Back to Dakar for the 9th World Water Forum.

Opening of the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar 2022.

Water at the heart of geopolitical issues.

If the World Water Forum did not exist, it would have to be invented! 25 years after its first edition in Marrakech, Morocco, next to the United Nations Agencies which have a relationship with water, the WWF has the particularity of gathering every 3 years at the international level, the water actors in their diversity on a multitude of subjects of which water is the common denominator.

Introducing the Forum at the Dakar Arena, the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, immediately made a strategic diagnosis: “This 9th World Water Forum gives us the opportunity to sound the alarm on the seriousness of the situation so that water-related issues remain at the heart of the international agenda. The lives and health of billions of people around the world are at stake. But also the preservation of peace and international security”.

Similarly, the President of the World Water Council, Loïc Fauchon, co-organizer of the Forum with Senegal, has set the bar very high by proposing the inclusion of the right of access to water in all constitutions. He also proposed the creation of a “Blue Fund” from climate financing “a true International Fund for Water Security”.

From March 21 to 25, more than 4,000 participants from all over the world, and particularly from Africa, were involved in a hundred or so official sessions, twenty or so high-level panels, a multitude of events on the stands of countries, companies or organizations and all along the African Village and the sanitation trail at the Diamniadio International Conference Center, located between the international airport and Dakar.

Several features of this Forum met the expectations of humanitarians for whom water is one of the major responses to the vital needs of populations, as well as food security, shelter, health and protection.

First, it was the first forum in sub-Saharan Africa, where access to water and sanitation is most lacking and where conflicts are most numerous. Secondly, because Dakar is a regional platform for all of West and Central Africa where all the major humanitarian actors are present. Secondly, the theme of the Forum on “Water Security for Peace and Development” was a good way to address the humanitarian emergency of water, sanitation and hygiene. Finally, we agreed with the Forum’s choice to focus on concrete responses and solutions.

A Forum where humanitarianism had its place.

Solidarités International’s WASH intervention in Burkina Faso

It is of course not possible to give an account of this Forum which dealt with water security, tools and financing, water for agriculture and cooperation. Let’s just say that the Senegalese have essentially successfully met a challenge despite some difficulties inherent to this type of event.

These favorable humanitarian conditions generated at least a dozen official sessions, high-level panels, and events dedicated specifically to humanitarian situations. These included water and health with Action Contre la Faim, sanitation with Secours Islamique France, collaborative platforms, financing, protection of water and water infrastructure during armed conflicts with the Geneva Water Hub (GWH), coordination of actors with the Global Wash Cluster (GWC), the Field Support Team with Jean Lapegue, and finally the Emergency-Development Nexus or Nex’Eau with Solidarités International.  We even had a live meeting from Dakar with Sébastien Truffaut, head of the Global Wash Cluster-UNICEF in Ukraine in Lviv.

Let’s take an example of a humanitarian session to illustrate what this Forum was by recalling that there were 100 similar sessions over 5 days with a wide variety of topics selected and validated throughout a consultation process that will have begun in April 2019 in Diamniadio during a kick-off meeting and which will have involved thousands of actors for its preparation.

The first of the 100 sessions (1.A.1) was entitled “Water security, from emergency to development, in crisis situations”. It was the only one where the term “crisis situation” appeared. I am detailing it here because this session says a lot about the evolution of humanitarianism as well as of this Forum.

Session 1.A.1’s participants (from left to right : Richard Bassono (GRET), Luc Soenen (ECHO), Cristal Ntchantchou (SI Burkina Faso), Martina Rame (Coordinator Cluster Wash –UNICEF- Burkina Faso), Alain Boinet (SI), Marc-André Bûnzli (Coopération Suisse – DDC-SDC), Guillaume Pierrehumbert (CICR Genève), Bram Riems (ACF), Baptiste Lecuyot (SI), Renaud Piarroux remotely (Professor of Medicine).)

