Interview of Mr Guy Fradin: a time for solutions

Guy Fradin, Executive Director of the Seine-Normandy Water Board, Governor, World Water Council and Vice-President of the International Committee of the 6th World Water Forum was recently interviewed by Pauline Hili, Managing Editor, “Lamy Environment: Water”

Lamy Environment: In 2012, for the first time, the World Water Forum, the world’s premier event for water issues, will take place in France. How do you feel about this?

Guy FRADIN: It is true that the World Water Forum has become a key event in its field. I would even say that “if it did not exist, it would need to be invented”. Proceeding from the forums in Mexico and Istanbul, attended by some 25,000 people, this event has met with great success.

Attendance will be composed first of by several thousand people, private citizens and NGOs attending from all corners of the globe including a large number of locals who quite naturally will be attracted by this world class event. Secondly, there will be broad participation of national delegations and the presence of most United Nations member countries. Thirdly, there is a strong political component including ministers and heads of state, and finally, a very large contingent of parliamentarians and local authorities. Policymakers on the whole are thus broadly representated in the Forum. This gathering has assumed over the years an importance and scale which is proper for a Forum in the etymological sense of the term, fulfilling its primary objectives as a place of encounter and exchange. We must go beyond the idea that the Forum should be limited to a triennial talk-fest. We must act so that the Forum is both a place of exchange and of decision. Exchanges need to be structured both in terms of ideas and actions. It is in this spirit that we will host the 2012 Forum as a “time for solutions”. This is not a French pretension and it is not we alone who have invented the solutions to the world’s increasingly critical water problems. We must get beyond the articulation and exchange of ideas, at times redundant, to focus our energies on concrete actions to support of local efforts and increase community capacities for the implementation of practical solutions.

This objective is directly continued from the 5th World Water Forum (2009) and the principles set forth in the Istanbul Water Consensus (IWC), representing a first step towards appropriation of water issues among municipal authorities. While the Istanbul Water Consensus is not binding and is not necessarily a normative framework for future development, it is a first tangible expression of a voluntary approach, engaged voluntarily by municipal authorities concerned about progress in water access and safety. Here then is the full meaning of the expression “time for solutions”. In view of the many possible, water-related topics, it is necessary that we focus 2012 Forum debates on the search for and implementation of practical solutions.

Lamy Environment: In view of your announced objectives and your theme, “time for solutions”, what are your expectations for the 2012 Forum?

Guy FRADIN: Perhaps we should speak of a turning point. Each of the five preceding forums has grown in pertinence and vibrancy, identifying solutions and building consensus. The “water movement” is showing new maturity and so we should turn our attention to the next challenge: addressing the related critical issues which are governance and the financing of workable solutions. Above all, we must imagine a framework for governance which corresponds to the institutional appropriation of water management by policy makers. In other words, program objectives must be aligned with the political realities of the governing authorities. Only then should we consider project finance.

My hopes for success then, are clearly for France, but also, and especially for Marseille.

We should not forget that the Forum is hosted in Marseille at the city’s invitation. It is however, co-organized with the World Water Council and with Marseille’s metropolitan and regional partners. While it is normal that the city should receive political support from the government, it is Marseille and her metropolitan and regional partners, the department of the Bouches du Rhône and the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur Region, who will supply the complex logistical efforts required to host a successful forum.

Recognition of Marseille, the Phoceæn City, is especially appropriate given the city’s efforts to attract and host the World Water Council. It is because of her long history and Mediterranean climate that she for so long championed the formation of a World Water Council and it is gratifying to see the city’s vision now bearing its first fruits.

More broadly speaking, this event places France in the vanguard of an international effort to promote sustainable water policies. It is France who will lead efforts to identify and draft proposals for the development, justification and ultimately adoption of sustainable water policies by political and civil society delegates to the 6th World Water Forum.

