Political drive needed to reach goals - Rouse

Out-going President Michael Rouse shares his views on global water issues with Natasha Wiseman

Michael Rouse clearly sees his role as that of mediator. Whether the issue is public versus private sector, large-scale versus small-scale projects, or technological versus political management, he talks about bringing people together, sharing knowledge and expertise, and getting the balance right.

At the heart of Rouse's interests is sanitation. WHO figures reveal that the Millenial Development Goals (MDG) target for sanitation will be missed by half billion people without rapid acceleration. Rouse explained how the institutions of the international water community are addressing this massive shortfall. "We are launching a sanitation initiative with WHO, UNDP, World Bank and World Water Council, and we are jointly appointing a project coordinator. We need to focus everybody's expertise.

"There are lots of religious zealots in sanitation. Some say: 'You can only have a water-based system because that's the way Europe has it.' Others say: 'No you can't have water-based sanitation, you have to have eco-san'. (see page 34)

IWA's role is to harness all those energies and debate the pros and cons of all these systems. The limiting factor for a wholly waterborne sanitation system, apart from finance, is availability of water. Limitations to totally dry separation sanitation are probably density of population and the scale of solid waste collection, composting and fertiliser production."

Re-examining water reuse is similarly on Rouse's agenda.

"In May 2005, IWA has a water reuse conference in Xi'an, China," he says (see Diary, page 12), "and we are not only focusing on the technology. To provide water for agriculture and for domestic use we need to implement cascading uses for water.

"You do not have to steal much from agriculture to get all you need domestically and you can make agriculture much more efficient too. Maybe effluent needs to be treated to a high standard and recharged; different situations require different solutions.

"IWA has a very active specialist group for Water Reuse. We need to bring the cities and the agricultural interests together. Historically farmers have had water for free but maybe that needs to change."

The launch of a Rainwater Harvesting Task Force this year demonstrates IWA's commitment to sustainable technology. Prior to chairing the RWH workshop, Rouse described how there is a revival of interest in this ancient strategy for producing safe water cheaply.

"In some parts of the world, rainwater harvesting is done totally naturally. We want to bring back that experience from the past, enhanced by contemporary scientific knowledge," (see page 30).

Rouse stresses that, however significant the technological advances, the big changes are going to be made in the political arena.

"We want to communicate the real issues to the political bodies. We are trying to persuade the World Water Council, at the World Water Forum in Mexico in May 2006, not to have a huge technical conference. Obviously, the host nation wants a big display but they can get a bigger display if real progress is made in terms of commitments from governments.

"People will not remember if you had 530 workshops on technical applications. However, they will remember if you have some really powerful declarations from administrations.

"Senior IWA members usually have access to their own governments. I think we need to establish clear messages and then consistently promote those messages back to our own governments.

The Chief Executive Officers (CEO) Forum in IWA, gives leaders of water utilities and the public sector, around the world, the opportunity to share knowledge and experience with other participants and search for practical solutions to international problems.

Rouse explained its value, "The CEO meeting in Marrakech provided the opportunity to discuss the current and future needs of communities in arid regions for improved water and sanitation services, focusing on institutional strategies and efficiency of water operations.

"The whole spectrum is represented: from wholly municipal systems at one end, to the UK corporate model at the other and, in between, are the consumers. To make any of these systems work, certain principles have to be applied."

"A well-defined and independent regulatory system is important, as is a well-regulated procurement process. For benchmarking to be successful you also need independent regulators and a re-licensing process.

"Where a municipality uses the private sector through a concession contract, there is usually a licence for about 15 years. However, generally, public operators are there in perpetuity. For effective regulation I believe that in all situations there should be some time-limiting mechanism."


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