Publish Date: Tuesday,17 March, 2009, at 12:26 PM Doha Time

Water forum opens to unrest

The World Water Forum, a seven-day arena aimed at addressing the planet's 
deepening crisis of fresh water, was launched here yesterday amid a violent 
protest broken up by riot police using tear gas. The forum, held only every 
three years, will address growing water scarcity, the risk of conflict as 
countries squabble over rivers, lakes and aquifers, and how to provide clean 
water and sanitation to billions.

Anti-riot police dispersed some 300 demonstrators against the forum as they 
headed to the venue buildings, detaining at least 15.
The protesters, whose rally had been called by unions, environmentalists, and 
leftist organisations, responded to tear gas by hurling rocks and beating 
officers with sticks.  They chanted slogans such as "water is people, it's 
life, it's not for sale", and "we want to crush this forum which wants to take 
our water". Heading an appeal for the globe to husband its water resources, 
Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council staging the conference, said 
humanity was squarely to blame for wasting the precious stuff of life. "We are 
responsible," he said. "Responsible for the aggressions perpetrated against 
water, responsible for the current climate changes which come on top of the 
global changes, responsible for the tensions which reduce the availability of 
freshwater masses so indispensable to the survival of humanity."

He added: "At this very time in the history of water, we are faced with a major 
challenge to use more water resources but at the same time to protect, enhance 
the value of and even reuse these waters." The world's population, currently 
6.5bn, is expected to rise to 9bn by mid-century, placing further massive 
demands on water supplies that are already under strain.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicts a 
rise in the number of people living under severe water stress to 3.9bn by 2030, 
amounting to nearly half the world's population. Most of these will live in 
China and South Asia.
That tally does not include the impacts of climate change. Global warming may 
already be affecting weather patterns, changing the time and place where rain 
and snow fall, say some experts.

Around 2.5bn people today do not have access to decent sanitation, defying one 
of the targets of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. Hydrologists say the 
crisis is rooted in excessive irrigation, leakage of urban water supplies, 
pollution of river water and unbridled extraction of water from nearly every 
type of source.

The need for better management of water "is becoming more urgent", the head of 
the OECD, Angel Gurri, warned in a report to be issued today. "We witness 
increasing pressure, competition and, in some regions, even conflict over the 
use of water resources. Poor governance and inadequate investment are resulting 
in billions of people not having access to water and sanitation services."
The Water Forum, running in Istanbul until Sunday, began with a mini-summit of 
a small number of heads of state and government, invited by Turkey.

It concludes with a large ministerial gathering aimed at crafting guidelines 
for smarter management of water and resolution of water conflicts. Outside the 
political dimension, the conference is also a gathering place for companies 
involving in the multi-billion-dollar water industry. Between $92.4bn and 
$148bn are needed annually to build and maintain water supply systems, 
sanitation and irrigation, according to a major document, the third World Water 
Development Report, that was issued in the run-up to the Istanbul forum.
China and developed countries in Asia alone face financial needs of 
$38.2bn-$51.4bn each year.

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