13th Congress Plenary Session 30 May - 1st June 2006

Water management: a European contribution to the 4th World Water Forum

Keith Whitmore, United Kingdom
Chamber of Regions
Political group: ILDG



1. Introduction

Central to life

Water is central to life. It plays an essential role in the development of all life forms. It is at once the foremost of all the raw materials and a source of energy. Furthermore, it is a central factor in the evolution of human societies. It forms a constant link between peoples and their territories. Water is the source of our civilisations and cultures.

The whole of life centres on water. Water is a decisive factor in the distribution and mobility of species. The biosphere embraces all living creatures which develop and have their being in a constant relationship with the planet and its natural resources, relying on the water present on the Earth’s surface.

Paradoxically, although water is one of the main components of the atmosphere surrounding the Earth’s surface and of all the living organisms themselves (accounting for between 50% and 90% of their total weight), it is currently under threat and in tragically short supply: over 1 000 million human beings have no access to drinking water.

Human beings have transformed the planet and its natural resources to suit their needs: diverting rivers from their natural courses for various purposes, eliminating forests to create meadows or fields, and sitting towns and industries alongside rivers, lakes or seas, and have thus radically impaired the Earth’s hydrological system.

Having always been central to life, water has now, in the space of a few decades, become central to our preoccupations.

The major challenge of this century

Technological progress in the 20th century sometimes created the illusion that we could guarantee well-being on Earth by dominating the forces of Nature. Alongside the major achievements, serious ecological and social imbalances also emerged. They have been aggravated by wastage and mismanagement of resources, as well as the problem of unequal access to resources. This has left humanity at the beginning of the 21st century confronting grave environmental problems, including a very serious global water crisis, which is the major challenge of this century.

Water is an urgent problem. If we fail to take the bull by the horns today, this problem will grow exponentially over the coming years. In twenty years’ time the water available to populations worldwide will be a third of that available in 1950. In that year our planet comprised a population of 2 500 million, a figure which had risen to 6 500 million by 2005. By the year 2025, 8 000 million human beings will have to share the same quantity of water as is available today. We must cease to regard water as an unlimited resource and treat it as the valuable asset which it is for the well-being of future generations. Unfortunately, many people take water for granted and heedlessly waste it in their everyday lives and activities.

We should, however, avoid any “doom and gloom” approach in stressing the urgency of sustainable management of global water resources. For several years now a wide variety of institutions have been addressing water-related issues, including reports by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, a report by the World Water Council and a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute. The current situation is alarming, and a quick stocktaking is enough to realise what an emergency we are facing. Over 1 000 million people today have no access to drinking water, and almost 2 600 million are deprived of basic sanitation, which has led to an inexorable increase in water-related diseases. Some 3 million children die every year simply because they have no access to drinking water.

2. The need for global management

The water issue is high on the agenda, but not only for developing countries and future generations: it is a highly sensitive subject, a problem which is affecting the whole planet and each of us individually.

Over the last few years, many international meetings and conferences have acknowledged this fact and debated it accordingly. For instance, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 included in its Agenda 21 Resolutions the question of freshwater and its protection by implementing integrated approaches to development and water resource management.

Ten years after the Rio Summit, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2001, particularly the 7th Goal, and the Implementing Plan for the World Summit for Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002, reaffirmed this imperative and the key role played by water in maintaining healthy ecosystems and guaranteeing sustainable rural and urban development. They likewise set the objective of reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Confirming the growing alarm expressed by the international institutions in the World Water Development Report: Water for People, Water for Life, and drawing on the Message of the Ministerial Conference held during the 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto in 2003, the United Nations has proclaimed 2005-2015 “International Decade for Action on ‘Water for Life’”. This Decade began on 22 March 2005, World Water Day.

3. Water management in Europe

Water is a major issue for a rapidly changing Europe, whose recent history has seen the enlargement of the European Union and the political restructuring of the new democracies.

Europe is having to face up to a variety of challenges in the water sector, particularly against a background of climate change, growing populations and increasing water consumption. These challenges are especially complex because the European regions have reached different levels of development while leaving the problems intact, including the issues of river water, groundwater, wetlands, decisions on whether to save or share water, and water as a factor for economic and social development.

For instance, in many countries in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe the inadequate access of certain populations to drinking water and sanitation is conducive to discrimination, exclusion, poverty and infringement of universal human rights. Moreover, throughout the continent of Europe, the number of persons without access to public drinking water supplies remains high in some of the 46 Council of Europe member States, and water supply services are sometimes subject to interruptions.

