Raising public awareness

The World Water Vision's slogan 'making water everybody's business' launched at the Second World Water Forum in 2000 (WWF2) correctly highlights the fact that everybody on the globe has a stake in water. Consequently, water is not a subject matter to be understood and handled by water specialists only, but rather a matter of concern to everybody. Politicians and other decision makers need to understand in general lines how to exploit and use the water resources properly, ensure sustainability, protect water quality and minimize negative impacts of exploitation. Water users need to know how to benefit optimally from water, both for domestic and productive uses. The general public, finally, needs to understand how individual behaviour - on a voluntary basis or enforced by regulations - contributes to conservation and protection of water resources and the related environment.

In general, public awareness on water is still rather limited. Water is often not yet sufficiently prominent on the national water agenda and in the national budgets, while decision makers lack vision to make proper decisions on water and the general public fails to adopt water-friendly behaviour. Do water professionals fail in raising public awareness on water? There is no doubt that significant efforts are being made already on this subject at local, national, regional and global levels. But, admittedly, these efforts do not have a very long history and the process of raising public awareness is rather time-consuming.

Milestones in global activities to raise awareness on fresh water are listed in Table 16.1. In spite of widespread criticism, it cannot be denied that the listed conferences have produced a great impact on the awareness of politicians, decision makers and professionals on water and related matters. Publicity around these international events is a mechanism to reach the general public and to raise its awareness on the main issues on water, but opinions differ on how effective this is and how public awareness may be further enhanced.

Apart from these large international conferences, international water professionals and their organizations are exploring and using other methods for raising

Table 16.1. Fresh water milestones over the period 1972-2003. (From Stockholm to Kyoto after UN, 2003: Freshwater Future - www.wateryear2003.org.)

Place and year


Remarks and citations

Stockholm, 1972

UN Conference on the Human Environment

Mar del Plata, 1977 UN Conference on Water

New Delhi, 1990

Dublin, 1992

Global Consultation on Safe Water and Sanitation for the 1990s International Conference on Water and the Environment

Rio de Janeiro, 1992 UNECD Earth Summit

Noordwijk, 1994

Copenhagen, 1995

Istanbul, 1996

Rome, 1996

Ministerial Conference on Drinking Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation World Summit for Social Development

UN Conference on Human

Settlements (Habitat II) World Food Summit

'We must shape our actions throughout the world with a more prudent care for their environmental consequences.'

One of the recommendations of the Mar del Plata Action Plan is: assessment of water resources.

(' relatively little importance has been attached to water resources systematic assessment. The processing and compilation of data have also been seriously neglected.')

New Delhi statement: 'Some for all rather than more for some.'

Dublin statement on water and sustainable development (water is finite and vulnerable resource; participation needed; central role of women; water is an economic good).

Rio Declaration ('establishing a new and equitable partnership' . . . ) and Agenda 21 ('The holistic management of freshwater . . . and the integration of sectoral water plans and programmes within the framework of national economic and social policy are of paramount importance for action in the 1990s and beyond.')

Action programme assigns highest priority to basic sanitation.

Copenhagen declaration ('Alleviate poverty by providing water supply and sanitation').

Table 16.1. Continued

Place and year


Remarks and citations

Marrakech, 1997

First World Water Forum

The Hague, 2000 Second World Water Forum

Bonn, 2001

Johannesburg, 2002

Kyoto, Osaka, Shiga, 2003

International Conference on Freshwater

World Summit on Sustainable

Development (Rio + 10) Third World Water Forum, Japan

Marrakech declaration (access to water and sanitation is a basic need; shared water to be effectively managed; support and preserve ecosystems; encourage efficient water use).

World Water Vision: 'making water everybody's business'.

Recommendations for action: governance; mobilizing financial resources; capacity building and sharing knowledge.

Millennium Development Goals.

First edition of the World Water Development Report (WWDR-I).

awareness on water. These methods include CDs, documentary movies and in particular publications. Two important and authoritative publications of this nature are the WWAP (2003) and the Global Environment Outlook (UNEP, 2002).

The WWDR is produced by the WWAP, in which 23 UN agencies concerned with fresh water cooperate, assisted by numerous water specialists from all over the world. The first edition was published in 2003, at the occasion of the Third World Water Forum in Japan. The second edition is currently in preparation and will be presented at the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico, 2006. The WWDR focuses on factual information and attempts to present an up-to-date picture of the world's freshwater resources, their use and their management. The Global Environment Outlook, produced by UNEP, is a rather similar type of publication, but covering a much wider field ('environment'), of which water is only a limited part. Nevertheless, it contains valuable information on water in a geographical context.

Groundwater is even less familiar to politicians, decision makers and the general public than other components of the water cycle such as surface water and precipitation. This is probably so because of the invisibility of groundwater, the complexity of its occurrence and the limited efforts put in by groundwater specialists so far to bring groundwater under public attention. International organizations involved in groundwater are aware of this and make efforts to elevate groundwater in the general perception. The steady increase of attention paid to groundwater successively in the First, Second and Third World Water Forums illustrates these efforts.

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