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Monday, March 24, 2003

PRIVATIZATION DISCORD LINGERS

Forum closes with vows to prioritize water issues


Staff Writer

KYOTO -- The 3rd World Water Forum closed Sunday with a declaration promising to make water issues a top priority among governments but failing to narrow the gap on the issue of privatizing water supplies and sanitation services.

During the eight-day forum, delegates from nearly 180 countries discussed a wide range of water-related problems.

The World Water Council, which sponsored the forum, said that 24,000 people, including 6,000 from abroad, attended the forum. Venues in Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga prefectures hosted the event.

The ministerial declaration, approved Sunday by senior government delegates, said governments worldwide must take the lead on water issues while considering getting the private sector involved.

"We must act to create an environment conducive to facilitating investment. All sources of funding, both public and private, national and international, must be mobilized and used in the most efficient way," the declaration said.

Ministers also agreed on various steps to tackle water issues in five different areas: water resources management, safe drinking water and sanitation, water for food and rural development, water pollution prevention and disaster mitigation.

In order to meet the United Nations' goal of halving by 2015 the number of people worldwide who lack access to safe drinking water, the declaration stressed it was important for each country to develop strategies to achieve these objectives.

"We will redouble our collective efforts to mobilize financial and technical resources, both public and private," the declaration said.

Michel Camdessus, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, issued a report prior to the forum calling on governments to drastically increase the amount of money committed to financing new water projects.

The Camdessus report advocates privatization of water supplies and sanitation. It was the cause of much controversy during the forum -- both among delegates and between delegates and NGOs.

Reflecting the controversy, Sunday's declaration stated only that ministers "took note of" the report.

Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, president of the World Water Council, said the next step was to present the declaration to leaders of Group of Eight nations who are meeting in Paris in June.

"The forum exceeded my expectations," he said. "Its outcome should be presented, through the host country Japan, to the leaders at the G-8 meeting."

Iraq may get aid

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who served as chairman of the steering committee of the World Water Forum, which ended Sunday, called for efforts to rebuild the water and sanitation infrastructure in Iraq that could be devastated in the ongoing U.S.-led attacks.

"The war taking place in Iraq is an unfortunate event," Hashimoto told a news conference.

Once the war is over, he said, Japan will consider dispatching experts to rebuild Iraq's water supply facilities if they are damaged.

Earlier in the day, Deputy Foreign Minister Ichiro Fujisaki also said that efforts must be made to ensure that the people of Iraq, including refugees fleeing the country, have access to clean water and sanitation.

Fujisaki chaired Sunday's ministerial conference at the forum on behalf of Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who canceled her plan to visit Kyoto because of the ongoing war.



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