This 90-minute session, which I moderated and which was prepared by Baptiste Lecuyot, head of the water-sanitation-hygiene division of Solidarités International, consisted of 4 parts. The presentation of a video on the situation of the ever-increasing number of displaced people in Burkina Faso (from 47,000 in 2018 to 1,700,000 at the time of the Forum) in which Allassane Traoré, Solidarités International’s WASH manager for the region, presents the problem of needs that are both urgent and structural. Then, Baptiste Lecuyot presented us with an overview of the current situation and the issues at stake, raising the question of how to achieve Goal 6 of the MDGs in crisis situations and the rationale for an emergency-development Nexus type of response.

The second part was divided into two parts. The first one was dedicated to the emergency response to epidemics such as cholera in crisis situations with a presentation by Professor Renaud Piarroux (La Pitie Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris), followed by Bram Riems, senior manager at ACF, for the operational response.

The other part presented a multi-actor (public-private and humanitarian-development) pilot project to support ONEA’s public water services in Burkina Faso in response to the needs of the growing number of displaced people living among the local population. Cristal Ntchantchou, from Solidarités International, and Ousmane Pitroipa, ONEA’s water manager in Burkina Faso, with the contribution of Richard Bassono from GRET, presented the organization and functioning of this 2-year project with a budget of 4 million euros, which aims to support ONEA in meeting exponential needs in a context of insecurity.

Finally, we addressed the issue of funding and coordination of actors. Luc Soenen of the European Commission’s DG ECHO in Dakar and Marc-André Bünzli of the SDC (Swiss Development Cooperation) were well placed to deal with financial engineering, as were Martina Rama, coordinator of the EAH cluster, and Guillaume Pierrehumbert, head of the ICRC’s Water and Habitat unit, for the integrated implementation of projects where the multiplicity of actors and their diversity is both an asset and a difficulty.

This session marks both an evolution of humanitarian action to better respond to the complexity of crisis situations as well as a positive opening of the Forum to present these crises that are taking place close to us, from the Sahel to Ukraine, and not on another planet.

The French Water Partnership.

Among the participants, we must salute the unfailing action of the French water partnership (FWP) whose stand welcomed some 300 French actors and their international partners with continuous quality sessions on the Agora provided for this purpose.

The President of the PFE, Jean Launay, the General Manager, Marie-Laure Vercambre, Philippe Guettier and their entire team were on the bridge from one end to the other of these long days all week long. Alongside them, the presence and involvement of the Secretary of State, Bérangère Abba, testified to the interest and involvement of the French authorities in promoting the cause of water and sanitation in view of the United Nations Conference in New York in one year.

From right to left Marie-Laure Vercambre, Jean Launay, Bérangère Abba, Gérard Payen and Patrick Lavarde.

The closing of the 9th World Water Forum in Dakar was the occasion for a “Dakar Declaration” proposing “A Blue deal for water and sanitation security for peace and development”. It is an excellent initiative and we have nothing to withdraw from what is written there.

But I don’t know if the UN language used is the most appropriate to be heard because it generally has the effect of watering down, diluting and trivializing everything at a time when, on the contrary, it is necessary to take a leap forward to save Goal 6 of the SDGs, which will not be reached in 2030 at the current rate despite the commitments made in 2015!

It is however specified in this “Dakar Declaration” that “the results of the work of this Forum should be considered as a complement to this declaration”. Let us also note that in conclusion the Forum called for the achievement of Goal 6 for universal access to water and sanitation “including in crisis situations”.

And now what do we do?

The 9th World Water Forum was, after the water dialogues organized by Germany in July 2021, one of the five preparatory milestones for the United Nations Water Conference of March 2023, co-organized by Tajikistan and the Netherlands.

The next milestones are the Asia-Pacific Water Summit in Japan, the High Level Symposium on Water during the UN Conference on the Oceans in Portugal and the High Level Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. In other words, the agenda between now and this Conference is full, but it also offers decisive opportunities to put MDG 6 back on the right track.

The roadmap is clear for water stakeholders. There is no doubt that the French Water Partnership (FWP) and the French authorities, as well as in other countries, will be strategic partners to go together to the UN in March 2023 so that the commitments made in 2015 are met. For this, it will be necessary to strengthen the necessary governance and the indispensable means that are lacking, mobilized by a collective political will.

Alain Boinet.


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