The success of the Forum should be measured in terms of assigned objectives at each level of participation. What must be sought first is productive dialogue between the multiple partners who will attend to participate and learn, but also to be heard, for example through public exchanges of regional and local practices and experiences.

We must then consider success at a political level involving parliamentarians and local authorities. These actors are more or less competent since they are more or less in charge of water access and sanitation in their respective countries, regions and districts. The political class also comes to share and listen, but they must take away a better understanding of how to meet their responsibilities.

These first two levels will meet public and private technicians who will share their practical and technical knowledge.

The third and final conference level to be evaluated is highly political. It is the gathering of Heads-of-State and Ministers who must consider global structural decisions such as the creation of a global fund for water and integration of the right to water as a fundamental human right covered by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The forum’s success lies in making progress on each of these levels.

Lamy Environment: Over 400 people attended the January 2011 Second Stakeholder Consultation of the 6th World Water Forum. What emerged?

Guy FRADIN: Even before the January 2011 meeting, there was a Forum meeting in June 2010. The June meeting was more of a kick-off meeting and a gathering of organizers for a declaration of intent.

The second meeting, the one you refer to, allowed us to go further and to adopt a theme (“Time for Solutions”) and a logo. The January 2011 meeting served to frame as a first announcement, a twenty-two page document outlining 2012 Forum contents and work orientations. In all, twelve strategic and three transverse orientations were retained.

The January meeting also established the general outline of the 2012 Forum, launching the organizational and work processes.

We should recall that the Forum is grounded on four processes: policy, regional, thematic and “roots and citizenship”. Each of these processes was identified and defined in terms of specific objectives.

The “roots and citizenship process” is a novel approach and illustrates the desire to position the Forum to respond to issues of local appropriation and good citizenship. The “thematic process” relays the Forum’s historical preoccupation with water strategy but with a view toward the identification and implementation of solutions which inform the public debate. The “regional process” is basic to the mobilization of regional solidarities grouped around four major regions: Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe and the Americas. The idea here is to identify and promote shared regional objectives and promote solidarity.

Finally, the “political process” is sub-divided into two processes. A “ministerial process” allows high level coordination of stakeholder interests (institutional financing and diplomatic relations…) leading to the production of a final declaration (an outcome which is problematic given the Forum’s avowed practical objective). A second, “parliamentary” process focuses on providing concrete support to legislators and parliamentarians. (If it is true the United Nations has made progress promoting the right to fresh water as an inalienable human right, such rights make sense only when relayed at the state level.)

The exchange here finds its fullest expression given differences among countries and local government processes. In many countries, including France, local competencies and territorial delegations are positive factors helping to ensure equitable access to water and sanitation.

These four processes are interrelated and mutually reinforcing.

Identification of these processes is only a part of what came out of the January Stakeholders’ Consultation. The meeting was a milestone for the Forum organisation and a further meeting will likely be organized in the autumn of 2011, even if a final decision has yet to be taken. At the very least, there will be additional meetings in France and across the world as key stakeholders continue to prepare for the 2012 Forum, advancing work on strategic and operational objectives, including action plans and commitments.

LAMY ENVIRONMENT: The Minister for Cooperation, Monsieur Henri de Raincourt, in his closing remarks to the Second Stakeholders’ Consulation referred to the search for innovative forms of finance. Where do you think we should look for such innovative finance?

Guy FRADIN: With respect to finance, the most innovative system probably consists in simply charging users for water consumed. Such a system raises awareness for water and sanitation services, and calls attention to the fact that if water is free, distribution and treatment systems are not. These have very real costs that need to be met at some level.

Our conviction in France is that the primary source of funding should be the user. I won’t pretend that this is innovative. Quite the contrary, it is commonly accepted and widely recognized even if it all too often raises difficult problems of inequality and lack of harmonization, especially in developing countries where poverty poses a real problem for public funding.

