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Monday, 13 March 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

19. Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City (16-22 March 2006) (debate)

  President. The next item is the debate on an oral question to the Commission on the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City (16 to 22 March 2006) by Roberto Musacchio, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group, Caroline Lucas and Alain Lipietz, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group, Glyn Ford, Giovanni Berlinguer and Béatrice Patrie, on behalf of the PSE Group (O-0001/2006 – B6-0003/2006).


  David Hammerstein Mintz (Verts/ALE), author. (ES) Mr President, the World Water Forum is taking place at a very significant time, because more than two billion of the world’s inhabitants do not have access to drinking water or to sufficient domestic water and more than two million people die every year as a result of a scarcity of water, an element that is fundamental to life.

Water must be distributed more fairly, but at the same time the quantity of freshwater is falling, year after year, as a result of climate change and the destruction of ecosystems, such as wetlands, forests, shores and rivers.

We must respond with firm and practical measures, with financial commitments, with a world water treaty, promoting a good water culture. We need international legislation which allows for more efficient management of water.

In the European Union, we must apply the framework water Directive in all of our actions, in our cooperation and in bilateral agreements. Furthermore, we must promote good agricultural practices. We must apply the same European law when we are outside Europe and we must ensure that the quantity of water obtained by complex means through ecosystems and through the fight against climate change is conserved in the medium and long term.

This cannot be achieved through concrete or through large building schemes alone, but through complex and integral policies.


  Roberto Musacchio (GUE/NGL), author. (IT) Thank you, Mr President, ladies and gentlemen: water must be a common asset, a right of humankind guaranteed to every woman and man in every continent. We want these binding words to be solemnly approved by this Parliament and to be upheld at the World Water Forum in Mexico City in a few days’ time. They are urgent and necessary words in the face of a tragic reality, whereby billions of people are deprived of the right to water and thus to life, to the extent that millions die and fall ill from the consequences of this deprivation.

Wars and conflicts are waged in order to have water, and the very availability of that basic resource is being compromised by the unsatisfactory policies that have reduced it enormously, thus altering its life cycle. There are unquestionably those who want to privatise water and to treat it like a commodity that is only given to people who can pay for it. That is as good as privatising air and only letting people breathe if they have money.

Now is the time for some tough decisions that must ensure that Europe is the exponent of equitable policies and is not party to the assault of the multinationals. In Johannesburg, it was not felt that water should be written down as a right, but merely as a need. In Mexico City, at a Conference that we should like the UN, rather than other bodies, to be far more responsible for directly overseeing, this right must be solemnly enshrined: those who are calling for the right to water find themselves denied the right to life, in so many continents, beginning with the African continent. Let us not disappoint them; let us see to it that this Parliament projects a voice of hope and makes a practical commitment.


  Stavros Dimas, Μember of the Commission. (EL) Mr President, the World Water Forum is an international platform which provides an opportunity to exchange views and experiences on the best possible ways of managing water and combating the problem of water shortages.

The fourth meeting of this Forum, which will be held in Mexico City at the end of this month, will focus on actions which can be taken at local level in order to meet the global challenge of water shortages. The objective is to discuss ideas for better support of local actions on a global scale. The results of these discussions will constitute a material contribution to the special water and sanitation issues section of the 16th meeting of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in 2008.

No new political initiatives or decisions are expected to be taken at the 4th World Water Forum. The European Commission and the Member States will not therefore be called upon to adopt new positions. Consequently, the Commission will not need a negotiating mandate in order to take part in this specific exchange of opinions. Although representatives of the Commission and the Member States will be present in Mexico City, there will be no official accredited European Union delegation at the event in question.

The Commission's objective at the 4th World Water Forum is to highlight and promote policies and means agreed between the European Union and other interested parties, such as the European Union water initiative, the ACP-EU water facility and numerous aspects of the Agenda 21 action plan.

In addition, the Commission will provide information on the results of the innovative water technologies of the Community framework research programme and the results of the review of integrated water resource management works.

