UN AND FRESHWATER ISSUES,
A BRIEF SURVEY OF FACTS AND LINKS
Gunilla Björklund, PhD
Consultant to Global Water Partnership
Freshwater issues have been on the UN-agenda for a long time and more specifically since the Mar del Plata UN Conference on Water, 1977 and the preparation for that conference. Some 20 UN agencies have been recognised as having freshwater on their agenda, no-one being superior to another. In the Rio-process, the UN ACC Subcommittee on Water Resources, being the UN co-ordinating body for freshwater, thus was identified as the task manager for chapter 18, the freshwater chapter of Agenda 21. The text shortly identifies the UN bodies having freshwater on their agenda and gives links to their homepages.
At the International Conference on Water and the Environment in Dublin, 1992, some 20 UN-agencies and organisations were identified as having aspects of freshwater on their agenda, in some cases as one of their most important subjects, in others more peripherally. No single UN-agency was recognised as being superior and acting as "head"-organisation for freshwater issues. This was an important reason why the UN Administrative Committee for Coordination, ACC, Subcommittee for Water Resources, being the body to co-ordinate freshwater issues within UN, was identified as task manager for freshwater in the Agenda 21.
An ACC Subcommittee on Water Resources already existed in the 1960, throughout the preparations for the Mar del Plata Water Conference 1977. The Conference recommended the establishment of a Water Resources Board composed of the organisations of the UN system and with an independent secretariat. But it was not until 1981 that ECOSOC agreed on such an arrangement. Since its establishment the Subcommittee has grown to 24 members. This has resulted in increased interagency cooperation, which for projects means projects of a much more integrated nature.
Sometimes more than one agency is responsible for a certain aspect of freshwater management but they all have their respective perspective on the issue defined by their mandate. The main actors and their respective role are identified below.
Within the UN Secretariat freshwater issues are dealt with in conjunction with other issues. Water issues may be part of international conflicts or economic deliberations, thus playing a role in the negotiations in a UN committee. Non-Navigational Uses of International Water Courses has been subject to deliberations in the International Law Commission of UN 1970-1997 and an International Convention of the Law on Non-Navigational Uses of International Water Courses was accepted by the UN General Assembly in April 1997 (UN-document A/51/869).
However, mainly freshwater issues in UN are the responsibility of the Commission for Sustainable Development, CSD, within the framework of the follow-up of the UNCED Agenda 21. The UN Department for Social and Economic Affairs, DESA, acts as secretariat for the CSD, and it is within the UN/DESA that the main freshwater expertise is to be found within the UN secretariat. A fairly large programme of technical cooperation in integrated water resources development and groundwater development is among the functions of the UN/DESA.
The UN/DESA, representing the UN secretary general, is preparing the background documentation for all Agenda 21 deliberations within CSD including that on freshwater. In this work UN/DESA is taking advantages of expertise from other UN agencies, being members of the ACC Subcommittee on Water Resources as the responsibility for the preparation of reports to the CSD lies with the ACC. The UN/DESA is acting secretariat during the negotiations and for linked sessions arranged by the UN secretariat.
The UN/DESA has also been acting as the secretariat for the UN Committee on Natural Resources, CNR, an expert committee to submit advice to UN on issues concerning freshwater and mineral resources. This structure is now changing.
The secretariat for the ACC Subcommittee on Water Resources is also located within UN/DESA.
FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the largest UN agency, was founded 1945 with a mandate to "raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, to improve agriculture productivity and the condition of rural population". FAO is active in land and water development, animal and plant production for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, nutrition, food standards and commodities, economic and social policy, investment and trade. The organisation has a large programme of work and several decentralised offices and field projects. The main functions of FAO include development assistance; information and support services; advice to governments; and to provide a neutral forum for international cooperation. FAO has a well developed structure of cooperation with UN-organisations and agencies as well with NGOs.
The mission of the Water Resources Development and Management Service, (http://www.fao.org/waicent within FAO is to promote efficient use and conservation of water resources to achieve food security and sustainable agriculture and rural development as water management, and irrigation play a significant role in achieving food security in many countries.
The programme includes the development of a global water information system to cope with increasing demand for information on the state of rural water resources development, irrigation and drainage. The system contains a statistic database (Aquastat), available in printed reports and on the Web, and in the development of a global GIS-based water information system helping in the assessment of current and future water use by large river basin. An assessment of irrigation potential has been made for Africa. Current activities concentrate on the development of a world river basin map, associated water balance and a feasibility study for the establishment of a global irrigation map.