On the other hand, we might also note in passing that the absence of sanitation services in these countries frequently results in users paying an even higher price for water…

The situation calls for a tariff – not a simple matter in any event – which takes into consideration issues of social equity.

And so new questions will be raised with respect to what aspects of water usage should users be asked to pay for and what measures can society take to facilitate access?

An additional consideration is how such investments can be funded, especially when, as is often the case, investment capital cannot be generated internally. Such countries will inevitably resort to external financing.

I am convinced that good projects evaluated and implemented by credible project managers will have no problem raising the necessary capital, for example, through the cooperative resources of developed countries working with developing countries either directly or through international organizations.

It is more a question of enabling progress through the productive and cost effective use of such funds, even if it is not always possible to raise one hundred percent of the money necessary.

In my view, the most innovative system yet is the system that works on the principle that “water pays for water”. Such a system of financial autonomy would insulate sanitation and water supply from the current economic climate of fiscal restraint, thus freeing up as much as two billion euros for investment.

Such financial autonomy may be considered innovative because, Morocco excepted, most countries do not function this way, either internally or for investment purposes.

Another innovative strategy for leveraging international assistance budgets would be to authorizing local communities to devote some part of their water and sanitation budgets to international development assistance.

Even if such laws would not revolutionize the world, it is nevertheless clear that locally financed, peer-to-peer assistance widely adopted in developed countries could generate many millions of dollars and euros for public sanitation and water access in developing countries.

We French have no particular lesson to give, but there is no denying the fact that locally funded development assistance is working very well and that it has inspired many French communities to take an interest in water and sanitation projects in developing countries.

Autonomy is certainly the principal advantage for this type of system. If all countries share budget limitations, local participation and voluntary financing allow for perfect coherence between the political will on the one hand, and the funding that goes with it, on the other.

Certainly, one might wonder whether water and santitation should benefit from such an exception, but to consider French management of water and sanitation services, the exception provides meaningful coherence between local competencies and public objectives.

At an international level, French policy is at least coherent.

Not only is it coherent, but as a system for mobilizing resources, it respects the principles of participatory democracy and allows local communities grouped by service area or water basin to set their own public assistance priorities.

Finally, with respect to whether there should be created a global fund for water, the question has been asked and will almost certainly be raised again at the Forum.

LAMY ENVIRONMENT: The Forum will gather multiple stakeholders including NGOs, local authorities, businesses, labor unions, and, of course, politicians. In this context, what is your strategy to achieve consensus and avoid the lack of results that proved to be the case for the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of 2009?
Guy FRADIN: The first pitfall to avoid is precisely the search for consensus. Indeed, no effective consensus ever came of such meetings. We should rather focus on segmentation and identification of pertinent targets. Once targets have been identified it becomes possible to focus the efforts of willing partners who are ready to act so that they take responsibility and lead. Not everybody needs to be on-board to launch the bandwagon. The important thing is that appropriate solutions to be identified and that groups of countries or institutions step forward to lead implementation. This is truly the first expected outcome of the Forum. The second expectation is improved monitoring and continuation of what was begun in Istanbul.

LAMY ENVIRONMENT: It seems that local authorities have a key role to play as shown by the widespread adoption of the 2009 Istanbul Water Consensus. Will local authorities continue to feel themselves accountable given the global nature of the Forum that may seem far from their typically local concerns?

Guy FRADIN: Nobody can really tell if local authorities will continue to feel implicated and involved. What is certain is that throughout preparations for the Forum, every effort will be made to ensure their continued involvement and commitment to Forum objectives.