Although there are still major disparities and discrepancies among the European regions, they nevertheless have a great deal in common. This is where the Council of Europe has played a pioneering role in water management, adopting the European Charter on Water on 27 May 1967, whose title was changed to the “European Charter on Water Resources” on 17 October 2001 (see Appendix 1). This Charter and the various legal instruments adopted since, such as the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation and its additional protocols, draw the governments’ attention to the need to manage and protect water resources by adopting a common integrated approach tailored to water resources.

In addition to these texts which stress the importance of water resources, the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities have issued many recommendations, and we have also participated in a whole series of initiatives and campaigns, including International Year of Freshwater 2003.

European Union Water Framework Directive

The European Union recently modernised its instruments in the field of water policy and adopted new legislation applicable in the 25 member States, via the Water Framework Directive of 23 October 2000. While the first directives adopted in the late 1970s concentrated more on organic aspects, the major rivers and the effects of major pollution accidents, the new Directive is one of the most highly advanced examples of environmental legislation worldwide. It establishes a statutory framework for preserving and restoring surface water (freshwater and coastal waters) and groundwater throughout the territory of the European Union. It sets the objective of securing good status for all European water by 2015.

The Water Framework Directive identifies the river basin as the reference level for management and planning. The Directive is intended as an instrument for a sustainable development policy in the water sector and incorporates environmental objectives and spatial planning and economic aspects. It also sets out the basic principles for a modern approach to water management, including public information, consultation and participation in order to guarantee openness.

The member countries have virtually completed the process of transposing this Directive into their domestic legislation. The next stages will involve consultation on the work programme and proposals for effective water management, adaptation of the assessment system, development of basin management methods and, above all, the actual implementation of the Directive.

4. The 4th World Water Forum: a European contribution

The World Water Forum is one of the main international events dealing with water. It provides for debate among all the stakeholders responsible for building up knowledge and expertise concerning water. The event is designed to heighten awareness of water-related issues and is based on dialogue as a key means of influencing water policies at the global level. It is geared to motivating all stakeholders in the water sector to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

After Marrakech in 1997 and The Hague in 2000, the World Water Forum was established as the number one event in this field in 2003 when the third Forum was organised in Kyoto, Japan. On this occasion the report of the World Panel on the Financing of Water Infrastructures, chaired by Michel Camdessus, was presented.

The fourth Forum was held in Mexico City from 16 to 22 March 2006 at the instigation of the Mexican Government and the World Water Council on the theme of “Local Actions for a Global Challenge”.

This world event, to which local authorities were invited for the first time, involved a thematic matrix broken down into five framework themes and five cross-cutting perspectives:

Framework Themes
1. Water for Growth and Development
2. Implementing Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)
3. Water Supply and Sanitation for All
4. Water Management for Food and the Environment
5. Risk Management

Cross-Cutting Perspectives

The encounters were organised over five days, divided into 200 selective sessions dealing with the themes proposed for discussion. Each group of stakeholders (States, public institutions, local government bodies, parliamentarians, professional groups, NGOs, private sector, women’s groups, etc) was responsible for organised a restricted number of sessions. Each session was directed at presenting examples of local actions.

Furthermore, each day was devoted to one of the Framework Themes followed by a regional debate on the documents presented by the five world regions.

The Forum concluded with a Ministerial Conference on 21 and 22 March 2006, based on two plenary sessions with several round tables involving representatives of the local stakeholders, to sum up the results of the five days of thematic debate. This fourth Forum also decided that high-level dialogue was needed among ministries, local authorities and parliamentarians.

The European contribution

Each of the five major world regions was invited to present a report at the Forum outlining the main problems and challenges in the particular region, the potential solutions, the local schemes implemented and any successful experiments conducted at each territorial level.

The European region presented a report taking account of the 46 countries of the Council of Europe, with five major themes:

This report highlighting present and future challenges attempts to draw the appropriate lessons from the successes and failures in European modes of water management. It also pinpoints knowledge deficits and the sectors requiring greater investment, and emphasises the possibilities for co-operation among organisations and governments at all levels throughout Europe.

