a key element for poverty eradication strategies. Overseas development aid should support the choice of communities to provide and manage their own water services.

The public sector must retain ultimate responsibility for the actual provision of water services, this role includes:

developing guidelines, structures and processes by which all stakeholders, especially poor people can participate in designing and implementing services and manage their water resources;

increasing the opportunities for communities to manage their water services and resources;

establishing legislative and regulatory frameworks to ensure that every man woman and child has access to safe, affordable water that meets their demands without depleting or degrading environmental goods or services.

Any involvement by the private sector must not cause harm by exploitating the vulnerability of local people, must deliver an equitable net benefit at a local level and must become accountable to the people they serve through appropriate democratic institutions.

Public and private bodies should seek greater collaboration with NGOs to assist in wider dissemination and implementation of successful projects and processes

Non-governmental initiatives are useful to raise awareness and develop structural relations and networks. NGOs have a continuing role in prompting action by others, co-operating in the implementation of programmes at all levels, disseminating information on the social and environmental impact of projects with water impacts. NGOs should increase advocacy programmes, assisting people and in particular women, to advocate their demands and to participate in decision making of government and private sector processes.