UNESCO and SUEZ join forces to improve access to safe water

15 October 2002 A cooperation agreement to improve access to water for all was signed yesterday at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris by Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, and Gérard Mestrallet, Chairman and CEO of the Company SUEZ.

Section 2.2 of the Science Agenda on Science, environment and sustainable development identifies the freshwater issue and the hydrological cycle as areas requiring special attention.

Mr Matsuura has applauded the decision of governments at the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (26 August– 4 September) to expand their commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals by pledging to have the number of people without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation by 2015. Water is a priority for UNESCO’s Science Sector. Its International Hydrological Programme (IHP) conducts scientific and educational studies to improve water resource management throughout the world.

As for SUEZ, it is a global leader providing water services in industrialized nations (87% of its turnover) and developing countries. ‘This agreement with UNESCO is totally in line with "Bridging the Water Divide," the alarm call launched by SUEZ for water for all one year ago,’ stressed Mr Mestrallet. 'We think that access to safe water can be rapidly improved if we fully take advantage of all available resources and bring them together within public–private partnership contracts involving civil society.'

Both the Declaration and the Science Agenda call for increased co-operation between science and industry, as well as between the public and private sectors, in the promotion of scientific research for long-term goals. As pointed out in the Declaration, the two sectors should work in close collaboration and in a complementary manner in the financing of such research.

Industry makes a major contributionis also a major contributer to to scientific research, and an increasing proportion of which scientific research is being funded iby n the private sector. The British Economist remarked in 1999 in an article on the World Conference on Science (WCS) that observation science-based industrial firms did not bring something significant to the party that at(i.e. to the WCS)science-based industrial firms did not bring something significant to the party (The Economist). UNESCO may propose that efforts be made towards the establishment ofto establish an international mechanism to reinforcefor a reinforced dialogue between science and industry as one of the priority initiatives within WCS follow-up.

It is interesting to note that ‘Type 2 partnerships’ as they are known, were included at the World Summit on Sustainable Development as a formal outcome for the first time. In the past, only the formal Declaration and Plan of Implementation (Type 1 outcomes) negotiated by governments would have counted as formal outcomes. This exciting innovation offers great potential for science–industry and public–private partnerships. Some 20 of the more than 220 Type 2 partnerships identified during the Summit process involve UNESCO directly, essentially in science and education.

The UNESCO-SUEZ agreement outlines several areas of action for which SUEZ will provide about 300,000 euros for the first three years. The first concerns a new UNESCO interdisciplinary initiative to rehabilitate the Volga–Caspian basin. Home to more than 60 million people, the basin’s environment is suffering from decades of massive industrialization and urbanization. Forty-two million tons of toxic wastes accumulate in the basin every year, out of which only about 13% are neutralized and re-used. SUEZ will contribute financially to the UNESCO initiative and by offering expert advice in improving drinking water quality.

SUEZ will also help to finance activities in the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft (Netherlands), which will be formally launched later this year. The new institute will mark a new chapter in the development of the International Institute for Infrastructural, Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering (IHE), which is world-renowned for its training of post-graduate students, especially from developing countries, in all aspects of water management.

The new partnership will also benefit the UNESCO Chair for Integrated Water Resource Management, based in Casablanca, Morocco. This chair has been extremely active throughout North Africa, working closely with non-governmental organizations, university students and journalists to raise public awareness about water governance. The company has also agreed to set up several bursaries for researchers from developing countries in water-related fields.

For more information contact UNESCO’s IHP: j.bogardi@unesco.org or the Press Relations for the Company SUEZ: gdellicour@suez.com