In October 2005, during the preparation of the European report, a “European Water Solidarity Week” was held in Strasbourg at the suggestion of the Solidarity Water Europe NGO. This event was attended by many stakeholders involved in water management, being designed to intensify exchange and solidarity between the European partners in water management, raise public and political awareness of the realities of water in Europe, and formulate European recommendations for the World Water Forum. The Week included a Forum on the Right to Water, a series of workshops and the European Youth Days for Water.

One of the most important events held during European Solidarity Week for Water was the joint Conference of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the theme of “Water management: a shared responsibility”.

5. The 4th World Water Forum: the contribution of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

The water issue is undoubtedly at the centre of all integrated environmental policies, corresponding to the principles of the Action Plan adopted at the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe (Warsaw, 16 and 17 May 2005) which sets forth the commitment of the 46 member States to “improving the quality of life for citizens” by developing and supporting integrated policies “in a sustainable development perspective”.

If there is one sector of everyday life which transcends the notion of States and their physical boundaries, it is water and water management. Accordingly, all the institutional and political component bodies of the Council of Europe are now actively promoting the water issue, and the Council regularly sets out to draw attention to water-related issues at all levels.

The Congress has accordingly made the water issue a virtual fixture on its agenda, regularly reaffirming the validity of the principles set out in the European Charter on Water Resources.

In its recent work on managing cross-border water resources in Europe – Recommendation 100 (2001) and Resolution 120 (2001) – and on the role of local and regional authorities in managing river basins – Recommendation 137 (2003) and Resolution 163 (2003) – the Congress calls for integrated and sustainable management of cross-border water resources and river basins. It advocates active transfrontier co-operation to guarantee the proper management and protection of watercourses and basins, and asks member States to assign local and regional authorities the requisite powers in the field of water resource management.

In its Resolution 183 (2004) on the quality and quantity of drinking water, the Congress draws on a series of principles designed to implement sustainable water management, reaffirming that water necessitates the sharing of responsibilities and involvement in permanent, across-the-board co-operation among all the stakeholders in water management and particularly among the various government levels.

This is the vital aspect of water management which the Congress has chosen as its key area for action, confirming the commitment of local and regional authorities and European parliamentarians in preparing, conducting and following up the 4th World Water Forum.

Water management: a shared responsibility

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe played an active part in the European Solidarity Week by organising a conference on the theme of “Water management: a shared responsibility”, the results of which helped fuel the European contribution to the World Forum in Mexico City.

This conference dealt specifically with water management, which represents a major challenge for the various decision-making levels (local, regional and national). It highlighted the main problems currently facing water management, analysed the roles and responsibilities of each party involved, and identified the mechanisms to improve water policy efficiency, particularly measures based on co-ordination and partnership among the different decision-making levels within one country or in several different States.

The conference programme comprised thematic surveys, presentations of case studies and exchanges of views along four main lines:

The conference was attended by some one hundred participants, including parliamentarians, local and regional elected representatives, ecologists, representatives of non-governmental organisations, experts and representatives of local and national administrations of European countries and a small number of non-European countries, including Mexico, in view of the global political context for the conference.

The main message emerging from the conference concerns governance, a prime factor in securing a solution to water-related problems. The participants approved a number of “key messages for Mexico”, including:

6. The results of the 4th World Water Forum

The 4th World Water Forum provided an opportunity for collective international reflection on the means of settling the problem of exploiting and protecting water resources.

Almost 18 000 delegates from 148 countries, representing States, local and regional authorities, experts, public and private professionals and numerous NGOs, attended this major world event, whose main theme was the decentralisation of water management to the local level.

Participants at the Forum discussed how to “move the water issue forwards”, how best to distribute a resource which is unfairly apportioned and extensively wasted to a growing population, over 1 000 million of whom have little or no access to it. They debated the requisite response to the challenge of “reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015” (the seventh Millennium Development Goal).

The water crisis, which is a crisis of governance, was at the centre of the discussions at the 200 or so sessions, at which almost 1 600 local actions were presented.

In addition to the sessions organised by the local authorities themselves, the latter were also invited to take part in the high-level dialogue with Ministers and Parliamentarians, where they reaffirmed the need for State recognition of the vital role they play in protecting and ensuring the sustainable management of water.

The local elected representatives and officials also participated actively in the Ministerial Round Tables, expressing their points of view and providing expertise in the fields of finance, training, decentralisation, technology transfer, water management and environmental protection.

