Will the 9th World Water Forum keep all its promises?

In Senegal, in Diamniadio, on October 14 and 15, at the Abou Diouf International Conference Center, many of us are present at the start of the last straight line before the 9th World Water Forum (WWF) in Dakar (March 21 to 26, 2023). There are many “stakeholders” of this Forum, which has three main characteristics that unquestionably create an obligation of result, both for the organizers and for the participants.

First, let’s not forget that this will be the first of these 9 Forums since its inception in 1997 to be held in sub-Saharan Africa where access to water and sanitation for populations is the weakest and most problematic. Secondly, this Forum precedes by one year the World Water Conference that will be held in March 2023 at the United Nations headquarters, from which we expect decisions to achieve the SDGs, including Goal 6. Finally, from January 1, 2022, the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, will be the President of the African Union for one year and he could make the Forum a major event of his presidency.

We came to Dakar for Solidarités International, a major actor in the fight for access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), with Baptiste Lecuyot, head of the WASH unit at headquarters, in close collaboration with the Dakar office and Sonia Rahal and Allassane Traoré, WASH referent for Central and West Africa. Having arrived a few days earlier, we were able to meet with the regional managers of the European Commission, ECHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, OXFAM, NRC and the Swiss Cooperation, which is very active in this field. On the spot, we find members of the French Water Partnership (FWP), of which Jean Launay is the president and Marie-Laure Vercambre the general director.

Dakar, Diamniadio, from left to right, Allassane Traoré, Alain Boinet and Baptiste Lecuyot, Solidarités International delegation.

We remember that the theme of this Forum is “water security for peace and development” with 4 priorities: water security, water for rural development, cooperation and tools and means. What should be remembered from the outset is the preliminary statement of the Minister of Water and Sanitation of Senegal, Mr. Serigne Mbaye Thiam, when he said that the chairmanship of the African Union by the President of Senegal Macky Sall, from 1 January 2022, will give a political and diplomatic scope to the Forum. He thus encourages the participants in these two days of work to consolidate clear political messages intended for the Summit of Heads of State that will take place during the Forum! I can confirm here that, as the Minister says, “expectations are high” and time is now running out for this Heads of State Summit to become a reality for water and sanitation and to carry the participants’ voice to the United Nations.

I must say that the working meetings of the 4 priorities have worked rather well and that many new proposals have been added to the initial texts. Concerning the meeting on “water security”, Professor Alioune Kane of the University of Dakar, said that 6 action groups had proposed 21 sessions, stressing that these should include crisis situations.

But, honestly, this still needs to be completed because the humanitarian dimension of crises is very insufficiently present in the political messages of this priority. Indeed, the Water Security Forum for Peace and Development should not forget the countries and populations that are not in peace and development but that need emergency humanitarian aid and reconstruction. Let’s not leave anyone out! It is also the responsibility of humanitarian actors to be present and actively participate in the process, as well as their coordination bodies such as the Wash Cluster and The Road Wash Map.

It is the same for the other priorities led by Professor Rabi Mohtar for water and rural development, Mr. Ababacar Nidao for cooperation and Ms. Aziza Akhmouch of the OECD for tools and means.

As Patrick Lavarde states, “These policy proposals in silo require a work of re-engineering to decline them by category of target actors and to arrive at something concrete and operational.

Water point, Kidal, Mali, 2016 ©Tiecoura Ndaou

More concretely, action groups and advisory groups have worked very early and, as Abdoulaye Sene and Patrick Lavarde, co-chairs of the Forum, announced, 92 sessions will take place spread over the 4 priorities and have mobilized nearly a thousand stakeholders in water and sanitation in the world. There will also be some special sessions in addition.

Among the innovations of this Forum, there is in particular the project of labeling of projects which has obviously met a great response. Guy Fradin, coordinator of this project, announced that out of 157 projects received before this meeting, 71 have already been labelled. Others are being examined and the deadline for submission is November 31 for a 4th wave of projects. Projects will be highlighted in various ways during the forum.

Among the participants, we noted the ambassador of Morocco, Mr. Barada, the World Bank, Mr. Henk Ovink special envoy of the Netherlands, the representative of Tajikistan, the well-known singer Yousou Ndour ambassador of the Dakar Forum, Mr. Philippe Laliot, ambassador of France in Senegal in the framework of the strategic partnership of France with this Forum.

From left to right, Guy Fradin, coordinator of the labeling, Abdoulaye Sene and Patrick Lavarde, co-presidents of the Forum, Alain Boinet, Solidarités International and Karim Kherraz, former executive secretary of the Sahara and Sahel Observatory.

In the corridors, the comments are flowing and reflect the high expectations of this forum. We are called upon by the populations”, “We deal with human beings, not statistics”, “It is a test of credibility for the WEF”. Jean-Pierre Elong Bossi, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG-Africa) reminded the audience that 418 million Africans do not have direct access to drinking water and that 517 million are without proper sanitation! And to add, the population in Africa has doubled in the last 20 years and it will double in 20 years! The challenges are there to remind the organizers and participants of the need to accelerate and change scale in the responses to the needs in the framework of the commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 2015-2030), including in crisis situations. There are less than 5 months left now for the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar to deliver on all its promises.

Alain Boinet.

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