Where are we after two days of meetings in Dakar, on June 20 and 21, which aimed to prepare and launch the next World Water Forum (WWF) to be held in the capital of Senegal in March 2021.
600 participants from 53 countries, including 400 Africans, reflected together on the content of the 4 priorities of this Forum: water security, cooperation, water and agriculture, tools and means. This is not the place to report on it, especially since the World Water Council (WEC) website provides a lot of information on this subject as well as the cross-examination of the two co-chairs of the Forum.
Rather, it is a matter of focusing on certain characteristics that this Forum should have and avoiding dispersing into a multitude of subjects at the risk of crumbling and a lack of impact.
A thirsty World Forum for Africa.
By definition, the WEF is global and must take on this dimension to succeed. But the 9th Forum will be the first to be held in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, it is there that access to water and sanitation is the least developed in the world and we know that the population will double on this continent by 2050 to reach 2.5 billion inhabitants. This is a huge challenge. It is therefore the first priority for the Forum to focus on Africa that is thirsty.
If Africa has a number of countries with double-digit growth, if Africa is a continent rich in natural resources and in the promise of development, if African youth represent an immense potential for energy and initiative, let us not forget that Africa also experiences 28 violent conflicts, including 11 wars in poor countries (HIIK figures). Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, CAR, DRC, Somalia, South Sudan, northern Nigeria… The list is long, not to mention the destruction caused by disasters (hurricane, drought, flood), as was recently the case in Mozambique. For these populations at risk, the Forum could represent a multiplying event of solidarity.
A Forum that responds concretely to the needs of the populations.
But these countries were not very well represented in Dakar and these humanitarian emergencies therefore have little voice in the room. I believe that this is a major challenge for the Forum. If the WEF does not focus a significant part of its programme on the needs of these populations, it will be difficult for us to mobilize humanitarian actors to prepare and participate in this Forum. It is better to say it now, especially since too few humanitarian and development NGOs usually participate in the World Water Forum. But, let us all remember, we will not be in Korea, Brazil or even Turkey, but in the heart of Africa, which is thirsty!
As it happens, the theme of this Forum is “Water Security for Peace and Development”, and we hope that it will effectively include humanitarian issues in its programme. For too long, and even today, a mental border has been operating in the minds of peaceful and developing countries and the terra incognita of forgotten countries at war. These countries need, more than others, water and sanitation, peace and development and the articulation between emergency and post-crisis situations with reconstruction, stabilization and the resumption of development. Not to deal with them, in addition to a kind of non-assistance to people in danger, is to take the risk of seeing these crises spread geographically and intensify.
The Water Security Forum for Peace and Development must broadly include the countries, actors and populations of countries in crisis and allow their active participation to provide concrete responses to their needs. Because this Forum is intended to be a forum for responding to needs and those we are talking about here are the most urgent.
The relationship between water and peace is increasingly emerging as a topical issue. And it is clear how water in insufficient quantity to be shared between the various users can become an object of dispute, tension, or even conflict. What is true at the level of a transboundary basin is just as true at the local level. The challenge is strategic in the face of increasing water demand and pollution, if not waste, which primarily affects areas subject to water stress.
A Forum that makes room for humanitarian action.
But an explanation is needed here. Our humanitarian mission is to provide safe drinking water and sanitation to meet the vital needs of people, communities and populations who lack it without any political, ethnic or religious criteria and therefore in an impartial and independent manner. If this humanitarian action has the consequence of reducing tensions that may exist, this is fine, but the aim remains to provide drinking water and sanitation, in particular to reduce the risk of death linked with water.
Humanitarian aid is not a political instrument with peace as its goal and water as its means, just as water cannot be a means of war. Finally, peace is a process in which only politics has the key.
A Forum that stimulates the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.
In the field of water and sanitation, there are development and humanitarian responses that must be coordinated and supported as much as possible wherever necessary. The global human response on the planet is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDOs), which include (Goal 6 out of 17) universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, including in crisis situations so as not to abandon anyone! The latest UN-Water Report indicates that we are not on the right track to achieve this. This is where the 9th World Water Forum, while keeping its specificity, could in Dakar take on the mission of mobilizing to contribute to achieving the SDGs in only 11 years. While I have focused in this article on what the forum may lack, let us not forget its global dimension and the diversity of issues involved in water security.
Finally, to improve coherence, synergy and efficiency, it seems logical to mobilize all the tools and resources for water security, cooperation, water for agriculture, humanitarian and development aid in the hope of contributing to peace.