An already under-funded sector vital to growth, says World Bank

ISTANBUL: The global economic crisis threatens to shrink investment in water infrastructure, an already under-funded sector vital to growth and public health, said the World Bank on Tuesday.

Jamal Saghir, Director of Energy, Transport and Water at the World Bank, said there were not significant funds earmarked for water investment in the stimulus packages of the United States and other countries fighting the economic meltdown. “We can do more with the same or even less,” he said in an address to a packed auditorium at the World Water Forum, a weeklong global conference that is held every three years to issue recommendations on how governments should conserve, manage and supply water. It ends on March 22.

Thousands of delegates from governments, non-profit groups, businesses and other institutions have gathered for the conference, on the banks of the Golden Horn inlet in Turkey’s biggest city. The first global economic contraction since World War II threatens to overshadow the scarcity of clean water in many poor regions, where inadequate sanitation is a major cause of deadly disease and a drag on economic development.

The United Nations says the total cost of replacing aging water supply and sanitation infrastructure in industrial countries could be as high as $200 billion per year.

Some experts estimate that most of the world’s population will face water shortages in the decades ahead as populations expand and ecosystems deteriorate. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, an environmental network based near Geneva, said increasing demand required effective laws to sustain the resource.

The union cited South Africa as an example of how to do things the right way; there, laws guarantee a basic water supply, protect water-based ecosystems and allow people a say in how the resource is used at the community level.

Water Stewardship

The forum also saw the unveiling of a novel scheme to ensure sustainable water usage.

A couple of years from now, beer, cola, rice, breakfast cereal, cotton T-shirts and many other goods may come with a new logo: a label which says the water used to make this product came from a sustainable source.

The scheme, unveiled at the World Water Forum in Istanbul on Tuesday, seeks to make a “Water Stewardship” tag as successful as Forest Stewardship Certification, a fast-growing system that combats illegal or unsustainable logging.

“That there is a crisis in water is a given, and that we need to address it is a given. That’s why there’s so much momentum behind developing a global standard,” said Michael Spencer, director of the Water Stewardship Initiative of Australia, part of the project.

The new initiative takes its cue from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which has 12,000 participating companies involved in commercial forestry or use of timber.

It has so far certified more than 100 million hectares of land as being under sustainable forest management. Companies which win certification have the right to use the FSC’s tree logo, which is sought by environmentally-sensitive consumers, especially in Europe. — Agencies