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Water & Megacities - Klaus Toepfer calls on cities to adopt a six point integrated water management strategy

19 Mar 2000 - The battle for the conservation of water will be won or lost in the mega-cities of the world,? said Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP and Acting Executive Director of Habitat in his opening speech to the delegates attending the international symposium on Water and Megacities held on 19th March during the Second World Water Forum in the Hague.

According to Mr. Toepfer, better urban governance is the key to the conservation of water. He therefore called on cities and city authorities to adopt a six point integrated strategy for managing urban water resources. The first step is for local authorities to carry out city wide water audits. Second, policies need to be introduced to stop the pollution of water sources and to protect watersheds. Third, local authorities must use new technologies to minimise the amount of water lost through leakages and illegal connections. Fourth, socially sensitive pricing policies should be introduced which neither protect nor penalise the poor but remove any opportunity for prolifigate use. Fifth, city authorities must involve industrialists and community groups to design innovative ways of recycling wastewater. Finally, each city needs to set up an integrated strategy for demand management. This includes launching city wide campaigns to change people?s attitudes towards freshwater conservation.

In conclusion, Mr. Toepfer challenged the delegates to find innovative ways to reduce the demand for water in cities. ?With over 60 million people being added to the population of cities each year, the challenge is for policy makers, planners and ordinary citizens everywhere to play their part in implementing the World Water Vision.?

In 1900, only one in ten people lived in cities but today half of humanity, well over 3 billion people, now lives in urban areas. Already, 23 cities ? 18 of them in the developing world- have populations exceeding 10 million. The result is that during the last century, the combined municipal and industrial use of water worldwide grew 24 times while agricultural use of water increased only 5 times.

Only one per cent of the world?s water resources provides the fresh water necessary for agriculture, industry and human consumption. To meet the present urban demand for water, more than half of Europe?s cities are already over exploiting groundwater reserves and many countries report groundwater pollution. Mexico City has sunk more than 10 metres over the past 70 years because of excessive withdrawal of water from ground water sources. Bangkok is facing the problem of intrusion of saltwater into acquifers. The city of Johannesburg draws water from over 600 kilometres away from the Lesotho highlands. Despite these efforts, it is estimated that currently over 20 per cent of the world?s population faces water shortages. Furthermore, the constant search for freshwater for cities is a potential source of international conflict and water wars.

The problem of water in cities has not only been affected by the rapid process of urbanisation but also by the unprecedented urbanisation of poverty. In most of the developing countries up to 50 per cent of the population lives in slums and squatter settlements. It is estimated that over a billion people live without adequate shelter and access to basic services such as clean running water. What is worse, is that in many countries, the poor pay exorbitant prices to private vendors for clean water. Paradoxically enough, as the poor struggle for water, in many cities up to half of the water supply is lost through leakages and illegal connections. Such inefficiency and inequitable mechanisms for the delivery of water can only lead to further social conflict within cities.

?With the population of cities expected to increase to 5 billion by the year 2025, the urban demand for water is all set to increase exponentially,? said Klaus Toepfer. ?This means that any solution to the water crisis is closely linked to the governance of our cities.?

The Water Strategies of Habitat and UNEP recognise the critical role played by cities. Underlying the UNEP water strategy is the recognition that urban demands for water can often affect people in neighbouring regions or countries. This is why UNEP has been working on trans-boundary water related issues through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA). The main objective of GIWA is to develop a comprehensive strategic assessment to identify priorities for remedial and mitigatory actions in international waters.

Responsible for human settlements and better governance in cities, Habitat has been working with local authorities on policies to improve land management practices in order to limit the pollution of rivers and ground water sources. Together with UNEP, Habitat recently launched the joint programme Managing Water for African Cities which is funded by the United Nations Foundation for International Partnerships, popularly known as the Turner Foundation. At present the project is being implemented in seven demonstration cities: Abidjan (Cote d?Ivoire), Accra (Ghana), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Dakar (Senegal), Johannesburg (South Africa), Lusaka (Zambia) and Nairobi (Kenya). The objective of the programme is to promote an integrated approach to managing urban water resources.

International Symposium on Water & Megacities; Sunday 19 March 2000, 9.00 to 13.00; Rhine Hall, Congress Centre, The Hague, Netherlands. Website:

For further information please contact:
Tore Brevik,
UNEP spokesman and Director of CPI;
Tel: 254-2-623292; Fax: 254- 2-623927;

Sharad Shankardass,
Press & Media Unit, UNCHS (Habitat),
Tel: 254-2- 623153; Fax: 254-2-624060;;

Kalyan Ray, Graham Alabaster, Andre Dzikus;
Mercure Hotel;
Tel: 31-70- 3636 700; Fax: 31-70-3639/ 398;

Anders Renlund,
Communication and Public Information,
UNEP- Regional Office for Europe;
Mobile: 0041-79-629 02 36

For interviews with Mr. Toepfer, contact: David Dunn, Personal Advisor; Mobile:1-917-378- 8818

Sunday 19 Mar 2000
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