Within the area of water policy formulation, FAO has developed approached for policy review and provides a platform for discussion of water agriculture and food security issues relating to international and interregional rivers. The organisation has a focus on "more crop for the drop" - irrigation methods for higher water productivity, and related technology transfer. Activities to protect and improve water and soil quality are also undertaken, both such linked to control of salinity and to agricultural water pollution.
FAO is an important partner within the GWP and its sub-sector Irrigation and Drainage.
The UN Centre for Human Settlements, UNCHS (Habitat) was established 1978 and is the lead agency for human settlements. The work programme includes four main areas: shelter and social services; urban management; environment and infrastructure; and assessment, information and monitoring. Two UN conferences on human settlements have taken place, the Vancouver Conference 1976 and the Istanbul Conference 1996. At the Istanbul Conference the main themes were "adequate shelter for all" and "sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world". An important aspect of these themes is access to adequate water, water for municipal use such as drinking water supply and sanitation and water for sub-urban agriculture.
One of the largest programmes with Habitat as the executing agency is the Urban Management Programme, a long-term technical cooperation programme to strengthen the contribution that cities and towns in developing countries make towards human development, including economic growth, social development, reduction of poverty, and the improvement of environmental quality. This programme shall also contribute towards sustainable use of water resources. A broad range of actors are involved in the programme, the World Bank, UNDP and several bi- and multilateral support agencies.
A new programme, Managing Water for African Cities, where different aspects on water for Africa's largest cities will be dealt with, is just being initiated by Habitat in collaboration with UNEP.
The UNDP's mission is "to help countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable human development by assisting them to build capacity to design and carry out development programmes in poverty eradication, employment creation and sustainable livelihoods, the empowerment of women and the protection and regeneration of the environment, giving first priority to poverty eradication" (UNDP mission statement). The UNDP support is aimed at creating an enabling environment with appropriate policy, legal and regulatory frameworks, and institutional development including community participation, human resources development and strengthening of managerial systems, and information networks. UNDP is mandated to co-ordinate development assistance and has a large network of field offices, where the UNDP permanent representatives act as the UN Co-ordinator at country level. This places added importance on the policy development and advice on crosscutting issues linking poverty, governance, environment and gender. The support structure, of course, is reflected in the UNDP strategic works in the water area, both freshwater and the aquatic environment and UNDP with its outreach through more than 130 countries is also well placed to deal with transboundary issues and facilitate collaboration between countries sharing the same water.The UNDP facilitating work in the Mekong area is a good example.
Within UNDP freshwater issues are mainly supported by the Sustainable Energy and Environment Division, SEED http://www.undp.org/seed/water). The SEED plays an important role in policy development. In the division the strategic focus on freshwater is concentrated on "integrated freshwater resources and aquatic ecosystems". Also themes such as "food security and sustainable agriculture", "deforestation and sustainable forest use and management", and "dryland management, desertification control and drought mitigation" include important freshwater aspects. The main objective of UNDP's water related activities can be stated as "providing support to the capacity building through and with governments and civil society for the management and use of water resources and the aquatic environment." In freshwater, as in other areas, most activities are of an operational nature, carried out at the country level, which are complemented by regional and global activities.
One of the most successful UNDP cooperative programmes is the joint UNDP/World Bank Water and Sanitation Programme (http://www.wsp.org), another one is the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (http://www.wsscc.org). Within the framework of the Global Environment Facility, GEF (http://www.gefweb.org/geftext..htm), an economic facility that was created early in the process leading up to UNCED and where UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank co-operate to support activities that have a distinct benefit on the global environment, some UNDP supported projects are undertaken.
UNDP was one of the initiators of both the GWP and the WWC.
UNEP, the United Nation Environmental Programme, was established as a result of the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment to "provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and people to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations." (UNEP mission statement) UNEP shall provide advocacy of environment concerns within the international society and is expected to make particular effort to nurture partnership with other UN bodies and other appropriate bodies in the achievement of a sustainable environment.
UNEP recognised from the beginning that the environment should not be compartmentalised and has tried to apply an integrated approach. This can, to some extent, be seen from the work of the organisation on "Sustainable management and use of natural resources", under which falls the programme "Toward water security in Africa", specifically dealing with drinking water supply and sanitation, water conflicts and socio-economic activities.
UNEP has also a programme on desertification where freshwater issues are of importance.
