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Overview of the Six Major Themes of the 5th World Water Forum

Theme 1: Global Change & Risk Management

Topic 1.1 Adapting to Climate Change

There is a rapidly advancing understanding of many of the causes and consequences of global warming. The key questions facing the water community are how climate change will impact the water cycle and what will be the key adaptation strategies to reduce human and environmental risks. Given the myriad of different physical and economic circumstances, and the inherent uncertainty associated with both effect and needed action, there will be substantial debate through the sessions under this topic on appropriate responses, technical answers and political decisions required to facilitate these responses and where the highest priorities should be placed.

Topic 1.2 Water-related Migration, Changing Land Use and Human Settlements

Increasing pressure on water, land and living environment leads to migration of populations, which in turn impacts on the environment of the new settlements. Through improved water management, land and environment, can the needs for migration and their impacts on settlements be reduced? What are the most suitable coping strategies for development and management of water services for present and future demographic developments?

Topic 1.3 Managing Disasters

New threats to the safety and economic security of hundreds of millions of people are arising through more frequent and extreme disasters connected with increasing urbanization and climate variability. A first priority is disaster preparedness, cooperation between government agencies at different levels and the installation/maintenance of key water infrastructure in order to reduce the loss of life, jobs, property and business continuity when disasters occur. In this context, there are a number of different perspectives on the urgency of this problem, the cost-effectiveness of different levels of preparedness and the potential support needed from Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the most vulnerable Least Developed Countries and small island states.

Theme 2: Advancing Human Development and the Millennium Development Goals

Topic 2.1 Ensuring Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All

There is universal agreement on the goal of water, sanitation and hygiene for all. At the same time, there is little consensus on how to achieve this goal and more fundamentally, on basic definitions for what constitutes the achievement of safe water supply and the provision of environmentally sustainable sanitation. On the heels of the International Year of Sanitation in 2008, the 5th World Water Forum will provide a new opportunity to debate the true state of progress in furthering the three imperatives of water, sanitation and hygiene, and the political commitments needed to tackle the most challenging regions of the world. The question of whether local entrepreneurs can fundamentally change the delivery paradigm for water and sanitation will be debated alongside the more traditional roles of financing institutions, communities and operator partnerships.

Topic 2.2 Water for Energy, Energy for Water

Increasingly scarce energy resources and rising costs have an important impact on water production, use and treatment, including the prospects for desalination and reuse. At the same time, increasingly scarce water resources are needed for growing energy demands. Hydropower uses stored water behind dams; water runs through turbines to create electricity in a nonconsumptive manner. Water and energy policies are needed to harmonize both, in cooperation with community-based initiatives and appropriate technologies. But is this harmonization achievable in practice?

Topic 2.3 Water and Food for Ending Poverty and Hunger

More food needs to be produced with less water and land. The challenges of a growing population, changing diets, and the unquenchable thirst of agro-energy puts increasing pressure on the limited land, water and environmental resources at both the global and local scales. Where does agro-energy fit into the quest for food security and reducing poverty, and how may the right balance be found to achieve sustainable development? How do we deal with food security and energy security and how do market access and tariff systems need to be adjusted to prevent the poor from being the most affected by the impacts?

Topic 2.4 Multiple Use and Functions of Water Services

Multiple uses: conflict or synergy? Domestic, urban and energy needs could be better served by being more efficient and coordinated with water for agriculture. Important investment gains may be achieved if systems and institutions are prepared and able to optimize multiple uses. Are institutionalisation and the scaling-up of multiple uses necessary to better contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals? What would governance look like and what political, institutional and financial measures need to be taken to strengthen the sustainability of such services?

Theme 3: Managing and Protecting Water Resources and their Supply Systems to Meet Human and Environmental Needs

Topic 3.1 Basin Management and Transboundary Cooperation

With the growing pressure on water resources and the expected impacts of climate change, improved management and cooperation in transboundary water resource management are becoming essential elements to meet human and environmental needs. What are the success stories and failures of hydro-solidarity and IWRM and what are the associated key actions for basin management, transboundary cooperation and benefit sharing? Legal instruments have been developed at the local, regional and global scales but how effective and resilient are they, especially for transboundary surface and groundwater resources, stakeholder participation, planning, financing and monitoring?

Topic 3.2 Ensuring Adequate Water Resources and Storage Infrastructure to Meet Agricultural, Energy and Urban Needs

Ensuring adequate water resources is important for development and even more so considering the effects of increasing climate variability. This demands adequate storage and infrastructure, both natural and man-made. How can the middle ground be found among many different perspectives on how to protect those resources and their ecosystems, while sufficiently meeting human needs in a sustainable way?

Topic 3.3 Preserving Natural Ecosystems

For their preservation and for human well-being, natural ecosystems and environmental flows need to become an integral part of land and water management planning, decision-making and implementation processes. What role can existing international laws and conventions play? What can be done in national and local level planning processes to take human needs, as well as local values and conditions into account?

Topic 3.4 Managing and Protecting Surface, Ground, Soil and Rainwater

Rainfall is the largest water resource available but its management is the least developed. Groundwater is the most reliable resource but also the most vulnerable to pollution and over exploitation. Despite these facts institutional inertia encourages water management to remain focused on surface water. To protect these different water resources and freshwater eco-systems and to utilise them to their maximum potential in a responsible way, an integrated planning and management approach of surface, ground, soil and rainwater is advocated. What adaptation of legal and institutional frameworks would be required and how can science best inform politicians?

