World Forum pledges action on water, but rift over statement

ISTANBUL, March 22, 2009 (AFP) – A seven-day focus on the world’s water crunch wound up here on Sunday with a pledge by more than 100 countries to strive for clean water and sanitation for billions in need and fight drought and flood. But some countries criticised the cornerstone outcome of the fifth World Water Forum as flawed while activists dismissed the event itself as a “trade show.”

The declaration, coinciding with World Water Day, was issued at the end of a three-day ministerial meeting, climaxing the biggest-ever conference on the planet’s crisis of freshwater.

“The world is facing rapid and unprecedented global changes, including population growth, migration, urbanisation, climate change, desertification, drought, degradation and land use, economic and diet changes,” the statement said.

It set out a roster of non-binding recommendations, including greater cooperation to ease disputes over water, measures to address floods and water scarcity, better management of resources and curbing pollution of rivers, lakes and aquifers.

Some countries tried to beef up the statement so that it recognised access to safe drinking water and sanitation as “a basic human right,” rather than a “basic human need”, which was the