Congres international de kaslik liban 18-20 Juin 1998 opening address the General Context

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The General Context
Jean A. Vergnes, Director of International Water Institute - University of Aix-Marseille

1998 will certainly have been an extremely rich year as far as symposia, congresses, conferences, forums and seminars on Water issues are concerned. The number of events is so great that countries have already set aside dates in 2000 for meetings on Water. In fact, even before the present congress was organised, another international congress on Water in the Middle East was being announced for the coming months!

At a primary level, this is reassuring since it shows an awareness of the problems posed by usable freshwater at the global level. However, one cannot help asking the following questions:

- What changes have these international meetings brought about since Rio 1992 concerning agricultural practices, attitudes of municipalities, water distribution, major governmental decisions on water strategies, introduction of new practices in sustainable management, educational programmes...?

- What has resulted of the propositions, recommendations or programmes proposed by numerous congresses?

- Was it reasonable to propose another congress on Water?

- What concrete effect did these congresses have on the problems facing countries afflicted by water scarcity?
I think the last question merits attention.
First of all, we should remember that we are talking of 400 million to 1 billion people in 80 countries (to mention only those who are most seriously affected - and the numbers are unfortunately on the rise) whose daily life is dramatically affected by the diminution of freshwater resources.

As for the Mediterranean region, according to World Bank figures of 3 years ago, within 25 years half of the 20 countries of this region will exceed their potential in water resources.

Even admitting that these figures are only approximate and fluctuate with the author, qualitatively they are significant.

Even if the situation is far from desperate - specially when one lives in a region which apparently has sufficient water resources - it should be considered as serious. Concerted measures should be adopted without further delay.

Tap water is a daily miracle, but water is neither an inexhaustible gift of God nor eternally pure. How many people in the developed world are aware of this?

Few people are aware of the fact that the Water problem is not only one of distant countries but one that concerns their own too.

Few people realise that that this problem not only concerns future generations but their own as well.

Few people imagine that in the coming decade it will be essential to adopt new attitudes, a new ethic, towards Water.

Few people accept the idea that Water has a price and that beyond the basic needs it cannot be supplied free.
On the one hand a world of drought and on the other one of plenty. Both are affected by the Water crisis, obviously at different levels, but ignorant about everything concerning it. An example - though exaggerated - gives a good idea of the current situation: our society resembles in many respects a boat that is sinking but on which passengers are keeping on searching for the first class cabins.
People from the civil society are protesting but their voice is as yet too feeble to be heard.
What were the real impacts of the Dublin recommendations of 1992?

And yet these principles are fundamental :

1. Freshwater, fragile resource, is indispensable for life, development, and environment.

2. Water-resource management should associate users, managers, and decision-makers at all levels.

3. Women play an important role in the day-to-day supply, protection and conservation of water.

4. Water has an economical value and should then be recognized as an economic property.

In October 1997, in an interview published by Hydroplus Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, said very clearly: "L'heure n'est plus aux discours mais à l'action". This was also his message to the Congress. Some months before, at the end of the Earth Summit in New York, a reporter had written, "

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