Theme 4: Governance and Management

Topic 4.1 Implementing the Right to Water and Sanitation for Improved Access

For the Right to Water and Sanitation (RTWS) to be truly meaningful, its recognition must result in improved access to water and sanitation especially for the poor and vulnerable, as well as in conflict situations. Is the RTWS really making a difference to the poor and marginalized? How can they use the RTWS as a tool to gain access and to hold governments and other actors accountable? What are the actions to enable its implementation if it should be a tool for accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals? Though the Right to Water has been clarified, do we have the same level of understanding of the meaning of the right to sanitation and do we know how to implement it?

Topic 4.2 Improving Performance Through Regulatory Approaches

An independent regulatory framework for operators and service providers is being promoted world-wide as a means of providing clarity on roles and responsibilities and of achieving improved service and economic performance, but will regulation work in all situations? What is the current situation and what role can regulatory frameworks play in the future with regard to the (re)use of waste water, or for the sustainable use of groundwater resources?

Topic 4.3 Ethics, Transparency, and Empowerment of Stakeholders

While the concept of water ethics seems unquestionable, enabling better water governance and management requires a consensual definition is this possible? The creation of such a standard would also encourage the engagement of stakeholders in decision-making processes that are transparent, that create accountability and that provide access to justice. What additional measures can achieve this?

Topic 4.4 Optimizing Public and Private Roles in Water Services

As economic and labour-force circumstances continue to evolve, the roles and responsibilities of both public and private organizations in the provision of water services likewise continue to evolve. In this context and in addition to increased outsourcing of specific functions to the private sector, communities are turning to alternative models of service provision including corporatizing their utilities under public ownership, delegated models of service provision, and hybrids involving small-scale service providers. In some cases, these changes have been controversial because of fears of the loss of community control as a consequence of increasing levels of private sector involvement.

Topic 4.5 Institutional Arrangements for Efficient and Effective Water Resource Management

In order to render decentralised water management equitable, efficient and effective, all levels of government need to coordinate their efforts. This topic is concerned with coordination and allocation of water resources in increasingly water-scarce circumstances. The debate will focus on issues that are both misunderstood and where competing alternative views remain unreconciled, including ways to establish proper water governance coordination among water authorities and all water-related sectors and stakeholders, at and between national and local levels.

Theme 5: Finance

Topic 5.1: Sustainable Financing for the Water Sector

Major investments are required in the water sector to meet the Millennium Development Goals and to face global changes. The capacity to lend is there, but the capacity to borrow is not: what can the different stakeholders do to increase their borrowing capacity and what do financing institutions need to do to adapt their products to the requirements of the borrowers? What can local governments do to become more reliable financial stakeholders so that operators and utility managers can make investments to expand coverage and improve service delivery? What non-traditional financing mechanisms are possible to improve watershed management?

Topic 5.2: Pricing Strategies as a Tool for a Sustainable Water Sector

Pricing strategies are supposed to respond to financial, social, economic and environmental sustainability policy objectives, but tariffs alone may not be an appropriate vehicle to deliver on social policy objectives. Work on this topic will seek to uncover the main trade-offs between urban supply, rural supply and irrigation service provision, including strategies for pricing sanitation supply.

Topic 5.3: Pro-poor Financing Policies and Strategies

While sufficient financing is essential for expanding service coverage to meet the needs of poor communities, many financing mechanisms do not truly serve the poorest populations. A number of specific financial and legal solutions will be investigated to accelerate access to affordable water supply and sanitation service provision for the poor.

Theme 6: Education, Knowledge and Capacity Development

Topic 6.1: Education, Knowledge and Capacity Development Strategies

Much money and attention is directed to capacity development. But how successful are we in the development of capacities at different levels, especially on the vocational and operational level? With a vast and fast-growing body of knowledge and experience, how can we ensure all stakeholders, including children, youth and educators, contribute and have equitable and meaningful access? Scientific knowledge must be pertinent to issues on the ground and be shared effectively and rapidly, so that communities with indigenous knowledge may make a difference in reducing the impact of major water problems.

Topic 6.2: Water Science and Technology: Appropriate and Innovative Solutions for the 21st Century to Address the Needs of Society

To build a better future, water management strategies could benefit from some thinking outside the water box. Would the incorporation of emerging technologies and unified personalized information platforms create flexible systems that can respond rapidly to change?

Topic 6.3: Using the Assets of Professional Associations and Networks to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals

While professional associations and networks could potentially play a very significant role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, their role at present is small. This topic concerns the question of whether the development community views professional associations as underutilized assets and how professional associations and networks could be used, encouraged and supported to become key contributors to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Topic 6.4 Data for All

Unlocking that data treasure chest is not only a question of access to information, but also of comprehending which elements are most important and which tools can be put in place to best share knowledge. And with just 20% of water-related data readily accessible, can a better scientific and operational understanding of the water cycle already be obtained?

Topic 6.5 Water and Culture

Cultural diversity and its integration into water management approaches, science, policy-making and capacity-building, offer both opportunities and challenges for sustainable water resources management. Additionally, history offers some important lessons to help solve current and future challenges.