The Global Environmental Monitoring System, Freshwater quality programme, GEMS/WATER, (http://www.cciw.ca/gems) is a joint UNEP/WHO programme, contributing with data on water quality in an Annotated Atlas of Global Water Quality as well as advanced studies on Persistent Organochlorine Pollutants (POPs).
Within the framework of the Global Environment Facility, GEF (http://www.gefweb.org/geftext..htm) UNEP holds the Scientific Technical Advisory Panel, STAP.
Under the UNEP/GEF portfolio a new programme, Global International Waters Assessment, GIWA, is just being initiated. It is supposed to provide policy guidelines within the whole GEF International Waters focal area. It will deal with the interaction between large river basins of the world and their discharge areas at the coastlines and the seas.
The main objective of UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, established 1945, is "to contribute to peace and security in the world by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, culture and communication in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations" (UNESCO mission).
To fulfil this mandate, UNESCO performs five principal functions: Prospective studies, the advancement, transfer and sharing of knowledge, standard-setting action, expertise and exchange of specialised information within the area of its mandate.
UNESCO's freshwater component is managed by the International Hydrological Programme, IHP (http://www.pangea.org/orgs/unesco/newaboutihp.html) (the Latin American IHP has the following homepage (http://www.unesco.org.uy/phi/index.html) within the Division of Water Sciences of the Natural Science programmes. The aim of IHP is to improve the scientific and technological basis for the development of methods for the rational management of wwaterresources. The theme of the present cycle, the fifth phase of IHP (1996-2001) is Hydrology and Water Resources Development in a Vulnerable Environment. The different themes are:
Global hydrological and biochemical processesEco-hydrological processes in surficial zoneGroundwater resources at riskStrategies for water resources management in emergency and conflicting situationsIntegrated water resources management in arid and semi-arid zonesHumid tropics hydrology and water managementIntegrated urban water managementTransfer of Knowledge, Information and Technology (KIT)
There is in addition a special project on Women and Water.
The plan for the sixth phase of IHP (2002-2007) is presently being drawn up. In recognition of the shift in thinking about water from fragmented compartments of scientific enquiry to a more holistic, integrated approach, the general theme for IHP-VI has been defined as: Water Interactions: Systems at Risk and Social Challenges.
Regional cooperation is an important aspect of its global programme and UNESCO Headquarters and its Regional Offices (IHP Secretariat) work closely with some 161 National Committees and Focal Points in implementing its activities. Trans-disciplinary cooperation both with the other Sectors of UNESCO and the Scientific Programmes continues to be enhanced. Collaboration is also ensured with other environmental and global change research programmes both within the UN-family such as with WMO, FAO and UNEP, and with programmes outside such as International Council for Scientific Unions, ICSU, and the International Science Council, ISSC. UNESCO is also an active member of the board of governors for the World Water Council and the host organisation for the secretariat of the World Water Vision.
United Nation Children's' Fund, UNICEF, is mandated "to advocate for the protection of children's rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential." To be able to fulfil this UNICEF "mobilises political will and material resources to help countries, particularly developing countries, ensure a 'first call for children' and to build their capacity to form appropriate policies and deliver services for children and their families." Fulfilment of basic need for children as well as a primary service includes the supply of safe water, both for drinking water supply and for food production as well as ensuring the rights of the child to have access to adequate sanitation and a safe household environment. UNICEF is conducting a large portfolio with water, environmental sanitation and hygiene education projects carried out in some 81 countries through regional offices and field offices and in cooperation with multilateral agencies, governments and non-governmental organisations.
UNICEF has entered into formal partnership with several other UN organisations, acknowledging the fact of the complementarity of UN agencies and the need for better co-ordination. Besides the WHO/UNICEF Joint Programme on Water and Sanitation launched in 1990, WHO-UNICEF have developed a Joint Strategy on Water Supply and Sanitation, which was approved by both Boards in 1997. Collaboration with the World Bank is extensive in bringing safe water and sanitation and hygiene education to more than 250 million people in Africa. Efforts to increase collaboration have led to the signing of a formal Memorandum of Understanding between UNICEF and UNEP on March 1997 followed by Habitat (UNCHS) in 1998 on the issue of urban areas.
Collaboration within and outside the UN system is important to UNICEF and it continues to explore new partnership. In that context UNICEF and World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF, launched a report on Freshwater for India's Children and Nature, which is a starting point for a more extensive cooperation at national and regional levels to "promote community management of water resources and to establish the fundamental importance of overall ecosystem conservation." UNICEF is also closely working with IUCN, as well as with several donors and other NGOs.
