Friday, May 25, 2007

Merge Ancient Culture With Modern Technology to Get It Right, Says U.N.

WORLD WATER DAY: Merge Ancient Culture With Modern Technology to Get It Right, Says U.N.

By Frances Suselo
The 'Neysol' text in Tibetan Buddhism showing river courses and lakes as well as forests and historical sites illustrates how our ancestors viewed our existence in nature.

BANGKOK (Asia Water Wire) – An ancient map of West Sikkim, which depicts holy sites, lakes and rivers in colourful detail, is gaining increasing relevance at a time when the world is grappling with a crisis over water.

Called the ‘Neysol’ text of Tibetan Buddhism, the map reveals the sacred landscape of Demojong, from the Khangchendzong peak down to sub-tropical forest below, including historical monuments as well as systems of terraced agriculture.

‘’This is a perfect example showing how our ancestors truly understood the connection between water and life,’’ said Han Qun Li, a senior official of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), at a World Water Day commemoration in Bangkok.

‘’In modern times, approaches to water resource management have tended to be overwhelmingly technology-driven in their attempt to solve the world’s urgent water problems. Technology alone, however, will not lead us to viable solutions,’’ added Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO’s chief, in a statement read out for this year’s commemoration, under the theme ‘Water and Culture.’

Indeed, the water scenario for the entire world, much more the Asia Pacific region, already looks ‘’very grim’’, said Dechen Tsering, senior programme officer of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. ‘’Water supply has remained the same, but on the other hand, demand for water has skyrocketed,’’ she said. ‘’In Gujarat, India, water tables are falling by six metres a year.’’

According to the Second World Water Development Report, 1.1 billion people are still without safe drinking water today, and 2.6 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation. Water-related extreme events such as floods and droughts kill more people than any other natural disaster, while water-borne diseases continue to cause the thousands of children deaths every day.

The Asia-Pacific region is actually home to 60 percent of the world population and has the highest economic growth rate. Nevertheless, the region is also where 90 percent of the world’s deaths and 49 percent of the world’s damage by natural disasters have occurred during the last century.

Women and children are the ones who suffer the most whenever there is a water crisis. Culturally, they are the ones who spend the most time fetching and administering water, but ironically they still lack a voice when it comes to decision-making processes, including water issues.

Adding to the dire situation is the declining availability of per capita water in the Asia-Pacific region due to rapid increase in population and pollution, said Shigeru Mochida, deputy executive secretary of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

‘’Further development of industries and agriculture to support the region’s economic growth is adding to the demand for water,’’ he said. ‘’This shortage of water, in turn, threatens the sustainability of economic and social development in the countries affected.’’

‘’Water is critical in order to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),’’ said Tsering. To fulfil the MDGs, an international benchmark for development set by the world’s leaders in 2000, water problems need to be addressed integrally, meaning that water projects need to be community based while at the same time relying on high technology.

UNESCO has been implementing several water programmes in various Asia Pacific regions by targeting specific communities, said Qun Li. An example is the community water supply and sanitation project in Siberut, Mentawai Islands, and in western Sumatra, Indonesia.

Qun Li said, ‘’All primary responsibilities regarding the project management were assumed by the local community through the water management committee. This process helped guarantee the integration between scientific knowledge and customary practices in developing sustainable community-based water management practice in an indigenous setting.’’

In central Vietnam’s Binh Thuan province, another programme aimed at rehabilitating an aquifer is also taking place between the UNESCO and local villagers.

In the flood-prone area of Bidara Cina in Jakarta, Indonesia, UNESCO is also involved in a flood mitigation project to strengthen the capacity of the local community. The project is raising knowledge and awareness through training preparedness, search and rescue, post-flood management, waste management and leadership training, all done through community gathering and stimulation exercises by using participatory approach.

Sometimes, the government also lends a helping hand. Thanade Davasuwan, chief engineer of the Department of Water Resources of the Royal Thai Government said his organisation is in the process of implementing various integrated water and resources management (IWRM) mechanisms.

‘’We are linking both upstream and downstream projects to improve water governance, management and regulation,’’ he said. A water resource law is also in the pipeline to ensure efficient water allocation. The organisation is aiming to provide treated pipe water to every Thai village by the year 2008. To achieve this, 32 billion baht (around 822 million U.S. dollars) has been specially earmarked for the project.

Nevertheless, Tsering reiterated, ‘’We cannot hold governments alone accountable for sustainable resources. All sectors of society must be involved in order to ensure water for everyone.’’(END/AWW/IPSAP/FS/MMM/220306)