Title: Sick Water is Threatening the MDGs: A Stakeholder Dialogue to Address Capacity Development and Communication Needs
Event type: Seminar
Date: 2010-09-08
Time: 09:00 - 12:30
Convenor: UN-Water
Room: K21

Event Description
The world is facing a global water quality crisis. Continuing population growth and urbanisation, rapid industrialisation, and expanding and intensifying food production are all putting pressure on water resources and increasing the unregulated or illegal discharge of contaminated water within and beyond national borders. This presents a global threat to human health and wellbeing, with both immediate and long term consequences for efforts to reduce poverty whilst sustaining the integrity of some of our most productive ecosystems. There are many causes driving this crisis, but it is clear that freshwater and coastal ecosystems across the globe, upon which humanity has depended for millennia, are increasingly threatened. It is equally clear that future demands for water cannot be met unless wastewater management is revolutioniszed.

On the occasion of the recent release of a rapid response report by UN-HABITAT and UNEP, called "Sick Water? The Central Role of Wastewater Management in Sustainable Development," UN-Water is organiszing this dialogue session, led by the UN-Water Programmes UNW-DPAC, UNW-DPC and WWAP, as well as UN-HABITAT and UNEP, on behalf of all of UN-Water.

The session will bring together on stage water leaders, experts and stakeholders to discuss the challenges and preventive actions, as well as how different agents can provide solutions and response options, to improve water quality.



Opening speech. Mr. Zafar Adeel, UN-Water Chair. Institute for Water, Environment and Health. United Nations University (UNU)


Presentation of the UNEP/UN-Habitat-Sick Water Report - What are the concerns? Mr. David Osborn, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Mr. Graham Alabaster, UN-Habitat


Experts' views on key topics of the Sick Water Report.
Facilitates: Sick Water is Threatening the MDGs, Mr. David Osborn, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Ms. Josefina Maestu, UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC)

  • Mr. Karl-Ulrich Rudolph, Institute of Environmental Engineering and Management (IEEM), University of Witten/Herdecke, Germany. Head of the UNW-DPC group on water efficiency
  • Mr. James Winpenny, Wychwood Economic Consulting Ltd. United Kingdom
  • Mr. Gerard Payen, United Nations Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB)
  • Ms. Iyenemi Ibimina Kakulu, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Nigeria

Women, Water operators, Consumers, Agriculture views on solutions/measures to improve water quality, capacity and communication. Facilitates Mr. David Osborn, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Ms. Josefina Maestu, UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC)

  • Ms. Siegmien Staphorst. National Women's Organisation of Suriname (NVB). Suriname
  • Mr. Samir Bensaid, International Institute for Water & Sanitation IEA (ONEP). Morocco
  • Mr. Robin Simpson, Consumers International
  • Ms. Samia El-Guindy, International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID)

Coffee Break


Interactive discussion. Do the stakeholders and the experts agree on the problems and on what needs to be done?


Questions and answers from the audience



  • Mr. Olcay Unver, UN World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP)
  • Mr. Reza Ardakanian, UN-Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development (UNW-DPC)

Close of Seminar

Event Summary and Conclusions
The session was opened at 9 a.m. by Adeel Zafar, Chair of UN-Water, who stressed the importance of water quality for UN-Water, its impacts on ecosystems, human health and the economy, and the connection to the topics of the 2010 World Water Week as well as World Water Day 2009, which was  the impetus for the publication of the Sick Water report  by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN-Habitat, with collaboration from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

From UN-Water’s perspective, it is clear that investments are lacking in this area, that apathy in leadership needs to be overcome, and that data for monitoring and reporting needs to be improved and augmented. Institutional change is needed, and UN-Water can help facilitate this process by bringing together collective resources and communications strategies of the UN to work in this direction.

David Osborn of UNEP and Graham Alabaster of UN-Habitat then addressed the audience to introduce the Sick Water report, which lays out the argument for the importance of managing wastewater and its impact on numerous Millennium Development Goals (MDG) targets, thereby making meeting the wastewater challenge not a luxury but a prudent, practical and transformative act that has the ability to boost public health and secure the sustainability of natural resources.

The key messages from the report are that wastewater production is rising rapidly, that wise and immediate investments now will generate multiple future benefits, and that wastewater management is linked to poverty reduction and improved human health.

To do this, multi-sectoral, individualized management cocktails are needed which look at the entire lifecycle of a project to include long-term operation, maintenance and decommission in order to avoid stranded resources. These solutions need to plan for future scenarios and be socially and culturally appropriate. There is also a real need to education and train engineers, communities, policymakers and municipalities.

A panel of experts was then introduced to include the following aspects:

  • James Winpenny: benefits of improving wastewater
  • Gerard Payen: financing
  • Iyenemi Ibimina Kakulu: capacity building
  • Karl-Ulrich Rudolph: water management and resources

In addition, four stakeholders were present to represent the following issues/perspectives:

  • Siegmien Staphorst: gender issues
  • Samir Bensaid: water operators
  • Robin Simpson: water consumers
  • Samia El-Guindy: irrigation issues

The session that followed was a lively discussion moderated by David Osborn to include input from the audience and interaction among the stakeholders and experts. Six main topics formed the focal areas for discussions: economics (such as the opportunity cost of ignoring wastewater management), financing (a need for an individualized mix of subsidies, taxes, tariffs, transfers, etc), the need for changes in perceptions of risks and awareness, capacity development issues, gender equity/community acceptance, and issues of scale.

From the stakeholders, there emerged three important issues, which were trust in government, scale (local, municipal, catchment or basins), and the need for institutional as well as capacity development.

All agreed that change needs to happen and that local conditions, cultures and stakeholders need to be taken into account while scaling up to the highest possible level of authority to make real change happen. The Directors of the three programme offices of UN-Water took on roles to wrap-up and facilitate the session.

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