The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg produced
a firm multinational commitment to cut by half the number of people with
inadequate water supply and sanitation, and to do so by 2015. Clean water,
sanitation and hygiene were primary themes of the conference, in contrast
to the Rio summit ten years ago which focused on energy and greenhouse
|The Hippo Roller
is an ingenious
The official delegates to the Summit were national ministers of environment
and trade. Much of their negotiation was behind closed doors, but there
were a few seats at plenary sessions for observers like me.
I was in Johannesburg to attend one of the many parallel conferences
that were being held simultaneously in widely scattered venues. (Imagine
a Seattle Summit involving meeting sites located in Seattle, Tacoma,
Bellevue, and the Puyallup fairgrounds.)
Local Government Session
Seattle is a member of the International Council for Local Environmental
Initiatives. ICLEI is a worldwide coalition of cities formed at Rio
ten years ago to demonstrate that environmental principles can be implemented
by local government. ICLEI held a 4-day workshop in Johannesburg to
showcase best practices of cities around the globe.
I made a presentation about the City of Seattle/Puget Sound Clean Air
Agency program of retrofitting diesel vehicles for ultra low-sulfur fuel
ICLEI issued a call for action (www.iclei.org/lgs/johannesburg_call.htm)
to create sustainable cities while protecting the "global common goods" of
air, climate, water, soil, biodiversity, health and food. ICLEI's message
to the UN and the national leaders demands support for effective local
governance and strengthened local capacity to deliver environmental services.
||The conference featured displays of local environmental
I spent several productive days at the Water Dome, a sports arena taken
over for two weeks to showcase water and sanitation initiatives. Reducing
floods, reversing desertification, protecting and restoring tropical
wetlands, harvesting rainwater for small-scale agriculture-scores of
good ideas and effective programs were on display in the Water Dome.
The WASH theme (Water, Sanitation, Hygiene) was everywhere. Simple hygiene-washing
hands with soap after toileting or diapering-could dramatically reduce
Third-World illness and deaths from diarrhea and waterborne disease.
I was greatly encouraged by the creativity of solutions, particularly
the indigenous and decentralized solutions that are available.
Most of these don't need to wait for the UN or national government to
commit tens of millions of dollars. (For example, see http://www.hipporoller.org/ or http://www.water.org/).
Other Highlights and Memories
- Queuing for security checks, endlessly, at every venue.
- Attending a plenary session of the Summit. No, I wasn't one of the
official delegates fed Lobster! (I did this trip on my MasterCard and
frequent flier miles, not at taxpayer expense)
- Trying to get phone calls through on my mobile with 65,000 other
conferees on their cell phones jamming the airwaves.
- An impromptu lunch with a half-dozen Australian councilmembers who
quizzed me about Seattle's strategies for concentrated urban growth,
transportation demand management, and recycling.
- Stark contrasts between the upscale hotels and shopping at the Convention
Center and the barren sprawl of Soweto Township.
- Discussing world water solutions over dinner with the International
Water Association leadership team from Japan, UK, America, Australia
and South Africa.
- A World Health Organization conference on health crises in Africa-AIDS,
malaria, TB, diarrhea, and respiratory diseases from sooty household cooking
fires. Prevention and treatment that is taken for granted in rich countries
encounters multiple obstacles in sub-Saharan Africa.
- A garden tour in the neighborhood where I was staying. In one of
the featured gardens, the owner was replacing water-intensive lawns
and English flower beds with drought-tolerant indigenous plants. This
was my only sightseeing excursion and I loved it!
|Margaret meeets with officials
of the International Water Association
The Summit's failure to adopt clear goals and targets for renewable
energy was a major disappointment. But the focus on water, sanitation
and hygiene seems likely to produce real improvements in developing
countries. And it is clear these services can be delivered in
environmentally sustainable ways.
Encouragingly, some 700 businesses and companies attended the
Johannesburg talks, many of them pledging to take specific responsibility
for environmental improvements, with or without government financing.
Together with the host of non-profit groups and environmental activists
at the summit, they have built a powerful momentum for change.
And I learned something about the interplay of environmental and
fiscal sustainability. A water system or garbage service that doesn't
collect enough money for ongoing operation and maintenance is not
sustainable. On the other hand, an environmental program that demands
too much money, from donors or taxes or ratepayers, is not sustainable
either. Local government is often where that crucial balance must
be found. It is no small job.