Forum opens with call to curb Asia’s water woes

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and other Asia-Pacific leaders launched a two-day regional water summit at this hot spring resort Monday to find a political commitment to confront water-related challenges increasingly facing the region amid rapid population growth, global warming and rising sea levels.

International statistics show 700 million people are without access to safe drinking water in the Asia-Pacific region, or 61 percent of the total worldwide, and 1.9 billion do not have hygienic toilet facilities in the region, or 74 percent of the global total.

More than 80 percent of the annual average world death tolls from water-related disasters in the five years from 2001 were concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region.

The First Asia-Pacific Water Summit has brought together about 300 people, including industry leaders and environmental experts, from some 40 countries and territories.

Under the main theme “Water Security: Leadership and Commitment,” participants were set to exchange opinions on water shortages, disasters, insufficient infrastructure and governance, and other water-related issues.

“I hope active discussions to be made at the Asia-Pacific summit will provide really enormous power and wisdom to the G8 meeting,” Fukuda said at the opening ceremony. Climate change will top the agenda at the Group of Eight summit to be held next July in the Lake Toya hot-spring area of Hokkaido, he said.

The regional summit in Beppu is also expected to serve as a precursor to other upcoming international events, including the Fifth World Water Summit in Istanbul in 2009.

In his speech at the gathering, Crown Prince Naruhito said water has “influence on various other problems, such as women’s empowerment and the achievement of universal primary education, and therefore is a vital issue that affects the very survival of every nation.”

Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, chairman of the summit’s steering committee, said, “Management of water is a huge factor determining the direction of a nation” and stressed the importance of international cooperation.

Key presenters for panel sessions include Ken Noguchi, a Japanese alpinist who has actively worked for the preservation of mountain environments.

In a session slated for Tuesday, Kiribati President Anote Tong and other delegates from Pacific islands whose survival is being threatened by climate change and the resultant rise in sea levels will discuss strategies to combat the crisis.