حوار الأمير طلال مع رسالة اليونيسكو - انجليزي
Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz, President of the Arab Gulf Foundation for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND) has repeatedly warned of the water shortage threatening a number of Arab States, particularly in the six Gulf States.
Interviewed by Bassam Mansour
Question: You were one of the first to draw attention to the threats to freshwater resources in Arab States, especially in the Gulf region. What is the current situation?
Answer: I often insist that the issue of water in the region is a matter of survival. The greatest challenge facing people in the Arab world, especially in the Gulf (rulers and ruled alike), is how to deal with the issue in a sensible way. The serious implications of the current situation call for something to be done rapidly. Looking at the situation of water in the Arab world in light of the Water Poverty Index, it becomes clear that the Arab world is on a dangerous downward slope towards an abyss. According to this index, a country suffering from water shortage is one whose average per capita share of water is below 1000-2000 m3 per year. Using this measurement, 13 Arab countries fall within the category of countries with water shortages or water scarcity; among them are a number of Gulf States.
Q: Do you think the solutions currently proposed to limit water consumption are sustainable?
A: In our view, the practical solution is for governments to adopt well-designed water management policies which deal rationally with the problem while preventing waste and bridging the gap between available water resources and future needs. This should be done by revising the regulatory and legal framework: a large part of the water problem in our region is a result of regulations and laws.
In the Gulf, we are now witnessing a growth in awareness of the need to overcome the water crisis. We feel that this movement can be more effective if education is harnessed positively, and the private sector and civil society are mobilized to perform their duty to help Arab governments.
Scientific research should be concentrated in a Gulf State scientific institution which involves universities and draws on the experience of States and the expertise of international organizations. The creation of such an institution would make data available and help to resolve the discrepancies and conflicting approaches regarding the various readings of the “water situation”, such as the raging debate on groundwater reserves.
Developing countries that face severe water shortages should pursue creative, non-conventional policies in order to deal with the crisis. One idea could be to undertake studies on the relocation of inhabitants of areas suffering from water shortages to regions within the same country where water is plentiful. Indeed, consideration could be given to the idea of moving the inhabitants of that State to a neighbouring State which is not facing a water crisis. This idea remains on the table, and those responsible should examine the feasibility of implementing it at the national or regional.
Q: How can we best convince people of the seriousness of dwindling freshwater reserves and the need to rationalize consumption?
A: It is extremely important that plans and projects adopted by governments be based on solid popular support, which should strengthen them and provide a backdrop for their implementation. This means making people in the Arab world and the Gulf fully aware of the realities of the situation. This is the responsibility of the media, by which I mean the free and independent media. The starting point should be the promotion of a “culture of water” among the various social sectors, stressing the importance of rationalizing consumption. The other essential factor in rationalizing water consumption is education. Its inclusion in curriculum development will help prepare younger generations and make them aware of the future that awaits them if they ignore the water issue.
Q: Researchers agree that there is a causal link between good governance and good water management. Do you agree?
A: Reform is an integrated system. There can be no talk of economic reform in isolation from concomitant political and social reform, because the economy is a reflection of politics and the social environment. Politics and the economy naturally cast their shadow on the social sphere. Reform thus has three dimensions and is indivisible, although it may be put into practice gradually, in stages. Dealing decisively with the water issue is thus part of the overall reform process. For instance, in order to address institutional shortcomings and inadequate water management, there needs to be political determination at the highest levels, and sufficient resources must be allocated to the reform national institutions, an endeavour which should be guided by the relevant modern concepts.
In this sense, the reform processes underway in the countries of the region can make a positive contribution to the solution of the water issue through the civil society organizations. These organizations, with their creative potential, can spearhead true changes in ways of thinking which may help to boost the water reserves available for future generations.
Q: AGFUND has worked on a number of water-related programmes, what are the challenges you are trying to overcome, in particular through your cooperation with UNESCO?
A: The development and funding strategy we are pursuing at AGFUND addresses health, education, institution-building and private development. Water plays a crucial part in developing these four sectors. For instance, it would not be possible to imagine a comprehensive approach to tackle poverty without taking into account the complications arising from freshwater scarcity in poor communities. By the same token, projects to develop the education sector cannot be separated from efforts to address the water problem. If this were not so, UNESCO would not be at the forefront of this problem.
AGFUND has made great progress in its efforts to focus attention on the water problem, particularly in promulgating the concept of a “scientific and institutional culture”, which we encourage in order to tackle social, economic and political problems. An example is our cooperation with the World Bank which has led to the publication of the most recent scientific report on water in the region, “A water sector assessment report on the countries of the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf”. The average annual per capita share of water in the Arab Gulf States lies between 60 and 370 m3. What is even more worrying, according to the report, is that this figure is expected to be halved by 2030, in view of high growth rate of the region’s population, which is expected to increase to 56 million.
Cooperation with UNESCO in the water sector is ongoing. This is an extension of our development relations with the Organization. Perhaps the clearest sign of this cooperation is the fact that UNESCO designated the President of AGFUND as Special Envoy for Water for 2003, in order to draw attention to water issues worldwide.
We at AGFUND support all of UNESCO’s work on water issues. This is why we announced at the World Water Conference in Delft (Netherlands) the establishment of an AGFUND-UNESCO Fund to support UNESCO projects on water issues. AGFUND donated $1 million to the Fund. We have also called upon governments, organizations and individuals concerned with development issues to provide the necessary material support to support UNESCO’s work and activities.
We look forward to seeing – as we have repeatedly called for – the establishment of supreme water councils in the countries of the region, who are entrusted with periodic assessment of the volume of reserves and of new resources, and monitoring of existing resources. Such an authority would constitute a kind of national database bringing together all estimates of water resources in the country, and would be involved in the design of policies and various strategies for their implementation. We believe that UNESCO, with its expertise and know-how, may help in this regard. For its part, AGFUND will spare no effort to support the idea, whether through funding or technical consultancy.
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