Furthermore, World Water Day on 22 March provided an opportunity for disseminating in Mexico City the 2nd UN World Water Development Report entitled “Water, a shared responsibility”. Produced under the World Programme for the Evaluation of Water Resources and implemented by 24 United Nations agencies, this report is a full and up-to-date analysis available of the current situation of water resources on our planet.

Lastly, at the closing ceremony for the Forum, the local authorities, parliamentarians and young people were invited to present their respective conclusions.

The Ministerial Declaration, which was approved by 148 countries at the end of a week of discussions, reflects the commitments entered into at the main relevant international events (the Rio Agenda 21 Resolutions, the Johannesburg Action Plan and the Millennium Declaration). It concluded that public shareholders must shoulder primary responsibility for improving access to high-quality drinking water. It takes account of the key role to be played by local authorities, particularly stressing “the important role that parliamentarians and local authorities are playing in various countries to increase sustainable access to water and sanitation services as well as to support integrated water resource management. The efficient collaboration with and between these actors as a key factor in meeting water-related challenges and goals".

The Ministers and Representatives of national governments present in Mexico City also thanked local authorities for their participation and contribution to the Forum and agreed to append the Local Government Declaration on Water to the Ministerial Declaration.

The 4th World Water Forum marked a step forward in the recognition by the international community of the role of Local Government in the management of water.

The 5th World Water Forum will be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2009.

7. Conclusion

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe played an active part in preparing the World Water Forum and reiterated, through its representatives at the Mexico City Forum, the need to improve water governance, to share responsibilities and to clarify the roles of all the stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. The Congress also reaffirmed the importance of adopting a global, integrated and cross-cutting approach to water resource management in Europe.

The Congress should consider the actions it would like to implement and its potential role in the wake of the World Water Forum in Mexico City, drawing in particular on the proposals of the Conference on Water Management held in October 2005, especially the proposed joint Parliamentary Assembly/Congress working group responsible for promoting a new water culture, developing a common strategy for sustainable water resource management and thus helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals.


European Charter on Water Resources
Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 27 May 1967
Revised on 17 October 2001


1. Fresh water resources must be used in keeping with the objectives of sustainable development, with due regard for the needs of present and future generations.
2. Water must be equitably and reasonably used in the public interest.
3. Water policy and law must protect the aquatic ecosystems and wetlands.
4. It is up to everyone to help conserve water resources and use them prudently, in conformity with
5. Everyone has the right to a sufficient quantity of water for his or her basic needs.
6. Public and private partners must introduce integrated management of surface water, ground water and related water that respects the environment as a whole, takes regional planning into account and is socially equitable and economically rational.
7. Integrated management must be based on an inventory of water resources and aim to ensure their protection, conservation and, if necessary, rehabilitation. In particular, any new deterioration and exhaustion of these resources must be prevented, the recycling of waste water encouraged and, where appropriate, limitations placed on certain uses.
8. Water policy and law must be based on the principles of prevention, precaution and correction at source as well as the “polluter-pays” principle. To this end, they must use regulatory instruments such as quality objectives, discharge standards, the best available technologies and economic instruments compatible with meeting the population’s basic needs.
9. Underground water resources must be the subject of special protection, and their use for human consumption must take priority.
10. Water resources must be regularly monitored and their general state periodically assessed.
11. The terms of water concessions must be compatible with this charter. Concessions must be granted for a limited duration and must be subject to periodic review.
12. Large-scale consumption of water in agricultural or industrial processes must be carefully assessed and monitored with a view to ensuring better protection of the environment and avoiding unsustainable utilisation.
13. At each state level, central, regional and local authorities must adopt and implement water management plans in a spirit of solidarity and co-operation. These plans should be based on the catchment basin.
14. Decisions on water must take into account the particular conditions at regional or local level and be implemented by the relevant authorities closest to the areas concerned in keeping with water management plans.
15. States must co-operate, preferably within permanent institutions, to agree on an equitable and reasonable method of managing international watercourses and other shared water resources in conformity with international law and the principles of this Charter.
16. The public must have access to information on the state of water resources.
17. The public must be informed in a timely and appropriate manner of water management plans and projects for the utilisation of water resources. It has the right to take an active part in planning and decision-making procedures concerning water.
18. The persons and bodies concerned must be able to appeal against any decision relating to water resources.
19. Without prejudice to the right to water to meet basic needs, the supply of water shall be subject to payment in order to cover financial costs associated with the production and utilisation of water resources.