As far as water management and the internal market are concerned, the Commission may, if it appears necessary, explain the position of the European Union, by which I mean that the current rules in the European Union are neutral on the question of the ownership of water and water companies.

The Commission considers that a regular supply of drinking water is, as the rapporteur also said earlier, a basic humanitarian need and that the policies applied for sustainable development must address the problem of the equitable and sustainable management of water resources in the interests of the whole of society. This stance is also reflected in the European Union water initiative.

At the stage we are at today, the question of whether there needs to be an international agreement on safeguarding a constant supply of water to all areas of the planet still remains open. In all events, the World Water Forum is not the appropriate platform for such a debate.


  Eija-Riitta Korhola, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. (FI) Mr President, aid from the European Union and the Member States to improve the world’s water situation totals EUR 1.4 billion a year, which makes us the biggest single contributor of aid. Considering how large this sum is, it is clear that the EU’s message will also be heard at the World Water Forum starting this week, and that the Union’s message is therefore not insignificant. The figures are alarming: 3 900 children die every day because of a lack of clean water. One fifth of the world’s population, some 1.1 billion people, suffer from a lack of clean water. More than 40%, meanwhile, are without proper water and sewage services. The figures are also a reminder that talk of looming water wars must actually be taken seriously. This is not just a matter of unsustainable development: it also has to do with a threat to security.

The report by the UN which was published last week, entitled ‘Water: A Shared Responsibility’, says that the reason for the unsatisfactory situation in the world with regard to water is largely poor administration. Aid reaches its destination more slowly because of bureaucracy and hierarchical decision-making. Decisions regarding how and when water should be distributed, and to whom, are not just made at national level, but also by local authorities, in the private sector and within the domain of civil society. Aid is needed in particular in order to increase regional decision-making and cooperation, and in a spirit of fairness. The issue is surely not helped by the fact that many of those countries suffering a serious water shortage are also high up on the corruption list. For example, in India millions of dollars are wasted every year in the water sector on political corruption, according to Nearly a third of Indians who replied to a survey say they have had to pay bribes to receive water and sewage services.

I would also like to remind everyone that improvements to the regional water situation cannot be separated from other areas of development policy. Recently, studies have been published showing that merely solving the water problem could even make the situation as a whole worse if it causes population growth to accelerate, which would lead to food shortages. Simply building a well is therefore not enough. In all development aid we have to take the overall view so that solving one problem does not lead to new shortages, which we obviously do not want.


  Pierre Schapira, on behalf of the PSE Group. (FR) Mr President, the World Water Forums represent a unique opportunity to bring together all those groups in the world that are involved with water, be they official agencies, development banks, states, professional organisations, NGOs or local authorities.

These meetings make it possible to define a fairer and more unified world water policy and to ensure that people’s right to water is upheld as a crucial element of human dignity.

The organisations have chosen to steer the debates in Mexico City by establishing ‘Local Actions for a Global Challenge’ as the main theme of this forum. The aim is to make local authorities the central actors with regard to water management. In order for this to happen, developing countries must be encouraged to delegate the budgetary resources and the management of water policy to their local authorities. Water policy should always be developed on the basis of the specific nature of the terrain and by taking account, as far as possible, of the users’ needs.

Parliament’s resolution calls on the Commission to do more to acknowledge and make use of the fantastic level of human resource and financial expertise present in Europe’s local authorities. With a wealth of successful experiences and technical skills behind them, the towns of the North are keen to help their counterparts in developing countries.

In order to facilitate these cooperation operations that are decentralised from town to town, the Commission is requested to encourage and prioritise the funding of projects presented by towns of the North. As far as the allocation of resources from the European Water Fund is concerned, the Commission could, in particular, restrict eligibility to receive these funds to those operators best placed to help the authorities of the South.

The results of the first call for proposals by the ACP-EU Water Fund show that scarcely 3% of the projects accepted were projects presented by local authorities. That is highly unsatisfactory given the added value that local authorities provide in this area.


