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'The Network' goes in search of water

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'The Network' goes in search of water

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The Nile, one of the world’s longest rivers, irrigates much of Africa, from Uganda to Egypt. It has also been a source of conflict and tension. It could be again, as Ethiopia plans four large dams. Water wars, potential or existing, could multiply due to population growth and global warming.
The fight for fresh water in developing countries is a theme at the 6th World Water Forum this month in Marseille. Areas like the Sahelian zone, the Middle East, and South Asia face development with increasing water demands. The UN says around 1.2 billion people live in areas of water scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation.
The UN counts 37 water disputes involving violence in the past 50 years. Says Secretary General Ban Ki Moon “Too often where we need water we find guns.”
NGOs predict a new series of conflicts if governments fail to deal with a rush for arable land by wealthier countries.

Wired into this edition of The Network is: from Cairo Hisham Kandil, Egyptian Minister for Water Resources and Irrigation whose government aims to ensure its Nile water quota.

From the European Parliament in Brussels, Judith Merkies a Dutch MEP and Vice-Chairperson of the parliament’s Water Inter group.

And, from Marseille, Loic Fauchon president of the World Water Council that is organising the World Water Forum. He is also president of the Groupe des Eaux de Marseille which is jointly owned by the French water giants Veolia and Suez.

The first question is for all three guests, starting with Hisham. How dangerous is this tension over the dams that Ethiopia plans to build and how could the nations downstream like his suffer from them?

Hisham Kandil:
“Well first of all I think I should say that we are supporting co-operation and development in all the Nile basin countries. We realise that many of the Nile basin countries need to build dams for generating hydropower because of the hunger for electricity and this is something we need to support. If any country wants to build a major infrastructure it is well-understood and well-accepted that it needs to be jointly assessed with the downstream countries to ensure that any negative impacts are being mitigated.”

euronews’ Chris Burns:
“Right, exactly…jointly. Now, there are other conflicts like these. Judith, can you comment on that? There are a number of flashpoints where water is an issue. How is the European Union and the Parliament looking at it?”

Judith Merkies:
“Well, water has always been at the base of war, and just as you mentioned, instead of water you find guns. It has been a base of war. You can never own a river and not own its course. You have to share, so that means you have to make a treaty about its course. We have done that in Europe with the Rhine and the Meuse, and I think that could be an example for other continents.”

Chris Burns:
“Loic, you’re going to be at that Water Forum in Marseille. How much is this an issue at the Forum and how are we going to attack this issue?”

Loic Fauchon
“Yes, it will be one of the most important issues we discuss. But, you know, this situation you have mentioned concerning the Nile comes from the changes from demographic growth, new kinds of pollution, or urbanisation and as the situation changes new kinds of responses and techniques are necessary.”

Chris Burns:
“Ok. The EU is the biggest donor in water assistance. What’s the EU water initiative doing to address tensions and conflicts like what we’re seeing potentially between Egypt and Ethiopia, what we’ve seen in Darfur, what we’re seeing in the Israeli-Palestinan conflict, conflicts that are very much based on water among other things? Judith, can you comment on that? What’s the EU doing to try and solve these problems?”

Judith Merkies:
“Well, first of all the policy, but secondly we’re starting a European Innovationship on Water, trying to innovate in order to reduce the water footprint and to get the utmost out of water for electricity and other needs.”

Chris Burns:
“Hisham, what do you think the European Union should be doing to try and solve some of these problems?”

Hisham Kandil:
“What I’m saying is that the EU are doing a lot, and they can do more in providing support to the countries of the Nile basin and North Africa in terms of capacity building and technical support to improve water efficiency and water conservation.”

Chris Burns:
“OK. Loic, what about building capacity? How can that be done in these regions?”

Loic Fauchon:
“I would like to say that it’s very important for scarcity, for regions that lack water, to have more and more capacity. That’s the reason the Worldwide Council asked in the climate negotiations to place water at the same level as energy and to have a water-energy package.”

Chris Burns:
“Ok, Judith, the EU Water Group says that global investment in the water sector will rise to nearly half a trillion euros by 2020. Won’t the private sector have to finance most of that? Where is the money coming from?”

Judith Merkies:
“Well, we have to, the EU will fund that, and also have to find private partners. If the next question is whether water is going private, my answer would be, rather not.”

Chris Burns:
“OK, Hisham, what’s your position?”

Hisham Kandil:
“I guess I agree with Judith that water isn’t going to go private. The government has a role to play, especially for drinking water and sanitation, which are human rights. We should provide this free of charge. Of course cost recovery is important but we don’t support water pricing.”

Chris Burns:
“Ok, Loic, you are part of a company that is a private water developer and there are critics who say that the Water Forum’s main backer, which is the World Water Council promotes privatisation in the water supply. Canadian activist Tony Clarke describes the World Water Council as a smokescreen for the water lobby. What do you think?”

Loic Fauchon:
“That’s what they’ve been saying for 50 years, and they’re always there in the Forum to discuss with everybody. I’m here as the president of the Worldwide Council, and to answer the question, water is definitely a public resource, and it’s for the governments and sometimes the local authorities to lead the history of water and to find the good balance between three pillars: governance, finance, and knowledge.”

Chris Burns:
“OK, Judith, the EU Water Initiative is to get a new strategy at this World Water Forum. How can that strategy head off future water wars?

Judith Merkies:
“Well, first of all by changing our own footprint. The EU has a very large water footprint, about half of the United States, but still very high. We first have to show, before we can become a missionary elsewhere in the world; so being more efficient. But we could also develop all kinds of smart solutions in order to use and consume less water, for example in sanitation.”

Chris Burns:
“OK, last question. Worldwide over 1 billion people don’t have close access to safe drinking water. What’s the worst-case scenario if we don’t move more quickly to fight water scarcity?. Will we see widespread famine, will we see mass migration? Hisham?”

Hisham Kandil:
“Well, you described a worst-case scenario. I don’t think we’re going this way. I think with technology and co-operation we’ll be able to avoid this worst-case scenario.”

Chris Burns:
“OK, Loic? What do you think? How close are we to disaster?”

Loic Fauchon:
“I am sure that my colleague shares the opinion that in the future we have to work not only in the rural areas against scarcity but also in the megacities and in the surroundings of the megacities. This is one of the main problems we have to solve in the future, and I hope that everyone coming to the Forum will bring their answers and we will share them and transform the solutions into commitments.”

Chris Burns:
“Judith, last word. How close are we to disaster? Are we just whistling in the wind? Are we really doing something to fight what could become mass migration and starvation among a lot of people in the world?”

Judith Merkies:
“We already see a lot of migration flows in the world because of resources, be it water, be it money or other natural resources, so there is a real threat. In order to avoid that we have to share our knowledge, we have to innovate, and above all we have to show solidarity with each other.”