Hasan Zuhuri SARIKAYA: “The economic crisis should not be an excuse to put off work on the environment”

Ahead of the World Water Forum to be held in Istanbul from 16 to 22 March next, Hasan Zuhuri SARIKAYA, Co-Chair of the World Water Forum and Undersecretary in the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Forestry, talks about the environmental challenges for local and regional authorities and the need for the latter to be closely involved.

Interview – 03.03.2009

Question: What do you see as the role of local authorities in water and sewage management?

Hasan Zuhuri SARIKAYA: Throughout the world, it is generally the local and regional authorities that are responsible for water and sewage management.  Of course, central government may also play a role when it comes to major projects.  But even there, local and regional authorities have a clear responsibility, particularly as regards ensuring adequate water quantity and quality.

Question: What does the World Water Forum see as the role of local authorities in water diplomacy?

Hasan Zuhuri SARIKAYA: We were expecting some 20,000 visitors to the Forum, but it looks like there will be very many more.  There are a number of aspects that make this Forum something special.  To begin with, for the first time, there will be a meeting of heads of state on 16 March.  18 and 19 March will be devoted to local authorities.  Then there will be a declaration, entitled “Istanbul Water Consensus”, on which all local authorities will agree and which will be adopted, probably on 19 March.  This declaration was submitted to local authorities a year ago and municipalities are still sending in their views.  Lastly, on 20 March, ministers, members of parliament and local authorities will have an opportunity to discuss together water-related issues.  This is the reason why the theme chosen for this Forum is “Bridging Divides for Water”.  We want a range of opinions from a variety of stakeholders to be discussed and we hope that it will be possible to find common ground.

Question: What about the role of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in water issues?

Hasan Zuhuri SARIKAYA : I have read the Congress report and I find it a good one.  Organisations such as the Congress can inevitably provide strong input to the Forum by putting forward ideas acceptable to everyone.  Last December, I took part in an OECD meeting on the cost and funding of water projects.  At the end of the meeting a document was unanimously adopted.  This will now be discussed by a high-level panel at the 5th World Water Forum.  I think that the Congress’s text should also be put forward at a session devoted to local authorities, because the subjects to be discussed coincide on many points with the work of the Congress.

Question: One of the great challenges of this century is climate change.  What link do you see between the Istanbul Forum and the next World Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December?

Hasan Zuhuri SARIKAYA: There is already a clear link.  The World Water Forum has a pyramid-like structure.  At the top you have the main title “Bridging Divides for Water”.  But if you look at the thematic structure below, there are 500 statements, a hundred or so sessions and 23 titles.  These were whittled down to 6 and the main title was chosen out of those six.  In this thematic process, the effects of climate change on water resources and projections for the future are central.  And then, we must add the economic crisis.  However, there is a consensus among countries that the economic crisis should not prevent work on the optimal and rational use of water resources nor work on climate change.  In other words, the economic crisis should not be an excuse to put off the work that needs to be done in order to make headway in these areas.