Tobias Schmitz at UN on water: 'This is a turning point'
"This is a turning point in global water management," said Both ENDS colleague Tobias Schmitz. He was in Geneva for a UN meeting on the future of water management or ‘the world after 2015’, when the term for the current Millennium Development Goals has passed. The conference had a special focus on the management of water resources and of waste water. We asked Tobias why he was attending the meeting and what were – and should be- the main issues in his view.
Why did the UN gather?
"During the period 2000-2015 there is global funding for the implementation of the so-called 'Millennium Development Goals' (MDGs). This period ends soon and new agreements must be made. The current MDGs focus mainly on drinking water, but access to water is much more than that. Water is essential for food production, economic development, poverty reduction, sustainable development and environmental protection. In short, water is key to almost everything we do. That’s why the discussion has now broadened to the management of water resources and wastewater.
The meeting in Geneva was meant mainly to prepare the topics for 'World Water Day', which will be held in March in The Hague. There, the final discussions will take place and agreements will be signed. But because many decisions were already taken now, this meeting was very important! "
Why were you there?
"I was there because Both ENDS is a member of the" Butterfly Effect ", a global alliance of NGOs. We put pressure on the UN, donors and the World Water Council to involve local populations in the discussions on the future of water. Switzerland, The Netherlands and Liberia for example, want to jointly support the participation of local people in water management in Africa. Because we are close to the Dutch Government, we might have been able to influence that process and of course we had to use that opportunity.
I have talked with various agencies and donor organisations to convince them to involve the local people. For example I have ongoing discussions with South African Ministries about the important role of women in water management. These ministries want to support the female participation in policy making, but need the help of NGOs."
What will the meeting bring?
"Southern countries are mainly engaged in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), environmental goals which are measurable and verifiable. Western countries focus mainly on economic development goals. The Netherlands and Switzerland try to bring these two processes together. I strongly support that. I also hope that the UN and states finally recognise that the implementation of integrated water resources management (IWRM) is going much too slow. For IWRM to be successful, it is absolutely necessary that locals are involved. If the UN and the states will work towards that involvement, I am temporarily satisfied.
But I’ll be only really satisfied if I have convinced some donors and policy makers of the importance of involving all water users in the management of their habitat. A good example is the 'Negotiated Approach', where different groups of water users look at the amount of available water in their region, and decide how it can best be distributed. In practice, time and time again it turns out that people themselves know best how to use, manage and protect their natural environment, including their water resources. And they will do so if they get the chance. So threatened natural resources like water are much better protected and used if you leave them to the local population. It would be nice if we could show this all over the world!"
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