A new panel is being established to address a serious void in leadership on global water issues. Twenty former heads of government from around the world met in Quebec City, Canada, on 31 May to consider the world water crisis. While several recommendations were adopted, implementation may be hampered because of the absence from the talks of two key states, the Netherlands and Australia.
The group, known as the InterAction Council, which includes former US President, Bill Clinton, former Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and other former leaders, issued a statement saying that humankind was facing the danger of a water crisis.
‘Without water, energy cannot be produced, crops cannot grow, sanitisation is compromised and human health is put in jeopardy. Clean and reliable access to water is integral to maintaining and supporting a life full of dignity,’ the statement said.
Australia is noticeably absent from the list of members on the Council. Australia’s sole representative, Richard Butler, who is chairman of the Middle Power Initiative, was present only as a guest.
The InterAction Council offered 21 recommendations, which included, among other things, support for the process of a truly multilateral world order to make decisions on water issues. It urged national governments to price water sources to appropriately reflect their economic value and to place water at the forefront of the global political agenda. It also encouraged a discussion on water security at the UN Security Council.
Other items included ensuring water was used to grow food and not biofuels in areas where water supplies were limited, and supporting and advancing the United Nations international water protocols.
Besides Australia, there was another noticeable absence at the discussions. The Netherlands, which is considered a world leader in water research and technology, was not on the list of attendees. The Netherlands’ Prince William-Alexander, the chairman of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, is an honorary member of the World Commission on Water for the Twenty-first Century and patron of the Global Water Partnership. His presence, even as a guest, would have been beneficial in marketing and implementing the recommendations.
At least on paper, it appears that the recommendations of the InterAction Council stem from frustration with the workings of the current international bodies charged with developing polices for international water security. Even so, it appears that leaving the Netherlands out of the discussions will make implementation of the recommendations more difficult; they may even lack practicality.
The situation is similar with regard to Australia’s absence. While a relatively small global player, Australian water research has much to offer for areas such as Africa. Indeed, the InterAction Group could be well served by former Australian Governor-General Michael Jeffery, particularly because of his own passion for, and knowledge of, water issues. Major General Jeffery is the head of Canberra-based Outcomes Australia, which is finding solutions to address the water crisis in Australia. He is also Chairman of Future Directions International, whose mandate includes finding solutions to global water crises and ways that Australia’s expertise can be used to support the global effort.
Having both the Netherlands and Australia play a role in the InterAction Council should assist in bringing the recommendations to fruition.
Further reading: https://www.interactioncouncil.org/
Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme