Sunday, July 14, 2013

Relevance of an Inspirational Water Goal in the Post-2015 Development Agenda for East Africa’s Lake Victoria Basin

By Kimbowa Richard, Regional Coordinator (East African Sustainability Watch Network c/o Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development)

The potential for a new “water in development” narrative that will promote water as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is under intense discussion as part of the Post -2015 development process. In this regard a number of global, regional and national meetings involving different actors are putting their cases and consolidating positions in their respective favor

For example, an expert Consultation on Water SDGs, organized by the UN Office of Sustainable Development (UNOSD), June 2013, in Incheon, Republic of Korea, recognized the importance of: monitoring and reporting systems to assess progress and adjust policy and practice with regard to water issues; finding new sources of financing beyond official development aid; and integrating water with other sectoral goals as well as ensuring that the three dimensions of sustainable development are integrated within a water goal. It also expressed a preference for a stand-alone water goal that will be linked with other goals and sectors. The consultation concluded with a call for the post-2015 water agenda to emphasize poverty eradication linkages.

One such meeting as a side event; Water in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: How to achieve an aspirational water SDG?” on July 3, 2013 in the Palais des Nations, Geneva organized by UN Economic Commission for Europe and UN- Water. Having made contributions to the vibrant post -2015 water consultations on line, it was an enriching moment to attend a physical meeting to share and learn more about the role of water, issues and stakeholder positions to date after the release of the Report of the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 development agenda. The side event was in form of a panel chaired by Federico Propezi (UN-Water) and panelists from World Health Organization; Ministry of Environment, Romania; Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; Ministry for Environment, Land and Sea – Italy; and Aquafed

Though I came in sometime after the event had taken off due to long-queue arising from the security checks at the UN entrance, I was able to find some panelists make their presentations and above all the plenary discussion. Two thrilling and forward-looking (Government and Private sector) presentations are worth sharing here: The Swiss position paper on Water and the AquaFed’s paper: ‘Post-2015 Global goals. Towards a wastewater sub goal of the goal on water (options for indicators, targets and sub-goal)

Swiss Position: Water as a standalone Goal

Francois Munger (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) presented a summary of the Swiss position paper on water that is underscored by the need to address water security as one of the highest priorities of the Post-2015 development agenda, and that water must feature prominently as standalone goal with measurable targets and indicators in support of life, well being, economic development and the environment.

Water security in this regard refers to human security and vital needs: health, safe sufficient and affordable drinking water; adequate sanitation; hygiene; protecting ecosystems; water for food security, energy and economic growth; wastewater management and reuse.

This (progressive) position paper outlines the need to ensure (global) water security and universal access to sanitation, drinking water and hygiene. The rationale is that despite being situated within the goal of environmental sustainability, the targets for water and sanitation in the current MDG framework did not address the link to the broader water agenda.

Due to the significant disparities and inequalities as for instance between and within regions, between urban and rural areas and between rich and poor section of the population, the Swiss position emphasizes that to realize the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, achieving universal access to Water Supply and Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) must be one of the sub goals in the post-2015 development agenda.

The Swiss paper also calls for Sustainable Water Resources Management to be included in a future SDG on water ensuring that limited freshwater resources are managed so at to satisfy human needs and serve economic growth while respecting requirements and ensure their services. This is driven by the fact that with more than 250 major watercourses crossing international political boundaries, development and sustainable long lasting implementation of treaties and frameworks to manage them becomes crucial for national, regional and international peace and security. This is due to the increasing demands for water for agriculture to feed the world’s growing population, industrial use, and meet energy needs with consequent higher production of waste water.

On wastewater management and water quality, there is a pressing need to improve global freshwater quality by addressing water pollution and making better use of wastewater. The Swiss position recommends that this should be the third important element in a future SDG on water

Aquafed paper: food for thought on wastewater as a resource.

AquaFed’s paper presented by Gerard Payen, as food for thought aimed at shaping the emerging sub goal on wastewater and the potential related ‘indicators and targets’. It is intended to stimulate discussion on the ways through which progress on wastewater management could be stimulated by the post-2015 global Goal. Pollution discharged to the aquatic environment comes mainly from urban wastewater, industrial facilities, animal breeding and agricultural inputs, who should be taken on coherently without giving priority to any of them.

The focus on wastewater links up well with the Swiss position above and takes the discussion forward. This paper notes that in the face of growing demands on finite water resources, it is necessary to consider wastewater as an additional resource. The paper further notes a major gap – there is no common objective on wastewater at the UN level and national policies may not be consistent with each other. This gap was recognized politically at the 2012 World Water Forum in France and in the Rio + 20 outcome document they have stressed ‘the need to adopt measures to significantly reduce water pollution and increase water quality, significantly improve wastewater treatment and water efficiency’.

In view of the need to limit the number of selected targets for the post-2015 goals, Aquafed proposes 3 coherent, inter-related building blocks: identifying indicators that are measurable and therefore enable the progress towards the target to be assessed(to be a major advance in the area of wastewater management); for each indicator, indentifying a target that could be achieved realistically in the timeframe(unknown as yet) of the future global programme; and formulating an aspirational wastewater component of the water goal that is convincing for decision-makers and the general public and for which achieving the proposed targets would be a major contribution.

Aquafed proposes that the target should be drafted around the sub-themes: preventing pollution, reducing impacts (wastewater collection and treatment) and reusing water. Though formulations have been proposed, there is fear of conceptual misunderstanding arising due to professional, geographical and other differences that will need to be carefully handled.

Usefulness of a Water goal for the Lake Victoria basin in East Africa

Many rivers and streams draining into Lake Victoria and the near-shore areas are heavily polluted, particularly by: (a) raw and partially treated municipal and industrial effluents; (b) contaminated urban surface runoff; (c) unsanitary conditions of the shoreline settlements; and (d) pollutants carried in eroded sediments, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, synthetic pyrethroids, and organophosphates (World Bank, 2009).

These pollutants bring into the Lake coliforms of fecal origin; oxygen-demanding organic substances; heavy metals, such as chromium, lead and mercury; and pesticide residues. The increased inflow of nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, has resulted in changing the Lake chemical and bio-physical characteristics, increased eutrophication, nutrients balance problems, health problems to riparian communities, and proliferation o f water hyacinth. For example, Winam Gulf (Kenya), Murchison Bay (Uganda), and Mwanza Gulf (Tanzania) are highly eutrophied "hotspot" areas (World Bank, 2009).

Hence, despite the major towns and cities in this Lake Victoria basin being in the neighbourhood of one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, access to clean water remains a major challenge. In all the major towns (Mwanza, Bukoba, Musoma, Kampala, Jinja, Masaka, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Kendu) on the shores of Lake Victoria water supply remains far below the demand levels. Similarly, the hinter land towns such as Mbarara, Ntungamo and Kisii also experience water access problems (EAC/LVBC, 2007).

Furthermore, water and sanitation analyses in the majority of these cities and towns is such that; Water supply for domestic and industrial use is far below the demand levels; on the average, only about 40% the urban Basin population is served with clean water supply as at 2006; Most of the water supply and sewerage infrastructure is old consisting of very old and outdated equipment; the conventional waste-water treatment systems have, generally, collapsed. For example, release of raw sewage is common in water ways that connect to Lake Victoria is still common (EAC/LVBC, 2007).

Therefore, the water goal would raise the profile of the need to manage it efficiently and effectively amongst the competing needs, in a region with one of the fastest population growth rates in the world. In particular, the focus on wastewater is urgent given that there are no commensurate measures to control and monitor wastewater, and hence information to set in motion an incentive mechanism for households, industries and urban areas to minimize it.

In addition, the water goal will be a further rallying point to strengthen ongoing harmonization of institutions, policies, processes and standards with regard to sustainable development for Lake Victoria, in addition to securing ‘practical’ implementation for one of the key outcomes from Rio+20 Conference.