ECONOMY

Mediterranean journalists and MPs tackle water issues

Journalists and parliamentarians from 12 Mediterranean countries who met in Athens last week decided to set up two respective informal «circles» to promote dialogue on the more efficient management of water resources and water supply services in the region. «The two circles are comprised of people concerned with closing the gap between decision-making and the public and the feeling of a lack of democratic procedures with respect to water management,» said Professor Michael Scoullos, chairman of the Mediterranean Information Office for Environment, Culture and Sustainable Development (MIO-ECSDE) and of the Athens-based Mediterranean chapter of the Global Water Partnership (GWP-Med), an independent network open to governments, research and non-profit organizations, NGOs, UN agencies, firms and other institutional stakeholders involved in water governance. The two bodies organized the event. The dialogue aims to facilitate communication between politicians and other stakeholders, water managers and users in an effort to address critical issues, ranging from scarcity, inequitable access, degradation and over-exploitation of water by industry and agriculture to sanitation, biodiversity, population pressures, conflict and the public-private partnership in water management. It also was organized to highlight good practices in implementing Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) – which aims to ensure equitable, economically sound and environmentally sustainable management of water – and demonstrate IWRM as a practical process as well as to facilitate the implementation of some of the key commitments, targets and timetables adopted at the Johannesburg summit on sustainable development. The dialogue focuses on policy and institutional reform, law enforcement, participatory processes, financial instruments and incentives. The initial circle of parliamentarians, a light and flexible structure articulated around GWP-Med (http://www.gwpmed.org) and MIO-ECSDE, has 18 members, while an informal, three-member «core» group has undertaken the tasks of informing parliaments, expanding the network and working on a better definition of the objectives, action program and practicalities of the group. The journalists’ circle will work toward coordinating publicity and the exchange of information regarding water management. MIO-ECSDE is to prepare a media kit for the promotion of water management and other environmentally related issues. During the two-day meeting, participants raised a number of important points. George Cingal, vice-president of the European Environmental Bureau, stressed the educative role of journalists in improving water management. «Technology is not a panacea. Awareness and consciousness are the key to the promotion of the desired balance,» he said. Nighisty Ghezae, network officer of the Stockholm-based GWP (http: //www.gwpforum.org), said effective water governance needs processes that are «open and transparent, equitable and ethical, inclusive and communicative, and coherent.» Deputies from North African nations, in particular, complained that an excessively strong executive arm of government acts as a break on the dissemination of information. Messaoudi El Layachi of Morocco said inadequate information flows prevent parliaments from acting. His country, facing shortages, needs investment of at least 10 billion euros just to meet current accumulated needs, he said. Yousef Abu-Safieh, a member of the Palestinian National Council, outlined the dire situation in the Gaza strip, the result of over-exploitation of the best water by a tiny minority of Israeli settlers.