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United Nations System-Wide
  December 2000  
    The Second

Report on International Scientific Advisory Processes on the Environment and Sustainable Development

Hyperlinked version for the Internet

Prepared for the UN System-Wide Earthwatch Coordination, UNEP
by Jan-Stefan Fritz



United Nations System
UN Commission on Sustainable Development
UN System-Wide World Water Development Report (to be completed 2002) 
UN Inter-Agency Working Group on Water in Africa 
UN ACC Sub-Committee on Water Resources (Chaired by Director of IHP) 
For a comprehensive list of UN activities on freshwater see Report of the Secretary General on Activities of the Organizations of the UN System in the Field of Freshwater Resources (E/CN.17/1998/3 of April/May 1998) 
For a list of UN water-related databases (as at 10 August 1999) see http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/watbase.htm

Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA). For an annotated list of links see website. 
Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities
WCMC,Freshwater Biodiversity: A Preliminary Global Assessment (1998) 
Managing Water for African Cities (UNEP/UNCHS, UNF/UNFIP funded) 
UNEP Global Environment Monitoring System Freshwater Quality Programme (GEMS/WATER) 

UN and Affiliated International Organizations
FAO has numerous activities under its Water Resources, Development and Management Service. 
GEF: Global Action on Water has funded projects in the areas of water scarcity, pollution reduction, preventing conflict, and land-based sources of marine pollution. 
WHO: Global Assessment 2000: Status of the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector (to be published 2000); Divisions responsible for water projects include: Water, Sanitation and Health; Child Health and Development; and Control of Tropical Diseases. A Report of the UN Secretary-General on Progress in Providing Safe Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation for all during the 1990s is also to be published. 
Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) was established within WHO as follow-up to the UN International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade (1981-1990). It organized a Fifth Global Forum on water in November 2000 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 
UNESCO - International Hydrological Programme (IHP) has many activities including the new Hydrology for the Environment, Life and Policy (HELP) programme and the Flow Regimes from International Experimental Network Data Sets (FRIEND). 
UNESCO - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) - Global Directory of Marine and Freshwater Professionals (GLODIR) 
UNDP Sustainable Energy and Environment Division (SEED) works with the Global Water Partnership and hosts the GEF International Waters secretariat, and has many other activities. For an extensive list of water-related links see http://www.undp.org/seed/water/
UNDP, World Bank and 15 bilateral donors have a Water and Sanitation Programme
The World Bank has many water activities and sponsored a Water Supply and Sanitation Forum in April 2000 
WMO has numerous activities under the Hydrology and Water Resources Programme, and the World Climate Research Programme has a Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment (GEWEX) 

Other International Activities
Global Water Partnership 
International Water and Sanitation Centre (The Netherlands, UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, WORLD BANK, WSSCC) - maintains the UNEP/UNCHS urban water website
World Commission on Dams (IUCN and The World Bank) 
World Water Council has initiated the World Water Vision (managed by IHP) and the World Water Forum (guided by the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century) 

Coming to Terms with the Myriad Activities
Too 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. 

    Within that context, international scientific activities can make at least three general contributions (in addition to other specific contributions to individual MEAs): 

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. 

Capacity-building 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

The 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. These include: 

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? 

    Early-Warning 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. 

iii  Report of the Executive Director on Water Policy and Strategy of the UN Environment Programme and Addendum, UNEP/GCSS.VI/6/ and Add.1 of 27 April 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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