Water resources management and development is central to responsible growth and poverty reduction; and, therefore, of central importance to the world community. It is relevant in a number of different and complementary ways.
Many developing countries face daunting water resources challenges as the needs for water supply, irrigation and hydropower grow, as water becomes scarcer, quality declines and environmental and social concerns increase; and as the threats posed by floods and droughts are exacerbated by climate change. As a consequence, there is a high and increasing demand for engagement by the world community, including developing and developed countries.
While industrialized countries use most available hydropower potential as a source of renewable energy, most developing countries harness only a small fraction. Because most developing countries have inadequate stocks of hydraulic infrastructure, developing countries need to consider—and be assisted in—developing and maintaining appropriate stocks of well performing hydraulic infrastructure and in mobilizing public and private financing, while meeting environmental and social standards that benefit their populations.
Water resources and the water service sectors thus need to be managed and developed in such a manner that they stimulate and underpin growth and reduce poverty. This requires countries to look seriously at the potential for policy change and to develop appropriate resources allocation to the sector.
As a conclusion, we should notice that improving access to water supply is a pillar for socio-economic development and poverty reduction. Water supply services contribute directly or indirectly to income generation, health, and education. The challenge is to translate the new priority setting of the Millennium Development Goals into improvements on the ground.
Sanitation & hygiene are affordable, highly effective life savers. Reliable and safe water supply and sanitation services can contribute significantly to community well being in developing countries.
At the same time, consensus is growing worldwide that water and water services are essential because they touch on almost all Millennium Development Goals. Investment in water infrastructure—to protect against droughts and floods, produce renewable energy, and provide water supply to cities and rural areas, and water to grow food—is basic for economic growth and poverty reduction in poor countries.
Thus, water has to be taken among priorities on the development agenda. Yes, it happened, when it was a major topic at Monterrey, the “most important topic” at the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg, and a primary focus of the Meeting of the G8 meeting in France in June of 2003.
With international consensus around the importance of water, it is clear that in the development arena, water has ceased to be an issue for only water specialists. Water is a cross-cutting issue that affects the economy of countries as a whole and transcends a number of crucial productive sectors, including water supply and sanitation, irrigation, drainage and food production, renewable energy generation and the environment. It has now been recognized as one of the key resources for development and health promoter.
Water is vital for life, human life, life of our ecosystem, economic and social well being. With water resources threatened in so many parts of the globe, and especially in developing countries, life itself is threatened. Action is, therefore, needed worldwide to reverse this trend and to better manage our water.
A specific challenge is the fact that a growing world population requires more water services and water infrastructure for the underlying economic activities that enable development, notably to provide for safe water supply and sanitation, meet increasing food needs and secure inputs for industrial processes. At the same time, however, our ecosystems, which provide valuable services to us and sustain life on earth, also need sufficient amounts of water to function. For this reason, sustainable health and management of water is a must in the responsible-growth equation.
Despite significant investments in the water supply and sanitation sector over the past few decades, hygiene and sanitation continue to lag far behind when it comes to effective increases in coverage. Increased international attention to the issues of sanitation and hygiene, most recently reflected in the decision to include sanitation as an explicit, global target during the Johannesburg summit, provides an opportunity to intensify efforts to make sanitation improvements at household, neighborhood, city, and basin levels.
In this regard of sanitation and health, following are key considerations:
• Sanitation and hygiene affect everyone. Above all improved sanitation and hygiene offer health benefits at the household level. Away from the home, the provision of sanitation (sewerage, wastewater treatment and drainage) improves living conditions for others living in the neighborhood, city, or further downstream.
• Behavioral change is essential and requires major efforts. The energies of all parties need to be harnessed to promote and support changes in household behaviors, and water professionals need to team up with those involved in social marketing and health promotion.
• The greatest sanitation challenge lies in the rapid growth of high-density slums. Given the scale of the problem in urban areas, more emphasis should be placed on building sanitation firmly into the urban development agenda. Progress needs to be made on at least two fronts. First, the process of restructuring informal settlements needs to be accelerated and to integrate sanitation and hygiene. Second, the sanitation needs of informal slums cannot be forgotten, and the informal sector should be supported to serve these communities until restructuring.
• Sanitation and hygiene is more than an add-on to water supply. Benefits of improved sanitation and hygiene depend largely on investment decisions at the household level. Demand for sanitation lags behind demand for water, and willingness to pay is low. The order of introducing sanitation infrastructure, starting with household facilities and followed by public infrastructure, differs from water supply. The characteristics of sanitation and hygiene provision require distinct approaches rather than merely copying successful water supply management models.
• A single management model will not be sufficient to deliver universal sanitation services. Traditional supply-driven approaches in which services were planned and provided by professionals without reference to consumer preferences and willingness to pay often have not been sustainable. Successful programs require more widespread stakeholder consultations and the subsequent matching of supply to demand. Innovative ways of providing access to sanitation and hygiene need to be developed, piloted and scaled up, including promoting public-private partnerships.
• Better sanitation services require action in other sectors. Sanitation strategies must fit into the existing broader city or rural development strategies and economy-wide priority setting, and should be implemented in cooperation with other sectors. Reaching the poor will require engagement with policy and regulatory processes, and the integration of sanitation and hygiene within broader local government reform initiatives, land use policies, building codes, and solid waste policies.