Opinion 1

The Second World Water Forum

The Second World Water Forum has come and gone. Certainly an enormous amount of energy went into preparing for and running the event. There were an impressive number of people (an estimated 3500 in all) and a quite bewildering array of activities going on concurrently all the time. The question of course which needs to be asked is what really happened in The Hague during those few days in the middle of March. Was anything really achieved? Did we chip a little from the frontiers of the water problems facing the world or did we make a giant step forward? The particular burden which I have to bear in life is that I am a born cynic and I have a hard time not being cynical about an event like the Second World Water Forum. It would, however, be both unfair and inaccurate to say that no good came from the event in relation to its cost.

Firstly it was a great opportunity for the sector to get together and meet one another. In this respect it was a celebration of the dedication which so many have put into finding solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems. There were an impressive number of delegates from Africa and elsewhere.

Secondly, the organisers must be complimented in general for the show, notwithstanding the lengthy registration procedure and a few other hitches.

Will the Second World Water Forum be remembered as a landmark of progress in the water sector, however? I don't think so. I don't think we were even close, which is a great pity - an opportunity lost. The process was flawed from the beginning. CS Lewis speaks wisely of the "fatal attraction" of the inner circle. The club, the fraternity. It is the allure of power, the mystique of authority which allows people to believe the falsehood that they are acting in everyone's interest and that "they know best". It is the same whether it is a company board room, a Cabinet meeting or an activist's clique. Who is the World Water Council, where do they derive their mandate? Who appoints the Global Water Partnership Technical Advisory Committees? And so we had a beautifully produced and bound World Water Vision and Program of Action which was presented as a fait accompli even though special meetings were hurriedly arranged at the last-minute to discuss it. The results, therefore, are not surprising - no real result, no lasting impact. If you do not play the game by the rules, you can expect nothing more. Democracy has due process which cannot be bypassed however much you protest otherwise.


The forum illustrated once again how polarised the world is. On one extreme the glitz and money of the private sector was much in evidence with a definite hard sell edge, and on the other extreme activists bared all to make their point. Solutions will be found in neither of the extremes, nor in some washed out middle ground. At the risk of oversimplification, it is not enough for some NGOs to simply say "no" and offer only cottage industry solutions to the underserved millions of the world, nor does the solution lie in the mantra of the mega international institutions to "privatise" and "recover costs". There is a certain familiarity at both extremes where the appeal is more to doctrine than to reason.

Unfortunately history will show that The Hague will not be quoted with the frequency of Dublin or Rio because there is nothing really to quote.