At country level at UNICEF programmes are implemented in collaboration and partnership with various NGOs, bilateral and multilateral organisations.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO, was established 1966. Its mission is to "improve the living conditions of people and promote global prosperity through offering tailor-made solutions for the sustainable industrial development of developing countries and countries in transition." (UNIDO mission). The service offered by UNIDO is an integrated service addressing three key concerns: competitive economy, sound environment, and productive employment at policy, institutional and enterprise level. It is co-operating with several other UN organisations such as UNDP, UNEP, FAO and the World Bank.
Water related projects within the UNIDO mandate are projects directed towards a sound water environment, including projects on cleaner production or controlling water pollution from industries. One example is a project on Water Pollution Control and Biodiversity Conservation in the Gulf of Guinea. Collaborators in that project were FAO, UNEP, UNESCO, International Maritime Organisation, US NOAA and IUCN. The project was also partly supported through the GEF.
The United Nations University has adopted as its mission to "contribute, through research and capacity building, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems that are the concern of the United Nations and its member states.". The International Network on Water, Environment and Health, INWEH, was created as a member of the UNU family in 1996. It will work towards "marshalling global resources more effectively to solve water problems in the developing world". One of the initial projects concern the creation of a UN Electronic Water Library, which will benefit developing countries. The UNU/INWEH is co-operating with UNESCO and other scientific organisations in several projects.
The objectives of WHO is the "attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health". This includes both to promote technical cooperation, to assist governments, upon request, in strengthening health services; to promote, in cooperation with other specialised agencies where necessary, the improvement of nutrition, housing, sanitation, recreation, economic or working conditions and other aspects of environmental hygiene, etc.
The WHO is mandated to maintain health as a central focus of water and sanitation development, which is reflected in its water programme (http://www.who.int/peh). The objectives for WHO are to
emphasise the provision of health-related guidance in support of sustainable development in member states;target its water and sanitation activities on specific health objectives;be a stronger advocate of health objectives in water supply and sanitation development; andbecome the "health partner of other major water and sanitation organisations.
The WHO has worked jointly with UN organisations such as UNDP, UNICEF, the World Bank and UNEP.
The Joint Water Supply and Sanitation Monitoring Programme, a programme to support individual countries in strengthening their water supply and sanitation monitoring capability, is an important example of a joint WHO/UNICEF programme.A collaborator in this is the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, WSSCC (http://www.wsscc.org).The Global Environmental Monitoring System, Freshwater quality programme, GEMS/WATER (http://www.cciw.ca/gems), a joint WHO/UNEP programme where among recent activities can be mentioned an Annotated Digital Atlas of Global Water Quality and studies on Persistent Organochlorine Pollutants (POPs).
The World Meteorological Organisation, WMO, was established as a specialised agency under the UN in 1951. "The purposes of WMO are to facilitate international cooperation in the establishment of networks of stations for making meteorological, hydrological and other observations; and to promote the rapid exchange of meteorological information, the standardisation of meteorological observations and the uniform publication of observations and statistics. It also furthers the application of observation of meteorology to navigation, shipping, water problems, agriculture and other human activities, promotes operational hydrology and encourages research and training in meteorology."
Among the WMO programmes there is a Hydrology and Water Resources Programme, HWRP (http://www.wmo.ch/web/homs/hwr-home.html). This programme concentrates on promoting evaluation of water resources world-wide and the development of hydrological networks and services, including data collection and processing, hydrological forecasting and warnings and the supply of data. Also the Education and Training and the Technical Cooperation Programmes include hydrological components. They can be seen as efforts to bridge the gaps between the national services of developing and developed countries. WMO is supporting capacity building at regional level. An important example of that is the World Hydrological Cycle Observing System, WHYCOS (can be reached through the WMO/HWRP homepage), a system for acquiring water-related data and to disseminate them to decision makers, engineers, resources managers etc. Regional systems, such as for instance the one for Mediterranea, MED-HYCOS (http://www.hycos.orstom.fr/mh), have been developed and made possible through cooperation with, among others, the World Bank and the European Commission.
In the scientific component of the programmes WMO is closely co-operating with UNESCO. Cooperation is also taking place with UNEP, the World Bank, ICSU etc. The programmes are mainly technological in nature, although recently social considerations are becoming more important.
