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Conclusions
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MILANKOVITCH ANNIVERSARY UNESCO SYMPOSIUM WATER MANAGEMENT IN TRANSITION COUNTRIES AS IMPACTED BY CLIMATE CHANGE AND OTHER GLOBAL CHANGES, LESSONS FROM PALEOCLIMATE, AND REGIONAL ISSUES
BELGRADE, SERBIA, 3-5 SEPTEMBER 2014

BELGRADE STATEMENT OF WATER SECTOR SUSTAINABILITY

SUMMARY OF THE DELIBERATIONS
OF THE CONFERENCE ON
WATER MANAGEMENT IN TRANSITION COUNTRIES

NOTICE: THE SUMMARY STATEMENT OF THE CONFERENCE PAST CLIMATE: A LESSON FOR THE FUTURE.  REGIONAL CLIMATE CHANGE ASPECTS WILL BE SUBSEQUENTLY POSTED ON THE WEBSITE.

 

PRELUDE

The idea to have a conference on water management in transition countries was sparked by the expressed need to achieve water management objectives at different levels throughout the world, as well as the need to assist transition countries to resolve their issues in the field of water.

Countries undergoing transition are those countries in which systemic, social and economic changes are rapid.

The Conference "Water Management in Transition Countries" was organized along with a conference on climate change, because the two themes are entwined. Both conferences were held as part of an event that marked the anniversary of the world-renowned Serbian scientist Milutin Milanković.

A total of 21 papers by authors from 12 countries were submitted, of which 13 were published in the Book of Abstracts and 8 were only presented at the Conference.
Transition countries were represented by papers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Malaysia, Pakistan, Serbia and Slovenia. A number of additional papers were submitted by authors affiliated with various international organizations (EU, ICPDR, UNESCO, World Bank, etc.). Namibia participated as the only country from the African continent.

CONTEXT

On a global scale, although UNICEF stated in its 2012 report that a Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on drinking water has been achieved—that in 2010 89.1% of the global population was able to use improved drinking water sources (the actual goal was 88%), a large number of people in the world still have no access to healthy drinking water and many die from waterborne diseases. The situation in the sanitation (wastewater evacuation and treatment) segment is considerably worse; the MDG for improving basic sanitation (75%) is still far from being met (63%).

During the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), countries reaffirmed their commitment to make every effort to accelerate the achievement of the MDGs by 2015. In the outcome document "The future we want", countries gave a mandate for the establishment of an Open Working Group (OWG), to develop a set of so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). OWG completed its work in July 2014 and forwarded to the UN General Assembly its proposal for a set of goals that address economic, social and environmental dimensions of improving people's lives and protecting the planet for the future.

Countries are required to commit themselves to these objectives in principle. However, on a regional scale there are multilateral and bilateral agreements that call for more stringent implementation. The EU water directives are one such example, as they are binding for all EU member states.

Global or regional objectives relate to the members of an organization or a region. However, countries differ to a large extent in terms of external drivers of water management (abundance of water resources, economic and political circumstances, climate conditions, climate change impacts, etc.) and the strength of internal drivers (organization of water governance, etc.).

FINDINGS

The Conference demonstrated a large disparity between two major drivers: availability of renewable water resources and economic strength.

In countries with relatively weak economies and/or countries where the level of education of the population is relatively low, objectives tend to differ from those in transition countries, especially if the economies of the latter are strong. In this regard, there are also differences between the current role and the necessary role of international organizations in capacity building and technical assistance (United Nations organizations), as well as of international financial institutions.

In transition countries, international institutions play a significant role in the areas of capacity building and education, as well as in the implementation of multilateral and bilateral agreements, and they also fund diverse projects aimed at achieving more stringent objectives of integrated water management.

Due to the economic weaknesses of certain countries, adaptive water management strives to attain sustainability within natural and social constrains, as well as those that might be brought about by climate change and scarcity of water resources.

Given that "transition" in the present sense implies a series of economic changes (like in most South East European countries), such changes give rise to a number of significant limitations, including: the output gap of transition economies; an increase in national indebtedness; the need to undertake a larger-than-usual number of capital projects (which is particularly the case in the water sector); customary substantial weakening of public service capacities engaged in water management; and frequent faltering or dissolution of scientific and professional institutions and organizations in the field of water.

To strictly uphold rapid achievement of sustainability (e.g. EU directives), requires very serious levels of investment, often exceeding by far the capability of a country to prepare capital projects, in institutional, organizational and financial terms. In the absence of thorough preparations and governance adjustments, in countries with a modest GDP (i.e. less than 10,000 € per capita annually), it is generally not realistic to set objectives that require rapid and sizeable spending to achieve sustainable water management. In such cases it is necessary for investments to be spread over realistic timeframes.

Global organizations are expected to cooperate with and provide assistance to countries; the scope of the present effort should be expanded, to also focus on the establishment of water management systems capable of responding to the required tasks.

Given that Serbia, a transition country, was the host country of the Conference, Serbia's water management issues were highlighted.

Water sector development can only be achieved if key issues are resolved, through:

  • A reform of the financial system;
  • Strengthening of capacities at all levels;
  • An adequately balanced approach to decision-making (centralization-decentralization); and
  • A stronger bond with scientific, research and professional organization, aimed at upgrading state administration capacities.

The meeting expressed the need for a thorough understanding of the relationship between the water sector and other sectors and the necessity to show that the water sector is not only a prerequisite for growth and development, but is also a major driver of the development in other sectors.

The meeting also pointed out that there is a need for sustainable agriculture through investment in irrigation, where appropriate.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Whenever a major change in the scope of activities is envisaged, appropriate plans need to be developed and the system of governance duly adapted to the set objectives.

Given all the differences between countries, it is recommended that each country follow a suitably adapted approach to the enhancement of water governance, which should ensure appropriate implementation and systematic functioning of water management.

In this regard, the following need to be taken into consideration and implemented:

  • A proper balance between centralized and decentralized water management;
  • Appropriate capacities at focal points of governance (central and peripheral administrations);
  • Devising of fitting water legislation that will lead to effective promotion of successful and sustainable development of the country in question;
  • Identifying of suitable tools to demonstrate the nexus between effective water management and social and economic gains;
  • Adequate funding for all water management functions (appropriate water pricing, taxes, budget...);
  • Accumulation of funds for capital project implementation (water fund, water bank, and the like);
  • A straightforward plan, identifying milestones, targets and priorities;
  • Maintenance and upgrading of scientific and professional institutions and capacities.

It is clear that often the entire system of water governance in a given area (country) needs to be adapted accordingly.

In the case of Serbia, in order for it to achieve the objectives of integrated water management, as well as to meet the requirements laid before it through the EU integration process, water sector turnover needs to be increased from some 350 million € to about 1 billion €.

 
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