|United Nations System-Wide
Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development
Hyperlinked version for the Internet
Prepared for the UN System-Wide Earthwatch
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|PART 2: THEMATIC FOCUS: FRESHWATER|
BOX 4. SOME MAJOR INTERNATIONAL ACTIVITIES ON FRESHWATER INVOLVING SCIENCE
United Nations System
UN and Affiliated International
Other International Activities
Coming to Terms with the Myriad Activities
much, too little, in the wrong place, of the wrong type....
These are some of the basic
concerns identified with freshwater resources. They are also concerns raised
by some about the provision of policy-relevant scientific knowledge on
this issue. Certainly, a myriad international activities exist, which provide
research, support capacity building, catalyze international policy deliberations,
and promote coordination. In the last two years alone, at least: three
ministerial-level policy conferences were held; six major assessments were
initiated (and some completed); and, three ‘comprehensive’ lists of international
water-related activities were posted on the Internet, each providing useful
but overlapping and incomplete information.
|Even to many individuals familiar with the workings of the international system, it is difficult to get an overview of what activities exist and their contributions to improving freshwater resources world-wide. In fact, despite the myriad activities, freshwater ecosystems are still widely threatened and freshwater quality is still declining in many of those regions facing the greatest need.i Within the context of this Report, the consequence of having taken so many initiatives is that knowledge, priorities, and results have not been synthesized to produce anything near a collective, conceptual framework constituting a ‘freshwater issue area’. The need for a better overview of available information was already raised by the UN Expert Group Meeting on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management. As a contribution to this end, this Part highlights the foci of scientific activities and identifies some possible contributions of science to tackling freshwater issues. Finally, this Part illustrates some important elements of science/policy dynamics in this issue, using early warning systems for drought and floods as an example.|
The Impact of a Diffuse Policy Framework on the Foci of Scientific Activities
The Foci of Scientific Activities
Though many initiatives exist to promote action on freshwater issues, these have little consolidating influence. Unlike many other issues of international concern, there is no global, framework convention on freshwater. Nor is there any single global set of intergovernmental deliberations. In fact, reading through the many UN documents on the issue reveals a thorough-going emphasis on local, national and regional perspectives. This stems largely from the fact that freshwater is not an inherently global issue. Freshwater concerns can be considered in terms of vastly different levels of analysis: local (e.g. water pollution, urban supplies); regional (e.g. water shed management); and global (e.g. climate change). In addition, freshwater evokes distinct responses from different perspectives, whether these be scientific, consumer, economic, legal, intergovernmental political, domestic political, etc. At the international level, the activities listed in Box 4 reflect several core foci for international scientific activities concerned with freshwater:
International law. The Conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification, as well as the Ramsar Convention and CMS, serve to focus scientific activity on a number of specific freshwater-related concerns. In 1997 the UN General Assembly also passed the Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses providing an umbrella for regional agreements. This convention includes articles on the: protection and preservation of ecosystems; prevention, reduction and control of pollution; introduction of alien or new species; protection and preservation of the marine environment; and, sustainable management of international watercourses.
Capacity-building projects. The multilateral funding agencies, including GEF, UNDP and the World Bank are important foci of attention through their projects. The World Bank alone spends $US 3 billion on water a year with current outstanding commitments of another $US 20 billion. In addition, recent activities such as the UNEP/UNCHS project on water for African Cities, which is funded by the UN Foundation, will serve to focus attention on freshwater quality, supply and related issues.
Assessments. FAO, WCMC, WRI and WWF have recently prepared assessments, which serve to focus general attention on trends and scenarios in freshwater issues and the impact of human activities as well as management efforts of freshwater ecosystems.
Research activities. UNESCO and WMO sponsor the largest research activities, which focus mainly on the hydrological cycle and the impact of this on freshwater as a resource.
Intergovernmental deliberations. The Commission on Sustainable Development
and the World Water Forum serve as foci for attempts to establish an international
policy-making framework. On a more operational level, UNEP’s Water Policy
and Strategy provides a framework for focusing that organization’s scientific
activities. The World Commission on Dams has also emerged as an important
example of cooperation between NGOs and governmental institutions on a
highly controversial issue.ii
|In the near future, GIWA and a conference to mark a ten-year review of Agenda 21, Chapter 18 (freshwater resources), to be held in 2002 and sponsored by the UN ACC Sub-Committee on Water Resources and the German Government, will be very important foci and sources of policy direction for international scientific activities. Whether these will provide general priorities for other activities as well depends on whether the different governing bodies mandate their respective scientific activities to provide complementary work.|
The Contributions of Science
The Contributions of International Scientific Activities
The UNEP Executive Director
has identified assessment, management, and coordination as the most important
components of addressing freshwater resources at the international level.iii
These components encompass an enormous breadth of activity from understanding
freshwater problems, initiating activities to mitigate or overcome problems,
and improving the effectiveness of existing activities through targeting
these in line with clear priorities.
that context, international scientific activities can make at least three
general contributions (in addition to other specific contributions to individual
Global Observing and Assessments which involve long-term processes of improving knowledge about climate dynamics and hydrological cycles
Early-Warning Systems which link knowledge, forecasting and information dissemination systems and serve specific regions and watersheds.
is necessary to improve local, national, regional water-management expertise,
information dissemination systems, as well as disaster preparedness, mitigation,
and prevention activities.