The World Bank's purpose is "to reduce poverty and improve living standards through sustainable growth and investment in people." The World Bank targets much of its assistance towards basic social services such as health care, nutrition, primary education, being the single largest investor in the social sector. It lends money to client governments as well as providing technical assistance etc. so that governments can set sound, long-term strategies for pursuing economic growth. The World Bank is stimulating the private sector growth by, for instance, helping client governments investing in infrastructure, such as transportation and telecommunications. It is promoting economic reforms through lending and related non-lending services. The World Bank, through its partnership with client governments and other co-financing lenders is able to contribute in leveraging funds for development. The Bank finances activities that aim to improve people's lives and reduce poverty, earn an economic rate of return of at least 10 percent, and promote and sustain economic growth.
All World Bank financed projects are screened to determine whether they pose environmental risks, and Environmental Impact Assessments are compulsory on projects that might be harmful. The Bank is today the largest funder of environmental projects to address pollution and environmental degradation. It is co-operating with several of the UN-agencies, as well as Non-Governmental Organisations in many programmes and projects in the environment. The cooperation with UNDP and UNEP within the GEF is one example.
The World Bank Water programmes and its Water Unit (http://www-esd.worldbank.org/water) reflect the Bank's long-term Water Resources Management Policy, focusing on "freshwater, coastal and marine resource management, integrating an ecological dimension into water resources management from the upper watershed to the coastal zone". Water resources management projects include investments for urban, rural, industrial and agriculture water supply, sewerage treatment, flood control, irrigation and drainage, hydropower and navigation projects. Activities in catchment areas can include forestry, mining and construction, and industrial discharge and agriculture runoff. The projects fall under four main areas:
the water environment including projects on watershed protection and management, wetlands management, pollution control considerations, and linkages between upstream activities and downstream coastal and marine resources. A collaborator for some projects is UNEP;
water supply and sanitation including projects dealing with rural water supply and sanitation, urban environmental sanitation, and participation and gender. The World Bank - UNDP Water and Sanitation Programme (http://www.wsp.org) is a successful example of cooperation between two complementary organisations. The Program was launched 1978 and has been supported by a wide range of bilateral donors and includes WHO, UNICEF and bilateral programmes in its partnership network;
irrigation and drainage, where the Bank is co-operating with FAO and also within the framework of the CGIAR, a network of scientific organisations in the agriculture area;
hydropower, where a modified approach to financing of large dam projects is a consequence of cooperation between the World Bank and IUCN.
The World Bank, in taking a more integrated approach to water management, is also assisting countries in reviewing and preparing water resources policies, strategies and action plans.
Within the framework of the Global Environment Facility, GEF, (http://www.gefweb.org/geftext..htm), the World Bank plays an important role, particularly in larger projects. The Bank is also one of the initiators and key actors of both the Global Water Partnership and the World Water Council.
Several other UN organisations are members of the UN ACC Subcommittee on Water Resources, thus having water "on their agenda" at least to some extent.
The regional UN commissions
The Economic Commissions for the different regions are often having water programmes of an integrated nature on their agenda, being responsible for organisation of UN-projects in fairly large areas. Their work is important, particularly the co-ordinating capabilities. The commissions are ECA (http://www.un.org/Depts/eca) for Africa, ECE (http://www.unece.org) for Europe, ECLAC (http://www.eclac.cl/index.html) for Latin America and the Caribbean, ESCAP (http://www.unescap.org) for Asia and the Pacific, and ESCWA (http://www.escwa.org.lb) for Western Asia. All of them are conducting water projects as for many of these regions water is a scarce resource and the issue of integrated water management is a key to sustainable development. Thus many of their programmes and projects would be instrumental to the regional work within the GWP and the GWP TACs.
The "Rio Conventions"
The "Rio Conventions", the UN Biodiversity Convention, UNCBD (http://www.biodiv.org), and the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC (http://www.unfccc.de), both include water aspects, the UNCBD has an action programme for freshwater biodiversity. Within the work of the international convention resulting from the Rio-process, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, UNCCD (http://www.unccd.ch), the fight for water of course is one important aspect of projects.
Other UN agencies
Within the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA (http://www.iaea.int), there is a section for isotope hydrology, that can manage specialised projects on analytical quality control. The International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, IDNDR, works for mitigation of water-related natural disasters. The International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, INSTRAW (http://www.un.org/instraw), as well as the United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM (http://www.unifem.undp.org), both are trying to promote women's participation as women are important actors in water management.
Within the intergovernmental process of the CSD governments have emphasised the need for cooperation between the UN-agencies, other intergovernmental and international organisations and NGOs. Such cooperation has been accentuated among the UN bodies and partly also with other organisations in order to achieve more effective and efficient solutions in a much broader framework. Still much needs to be done.