The Forum is not a one-week event. The Forum is a continuing event. Nor should it be treated as an every-third-year appointment after which everybody goes back to business-as-usual. Each meeting should be a relay for the next encounter with appropriate monitoring of volunteers and actors. The ideal would be to have a presiding troika, somewhat like the European Union who, in its foreign relations, can be represented by the current Presidency assisted by the member state which will assume the following Presidency. One might well imagine that successive Forums are prepared with previous and current organizers ensuring continuity and the advantages of experience. The selection of the host city for the 2015 Forum will be made before 2012 and to some extent we can already start working on the post-Forum. We are keen to encourage and support the implication of local authorities and will do our utmost to ensure that the preparation process supports and reinforces the involvement of local authorities. On this point, progress has been made since Mexico City and Istanbul both in terms of participation interest and engagement and in terms of monitoring. There is a real dynamic of local authorities.

LAMY ENVIRONMENT: The confrontational nature of water rights disputes is one of the major issues facing certain states on the so called “arc of crisis” that extends from the Sahel to Afghanistan. The 1997 United Nations Convention on the Non-navigational uses of International Watercourses adopted by France included specific reference to security issues. Are security issues included for discussion at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille?

Guy FRADIN: What will be discussed at the Forum is first, the cross-border issue. Even if conflict is always in the background, it is not the approach taken by the Forum. The problem that remains at the forefront of Forum preoccupations is the ethical problem of water sharing. Indeed, when we speak of World Heritage, we can no longer ignore issues related to fair sharing. This is a perennial problem and one that has been present in human affairs from the dawn of history. The objective here is to open the doors to dialogue, for example by creating transnational commissions where they do not already exist. The Forum presents a unique opportunity to bring people who disagree together to dialogue. Transborder issues are of real concern so much so that France recently ratified the UN Watercourses Convention; France is only the twenty-second state to ratify and much work remains to be done for full adoption. Water sharing is an important subject and needs to be addressed collectively. People are not willing to share this resource, not even we who do not lack for water. (France receives 400 billion cubic meters of rainfall per year. Of the 200 billion that do not evaporate we use only 30 billion.) It is necessary now for us to address the issue of water sharing. These are essentially local issues of water supply, even in France where some areas critically lack of water, hence the interest in water transfers. The real issues therefore are the ethical issues raised by cross-border sharing, a subject we should all of us approach in an intelligent and focused manner. We must avoid tunnel vision so as not to miss the real problems and see only those problems that concern us as developed countries. But the Forum is there for that too, to grasp and understand the different preoccupations. Countries must make the effort to understand what is happening in other countries. In fact here is the very essence of a Forum; it is a time to meet others and to exchange. It is even a great moment of peace among peoples. One meets. One talks. It is even incomprehensible and distressing that dissident movements are trying to stage an alter-forum. All voices can and should be heard.

LAMY ENVIRONMENT: An announcement is already planned for the implementation of a permanent monitoring procedure. What concrete actions are envisaged for the implementation of such monitoring?

Guy FRADIN: We need to proceed carefully with this issue. We can already mention that a permanent website regularly updated is envisaged allowing continuous monitoring of commitments. One might envisage on-going communications operations or joint actions between successive forums, as mentioned earlier, spotlighting the developments and accomplishments of previous forums. To ensure continuity between forums and to reinforce Forum credibility, as little as possible should be lost from one forum to another. One should also be mindful of monitoring and reporting issues. Never-the-less, these are questions that remain to be addressed in future preparatory meetings. A monitoring protocole has not yet been formalized.

LAMY ENVIRONMENT: A word of conclusion?

Guy FRADIN: It’s too early for a conclusion so I won’t offer one at this point. Well yes, perhaps I will: Get to work! There is no end to the work that needs to be done to organize and host a global forum, and ultimately no end to the work necessary to improve universal access to water and sanitation. There can never really be a conclusion. The dual challenge of safe drinking water broadly available is a challenge for the many decades ahead, but the work is started and the 2012 Forum is less than one year away. Let us keep in mind two words, modesty and ambition, and then, let us do and redo our jobs, hastening slowly and without losing heart to put our work twenty times upon the anvil.

Interview conducted February 22, 2011. The text of the interview was reviewed by Guy FRADIN prior to publication in these columns. 

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