Water management: A shared responsibility
Strasbourg, 20-21 October 2005

Messages from the Conference

1. Background
The Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, in co-operation with the Directorate General of Education, Culture and Heritage, Youth and Sport, organised a conference on “Water management: a shared responsibility”, held on 20-21 October 2005 in Strasbourg.
This conference, organised in the framework of the European Solidarity Week for Water, was an opportunity to move forward the debate on the sharing of responsibility among decision makers and elected representatives at the local, regional and national levels, with a view to making a European contribution to the 4th World Water Forum to be held in Mexico in 2006.
A hundred participants attended this conference, including parliamentarians and elected representatives at the regional and local level, government officials, international organisations, associations and experts, from around fifty countries in Europe, Maghreb, the Near East and North America. Conference participants agreed on the following key messages:

2. Issues and responsibilities
Sustainable water resource management, taking into account the environmental role of aquatic ecosystems, and access to water and sanitation services for all, particularly the least privileged population groups, are the main concerns of water policy at the present time.
The relative importance of these concerns naturally varies with the physical, natural, socio-economic and institutional characteristics of the water basins and regions of the world concerned. Europe has a responsibility, not only in Europe but also in other parts of the world, to seek and implement solutions, based on the principle of solidarity, and to contribute in this way to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (United Nations).
Governance is a key element in the quest for the sustainable integrated management of water resources and services. It implies thinking in terms of subsidiarity, complementarity and the sharing of responsibility between institutions and decision-making levels, and envisaging, on the one hand, vertical integration between different levels of government (local, regional and national) and, on the other hand, horizontal co-ordination between regions, between municipalities and between local stakeholders at the level of the water basin or the water and sanitation service. Although politically sensitive, this approach seems particularly apposite for transfrontier water basins, considering that most of the major water basins in Europe and the world are such.

3. The requisite conditions for effective responsibility sharing
Several conditions must be fulfilled in order for effective vertical and horizontal co-ordination to be able to rise to the current challenges of the management of water resources, services and sanitation.
They include:

4. On the road to Mexico
The contribution of the Council of Europe, from the Strasbourg conference to the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico in 2006, will be made on the basis of the conference proceedings and key messages and through:

5. Suggestions for Mexico
The Conference helped identify opportunities for fostering exchanges and discussions between elected representatives and decision makers regarding their sharing of responsibility, at the 4th World Water Forum in Mexico. In particular:

6. After Mexico: what action can the Council of Europe take?
Although it is premature to discuss the after Mexico, several ideas emerged during the Conference as to the role that the Council of Europe might play, such as:


Ministers’ Deputies
CM Documents

CM(2006)31 final 2 March 2006

Message from the Committee of Ministers to the
4th World Water Forum (Mexico, 16-22 March 2006)
(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 1 March 2006
at the 957th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

The Council of Europe, which groups together 46 member states, fully supports the 4th World Water Forum, organised in Mexico from 16 to 22 March 2006. We welcome this unique opportunity to promote a water management policy in tune with human needs, present and future, on a worldwide scale. We call upon all parties concerned to seize this occasion, not only in the interest of sustainable development of the planet, but also of world peace and stability.
A major aim of this policy must be to ensure access for all, particularly those in need, to water services and sanitation. To meet this challenge, we consider it essential to develop a global and integrated approach to water resource management, based on shared responsibility and participation by all – parliaments, governments, local and regional authorities and civil society.
At the pan-European level, the Council of Europe has rallied to the cause, taking every opportunity, at every level, to draw attention to water resource issues, to ensure that water, which is so essential to life itself, is acknowledged as a decisive aspect of the preservation of our planet's natural resources.
Several instruments developed by the Council of Europe have made a precious contribution to good water resource management and could, as appropriate, be a source of inspiration in the setting-up of a worldwide water policy. Thus, the European Charter on Water Resources (2001) draws governments' attention to the need to manage and protect water resources through a common, integrated approach. An integrated water resource management strategy, such as is embodied in the Council of Europe's Guiding Principles for Sustainable Spatial Development, should include, inter alia, the protection of surface and underground water, the supervision of fertilisation and irrigation practices in agriculture and the treatment of wastewater.
In view of the worldwide urgency to find a durable, joint solution to the water problem, and in the interest of future generations, we consider that the 4th World Water Forum has a special role to play in promoting better knowledge and raising awareness of the enormous challenges involved in water policies and in developing a common response to these challenges.
We will consider, with attention, the follow-up which the Council of Europe could give to the results of this event.