Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

Water session at the Sustainable Development Dialogues


Leo Tambussi reports from the water session at the Sustainable Development Dialogues in Rio. 
18 June 2012
For me, today was one of the best days of the Sustainable Development Dialogues conference in terms of content. Having the chance to participate in the dialogues was valuable and encouraging.
With the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Dialogues initiative was launched through a digital platform in order to provide the wider public a democratic space for discussion. The online debates on each of the ten themes of the dialogues, facilitated by researchers from renowned academic institutions around the world, resulted in ten concrete recommendations that can be viewed and voted for in a public website.
For each theme, 10 recommendations are presented, from which only three are selected; one from civil society, one from the expert panel and finally one from the online community. Three recommendations for each theme will then form a coherent proposal that will be presented at the official summit on the 21st and 22nd of June 2012.
This event was initially planned to be opened only to official delegates or individuals formally enrolled. It was only a few days prior to the event that event organisers decided to open up the session to the general public. By general public, I mean in fact a very wide and inclusive variety of attendants including indigenous people, civil societies, NGO representatives, media and young people. I felt very lucky to be able to attened the water dialogue. 
In terms of structure, there was a few minutes for each of the panellists to make their presentations. Some of the ideas exposed were based on the proposed recommendations. However, the most notable intervention was the one made by Professor Muhammad Yunus, Head of the Rural Economics Program at the University of Chittagong, more famously known as the founder of the Grameen Bank (micro-finance Bank created in 1976 in Bangladesh). Professor Yunus’s presentation was distinct for its clarity and capacity of synthesis, as well as for the simplicity of its choice of words. He also spoke about sanitation, on its own as well as in relation to water; and on the paths that we can take and choices we can make in order to responsibly achieve improvements on these issues.
On a different front, often communities expect local governments to resolve their issues. Unfortunately, this cannot always be the case. Sometimes, local communities must realise that solutions are within themselves, in that they need to communicate and work together with local governments, rather than expect a higher (often distant) government to intervene effectively. Locals should request the knowledge, expertise, and advice of experts and university researchers and these should have the capacity to extrapolate and share simple and cost-effective ways of resolving water issues, that empower communities to be self-sufficient and without creating dependence from corporations or profit-oriented projects. These solutions should also be replicable and inspire take up in other communities.
Finally, one should reconsider his or her assumptions of good or bad in relation to private/public ownership. Civil societies, particularly, tend to catalogue public initiatives as intrinsically right and private ones as fundamentally wrong. One should look for corporate solutions to resolve the pressures of markets. For example, when commercial markets are stretched, corporations can and should come up with creative and appropriate solutions. 
On the other hand, it is crucial to observe that water should never become a commodity, or a commercial good. The vital value of water should be considered above market constraints and regulations, and thus not become commodified in any circumstances. Additionally, the interrelation between water and sanitation is vital, and both concepts are indivisible and considerations of one must always involve considerations of the other. In that sense, in relation to recommendation number 3 made to the official summit, on the implementation of the right to water, sanitation should be included.
It was difficult to choose one out of the ten recommendations - all of which are of vital importance. To make any recommendation, this difficulty is increased by the need to mention the role that science and technology has played and continues to play in creating solutions to improve access to clean water and sanitation.
Finally, recommendation number 3, on the ‘implementation of the right to water’ was chosen by civil society with 52.8% of the vote and the panellists elected for recommendation number 5 on the ‘assertion of the importance of integrated water, energy, and land use and planning and management at all scales’.
Finally, we all demand that our recommendations are not ignored and become more than mere recommendations. We demand commitment to the solutions proposed. The time is now over and we cannot wait another 10 years. 


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