  Fiona Hall, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, I would like to say a few words about the role of the ACP-EU water facility to which the Commissioner has referred. It has also been discussed recently in the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly Social and Environmental Affairs Committee.

I welcome the decision by the ACP-EU Council to launch the EUR 500 million water facility in 2004, but there has been a lot of disappointment because of the slowness with which the initiative was implemented. Indeed, the claim has been made that not one person has yet received clean drinking water under the ACP-EU initiative. It is important that due regard be given to process and that high standards of administrative probity are adhered to, especially with so much money involved, but the final evaluation of proposals took place in January this year and 97 proposals were at last selected. So I would like to know whether we are now on course to provide 10 million more people with access to drinking water by 2010 as planned and, when it comes to the second call for proposals, whether the process will take less time to complete.


  Marie-Arlette Carlotti (PSE). – (FR) Mr President, 1.2 billion people have no access to drinking water, and so 15 people die in the world every minute, half of whom are children. We are therefore involved in a real race against the clock. That is why the World Forum must put forward three kinds of proposal.

Firstly, the question of rights. Water belongs to all of humankind, and having access to water is a fundamental right of human beings. This right must be established by an international treaty.

Next, the question of resources: to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without access to water is an ambitious target. An extra USD 100 billion needs to be found each year. For that to happen, we need to harness all of our resources by increasing official development assistance (ODA) and the resources allocated to the tenth EDF and by obtaining the support of innovative partners in the public and private sector or of operations designed to exchange debts for investment.

Lastly, the question of management. Water policies must be developed using a participative and democratic approach that embraces users, civil societies and the role of women and be managed at local level, accompanied by the implementation of pricing policies that guarantee the most underprivileged citizens access to water at affordable prices. I hope that the Commission will champion these guidelines at the World Forum in Mexico City.


  Karin Scheele (PSE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, you said that no new positions will be taken up at the Fourth World Water Forum. What is clear is that you will have a lot of work to do. You described the right to have access to water as a human right, but that is precisely what the disputes were about at the last Water Forum. The cause of conflict at it was an argument about whether the availability of clean water was a human right that had to be guaranteed by the State, or whether it was a need that should be met by the market. Despite massive protests by the campaigners present, the ministers at the forum refused to say anything in their final statement about access to water being a right. I wish you much success in getting its status as a human right recognised in Mexico City.

As for the forthcoming World Water Forum itself, we will also have to consider what democratic legitimacy it possesses. It is organised by the World Water Council, which is largely dominated by private industry and businesses. Since its chairman is the head of a subsidiary of French water companies, we must of course ask ourselves to what degree it is influenced by the industry and just how useful are the solutions that may emerge from it. What I would like to see – perhaps at a future meeting of the United Nations, which would have the appropriate democratic legitimacy – is debates held without the massive influence of the companies that are making themselves rich from water supply and drainage in many countries around the world.


  Stavros Dimas, Μember of the Commission. (EL) Mr President, the debate demonstrated that we have the same views on the World Water Forum on numerous counts and I hope that the Commission will benefit from taking part in the discussion at which, as I said earlier, we do not expect decisions to be taken, whether or not they are necessary. In all events, no decisions are expected but, of course, there will be a serious discussion and there will be an exchange of views from all over the world on these very important issues, the significance of which you also highlighted.

In particular, we shall, I hope, be addressing the question of the local actions on which the 4th World Water Forum is concentrating and we expect interesting ideas on water management to be put forward. I should like to say that this year we have started financing the first plans and we shall start the second stage of this financing in June. We hope and intend that 10 million people will have drinking water in 2010 and 5 million will have access to sanitation services.

I should like to thank you very much for the interest which you have shown and expressed and I hope that, together, we shall be able, in close cooperation, to promote joint efforts on this very important issue to mankind.


  President. I have received six motions for resolution(1) tabled under Rule 108(5) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday.


(1)See Minutes.

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