How to step up our ambition? Reflections from the World Water Forum

3 min read
8th World Water Forum, Brasilia
Image: @Coalition Eau

Heloise Chicou, Sanitation and Water Advisor at Sanitation and Water for All/ End Water Poverty, shares her thoughts on the weaknesses and strengths of the 8th World Water Forum.

Although it featured some interesting innovations, the 8th World Water Forum in March 2018 was characterised by low participation of global civil society, and by a lack of ambition and political ownership.

The strengths

About 10,000 people attended the Forum in Brasilia, Brazil – the first in the southern hemisphere – and there was certainly interesting discussion.

Strong participation of Brazilian civil society led to interesting debates around the most marginalised peoples, notably in the context of Brazil indigenous populations, and heated discussions on the role that the private sector should play in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The presentation of a declaration from the Forum’s actors on sustainability placed strong emphasis on the preservation and protection of natural resources, and on finding nature-based solutions to water, sanitation and climate issues. They will present this declaration at the High Level Political Forum in New York this July.

There was a strong call from civil society organisations for more accountability around the implementation of the SDGs, which was particularly taken up during dedicated sessions on inclusive policies and during the Sanitation and Water for All presentation and the launch of their accountability mechanism. This has also been reflected in the ministerial declaration of the Forum, 'Urgent call for decisive action on water.'

The weaknesses

Nevertheless, the participation of civil society from other parts of the world was low, and disappointing compared with what was announced beforehand. Only around 10% of the limited number of civil society sponsored to attend the Forum received the funds in time to be able to participate.

Brazilian NGOs and social movements organised an alternative forum – Foro Alternativo Mundial de Agua (FAMA) – in protest at WWF8’s inaccessibility to the poor, decrying WWF8 as an ‘elitist’ gathering.

In general, the Forum’s declarations did not improve on those of previous Forums in terms of political impact and governmental ownership. The ministerial declaration did not provide the list of signatories, and it remains unbinding.

The highlight

What stood out for me was the Brasilia Declaration of Judges on Water Justice. The declaration brought together about 80 magistrates from different continents in adopting a statement clarifying how the principles of environmental laws (prevention, precaution, polluter-pays, etc.) can apply to water and mobilise judicial authorities. This was a truly innovative initiative, relevant to human rights defenders and environmental activists, and to our common goal to think and reach out outside the box.

The Forum welcomed an important delegation of the Senegalese Government – Senegal will be the host of the next Forum in three years. This will be an interesting opportunity for engagement, as Senegal is an influential actor within Africa and especially West Africa, and wishes to adapt the Forum to more focused and concrete issues at hand.