The possibility of an 'integrated' system of scientific advisory processes
|It is clear that given this breadth of activity no single global scientific advisory process would be useful. Instead, an integrated system of scientific advisory and support processes would be useful as a basis for realizing all three contributions listed above. The need for integrated approaches has been stressed by policymakers at all recent meetings. From the perspective of scientific advisory processes an integrated approach involves at least two elements. The first element involves integrating programming by improving communication mechanisms between the scientific activities, decision-making processes, and implementing communities. Second, an integrated approach to freshwater-management must involve making international programmes compatible with a commonly-accepted ecosystems approach as politically feasible.|
|To bridge these various aspects of an integrated approach is the role of international institutions. The difficulty is the absence of a single policy directive. As well, decentralized funding and policy-making structures discourage coordinated programming. The only clarity that exist is that scientific activities should support, in the first order, local, national and regional levels.|
The Need for a Strategy to Focus International Water-Related Activities
Some Key Questions to be Answered to Improve Scientific Advice for Freshwater Management
need for an international strategy to address freshwater issues is nonetheless
deemed important. This was raised in depth by the 1998 UN Expert Group
Meeting on Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management in Harare, Zimbabwe.
However, even this meeting added little clarity to the question of how
policy-priorities should be established to focus the whole range of relevant
international scientific activities. Should the inter-agency compatibility
of water-related scientific activities be extended, then international
institutions will collectively have to answer some important questions.
Are the priorities of the different foci listed above mutually-supportive? Or, are there conflicting priorities?
Are existing scientific activities adapted to providing knowledge to support existing policy and capacity-building processes?
Are the main areas of policy concern also reflected in the work of scientific support and advisory processes?
What knowledge gaps exist that can be appropriately filled by international scientific activities in support of the expressed needs of local, national and regional decision-makers and stakeholders?
What knowledge is still needed from local and national sources in regions
most affected by freshwater-related problems?
Systems for Water-Related Disasters
This section briefly illustrates why
an integrated approach is needed and how such an approach supports EWS.
Some existing EWS Initiatives
|Early-warning systems for water shortages, drought, and floods have been identified as a valuable contribution international institutions could make in support of water resources management at the local, national and regional levels.iv One notable initiative is that of the Desertification Convention, within which its governing body established an ad hoc panel of experts on EWS. The place of EWS was also the topic of a 1998 International IDNDR Conference on EWS for the Reduction of Natural Disasters in Potsdam, Germany and it is now an integral part of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.|
The Need to Integrate EWS with Policymaking and Local Action
|In order to be successfully implemented, EWS will need to be coupled with effective policy-making and early action. Even a system that provides all the right information is effectively a failure if its warnings are not directly translated into disaster preparedness, mitigation or, ideally, prevention. This means that, at the very least, the will to provide political support and the capacity to act must exist in the affected areas. This, in turn, requires translating information into action involving manageable technologies and taking place at the local level. In this case, the use of satellite technologies, however useful to experts themselves, will only be of use to an EWS if they can provide information useful for specific preventative, preparatory or other defined purposes. As was recently noted: "the real challenge of the 21st century will not be improvements in scientific research, but rather ensuring that advance in science are accessible to the most vulnerable." The same individual noted that EWS in developing countries were hampered by "gaps in hazard databases, lack of research in basic science and resource constraints on maintaining technology."v|
|It would thus seem that the most effective way of involving scientific advice to support EWS is to integrate these systems into a project cycle. This would entail setting priorities, initial planning to identify the linkages between EWS and early action, monitoring the results of experiences, assessing the effectiveness of the drought prevention project cycle, and readjusting the priorities to target the cycle more effectively.|
Carmen Revenga, et. al., Pilot Analysis of Global Ecosystems
(PAGE): Freshwater Systems, World Resources Institute: October 2000.
ii A recent book has event cited the World Commission on Dams as an excellent example of the possibilities of improved cooperation between governmental and non-governmental institutions. See Wolfgang H. Reinicke and Francis Deng, Critical Choices, The United Nations, Networks, and the Future of Global Governance, final Report of the Global Public Policy Project, Washington, D.C., 2000.
iv For numerous situation and analytic reports on the topic of water-related disasters see http://www.reliefweb.int.
v Barbara E. Carby (Director-General, Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, Jamaica), 'Role of Science in the Evolution of Disaster Management,' Background Paper for Thematic Meeting on Scientific Expertise and Public Decision-Making at the UNESCO/ICSU World Conference on Science, 1999.
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