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Interview: Integrated water management pivotal to sustainable development: UNESCO official

(Xinhua)

09:03, June 18, 2012

PARIS, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Management of water resources needs "substantial improvement and actual reform in many countries," and an integrated management is significant for "the most valuable natural resources," Olcay Unver from the UNESCO's water assessment program told Xinhua.

"There has been some improvement over the the past decade or so, but we would very much like to see this expedited mostly by national government," the director of UENSCO Program Office for Global Water Assessment said in a recent interview.

WATER FOCUSED IN RIO+20

Unver's remarks came ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) on June 20-22, which will highlight seven priority areas, namely decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness.

"With sustainable development accepted as the global norm for social and economic development, Rio+20 is steering into actually materializing the principles of sustainable development in a green economy and improving institutional setups," Unver said.

He added that "both a green economy and an efficient governance system require water to be a direct pivotal part of it."

Unver said water had always been a part of talks concerning transport, energy, food production, agriculture, health.

"So we are expecting that water will be discussed not only during the sessions that are more explicitly related to water resources, but also in the sessions that are related to these other components, and will be incorporated in the decisions related to the overall broad spectrum of sustainable development," he said.

The UNESCO official pointed out three major problems relating to water resources management on a global scale.

On the top was "the lack of proper governance of water resources," followed by "the lack of technical and institutional capacities of organizations and entities in charge of developing, protecting and managing water resources and related systems and structures," and finally "an underinvestment and lack of interest in education."

To improve the governance of water resources, the water official suggested that an integrated manner should be introduced to be involved in all the related compartments, such as water supply, irrigation, hydro power and flood control.

He called for the coordination between those who are in charge of managing water resources and those who make decisions in other sectors such as food, energy, security, environment, transport, otherwise.

"Gains in one sector can unfortunately be offset by losses, declines in other sectors," he said.

To change the current situation, Unver, who is also coordinator of the UN World Water Assessment Program, underlined that political will and commitment at an international level were needed.

He said the UN World Water Development Report launched in March 2012 at the Sixth World Water Forum indicated that national governments should establish laws, regulations and the conducive environment for an integrated management of water resources, and for an active and effective dialogue between water and other sectors.

The water official hoped that after the efforts made by governments and international communities following the guideline of the latest water report in the last three months, "they can come to the Rio+20, to see the findings and messages of the report which we hope could be integrated into the decisions, can influence the decisions to be taken in Rio (+20)."

He said from a lay person to government official, as a user of water, "everybody does have something to do about water resources."

CHINA'S EFFORTS IN IMPROVING WATER MANAGEMENT

As a water professional and a researcher, Unver is expecting his first visit to China in the coming fall.

"China is like a huge laboratory of water resource issues, not because of its sheer size, which is obviously very large, but also due to the plethora of issues they face and the way they deal with these issues. It is a developing country but also an investor in other countries, a donor," he said.

Unver said water resources played an important role in China's fast development but was facing negative impacts such as demands growing much faster than supply, water pollution, and environmental and water quality degradation.

He said he had noticed that China started to deal with these issues effectively

"Over the last couple of years especially, China has made very important strides in terms of streamlining its management of water resources and obviously its past development and management efforts, be it by building thousands of dams and structures but also efforts to deal with the impacts of climate change, among other things, are noteworthy," he said.

"We hope that China will improve further in the direction that it is going into for an efficient management of water resources," Unver said.

Rio+20, also known as the Earth Summit, marks the 20th anniversary of the landmark UN Conference on Environment and Development hosted by Rio in 1992. The forthcoming summit will be held on June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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