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Thousands of participants, 140 ministerial delegations, more than 80 ministers, and members of hundreds of organizations are gathered this week in Marseille, France for the Sixth World Water Forum. The week-long forum aims to bring water crises facing communities, governments, and regions across the world to the forefront of political agendas.
More than 780 million people worldwide lack safe drinking water, according to a 2012 UNICEF/WHO report. Approximately 2.5 billion people in 2010 lacked improved sanitation, and 15 percent (1.1 billion) of the world’s population practice open defecation. The recently released UN World Water Development Report (WWDR4) cites that 3.5 million deaths per year are linked to insufficient sanitation, hygiene, and water supply.
“For the past fifteen years, the World Water Forums have advanced the understanding of issues related to this important topic … Things have moved too slowly, and we must now move up a gear to achieve our common goal,” said France’s Prime Minister Francois Fillon in his speech on Monday at the forum.
Meeting every three years since 1997, the forum provides a platform for debate through grassroots citizen involvement and the participation of experts and decision makers. It also acts as a foundation for authorities to make commitments toward lasting solutions to global water challenges.
On Tuesday, forum participants announced that 2013 is going to be the “International Year of Water Cooperation.” Led by UNESCO, along with four other UN agencies, 2013 will focus on the successes achieved thus far in water cooperation, along with the span of water challenges still facing communities worldwide.
As a component of the Rural Water Supply Initiative in Africa, Chad, France, Italy, Ivory Coast, Niger, Republic of Congo, and Switzerland pledged $80 million. The Fourth African Water Week is scheduled in Cairo, Egypt for May 14-18, 2012.
During Wednesday’s Arab trialogue session, “Water and Energy,” Dr. Abid Thyab Al Ajeeli from the Arab Parliament predicted, “Currently 18 of the 22 Arab States suffer from water scarcity and by 2050 this will turn into water distress.” Holding only one percent of the planet’s fresh water, the Arab world contains five percent of the world’s population.
The panel discussion focused on desalination, already widespread in the Gulf States, and renewable energies as alternatives to the current fossil fuel reserves powering desalination plants. Zaher bin Khalid Al-Sulaimani, Director General of Projects for the Public Authority for Electricity and Water-Oman, stated that Oman relies on the sea for 80 percent of its population’s drinking water. During the next four years, Oman plans to invest in 200 MW of renewable energy projects.
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