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Some thoughts after the World Water Forum

For the first time at the World Water Forum, humanitarian response was included in the subject of disaster risk reduction. The principal challenges posed by humanitarian responses were debated during a number of sessions in which Groupe URD took part. Despite this step forward, there is room for reflection on a number of points.

The World Water Forum, the principle international event on water-related issues, has been organised every three years by the World Water Council since 1997. This year it was held in Marseille. For the first time during a World Water Forum, the subject of disaster risk reduction included that of humanitarian responses. The main challenges posed by humanitarian responses (coordination, funding, LRRD) were debated during a number of sessions in which Groupe URD took part, such as the session coordinated by ACF.

During these sessions, we presented our view of the challenges involved in the transition between emergency relief and development, based on the study entitled, “Access to water and sanitation for crisis-affected communities: how should the transition from an emergency situation to reconstruction and development be conducted?”, published at the end of 2011:

  • Moving from substitution activities in emergency contexts (characterised by free aid) to social management and cost-recovery in post-disaster contexts;
  • Finding the right balance between short-term effectiveness and undesirable negative effects in the longer term;
  • Taking into account the multiple uses of water as early as the emergency relief phase (water for domestic uses, but also for livelihood needs – irrigation, livestock, construction – in order to adapt activities accordingly);
  • Invent/establish coordination mechanisms between relief and development organisations and adapting funding mechanisms in protracted crises (a chronic emergency state in unstable situations).

In the session coordinated by Solidarités International, Groupe URD and the French Development Agency presented the lessons learned from the iterative evaluation of the ‘Project to promote the stabilisation of Eastern Chad’, concluding that development actors have an added value in transition contexts, which raises the question of how to encourage them to invest contexts of this kind.

Outside the official round tables, Groupe URD took the subject of the articulation between relief, reconstruction and development to the Forum’s slum space, by chairing a debate which referred to our recent evaluation of European humanitarian aid in urban contexts.

Apart from urban contexts and “slums”, which are relatively new preoccupations for humanitarian actors, the dominant feeling after the week in Marseille is that LRRD issues have not evolved a great deal – unfortunately, the advocacy of 2009 is still relevant today.

On the other hand, what was different this time was that the key messages from the humanitarian sector were included in the Ministerial Declaration adopted by 80 ministries and more than 130 heads of delegation. Below is an extract from the Declaration: 19. Due to the increasing adverse impacts of water-related disasters, such as floods and droughts, including man-made disasters, we intend to develop and strengthen national and transboundary disaster prevention and response strategies. Solutions encompass integrated risk management, preparedness, emergency, relief, recovery and rehabilitation plans, which fully take into account water and sanitation, ecosystems protection and restoration, sustainable integrated flood and drought management and infrastructure construction and operation. We recognize the urgent need for multi-stakeholder platforms, preferably at the basin level, for the implementation of joint strategies and the coordination of prevention and response in emergency situations.

20. We need to take into full consideration the central role of water and sanitation requirements in humanitarian and emergency crises in implementing the Humanitarian Reform Principles. Improved coordination on water and sanitation will help develop adequate strategies for a transition from emergency, reconstruction and development towards sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

To conclude, several points deserve to be raised for discussion…

First of all, there is still doubt about the real impact of these political declarations. Mobilisation will be needed to ensure that they become concrete commitments.
Secondly, concerning the active participation of NGOs and civil society in these big summits, this can be seen as a step forward, but there is also the danger that this participation gives legitimacy to a Forum which is mainly orchestrated by multinational water companies.
Finally, it has to be admitted that the official Forum was not a huge success: a very low number of visitors (around 6 000 visitors instead of the 35 000 expected) and no real legislative progress. Should humanitarian organisations not be taking part in the Alternative World Water Forum, which has grown to maturity, following the example of development organizations like CCFD, who were present at both forums?