Speech by the Prince of Orange

Mexico-Stad, Mexico, 16 March 2006

at the opening ceremony of the fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City 'Restoring the home of the tadpoles': boosting local action by enabling leadership and sharing knowledge".

Señor Vincente Fox, president of the United States of Mexico, Your Imperial Highness, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

First, Mr President, let me thank you for hosting this fourth World Water Forum. And with you, I would like to thank everyone in Mexico involved in the preparations. Organising global conferences like this one is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work, as I remember only too well from the second World Water Forum in The Hague. So I appreciate all the more your efforts to boost action on water issues all over the world. The message we are sending to the world this week is that we need local actions. I salute the Mexican government for acknowledging this fact, thereby showing the leadership we need to pick up our pace in dealing with the important water issues that determine the future of billions. For the Mexican government, it is clearly beyond dispute that water should remain a priority on the international agenda. And I'm sure it will come as no surprise that I agree with that entirely.

Ladies and gentlemen, according to a well-known saying from the world of management, 'processes don't do work, but people do'. You can't really argue with that. Yet I believe that it doesn't strictly apply to our work here. Ever since the first World Water Forum in Morocco, water has been higher on national and international agendas than ever before. Many initiatives have already been launched. The numerous actions that will be discussed here in the coming week show that sustainable water management is a hot issue the world over. Without the vision formulated in Marrakech in 1997, and the call issued there for a Blue Revolution, we would never have gotten this far. The step from vision to action, which it was my privilege to present in The Hague in 2000, was also essential. And Kyoto in 2003 was a landmark because it linked an action programme for water with the Millennium Development Goals. I believe that the main aim of this fourth World Water Forum is for the hundreds of projects that will be presented here to act as catalysts for thousands of new projects worldwide.

All these events form benchmarks. And yet, at the end of the day, it is people who do the work. That is something we should never forget. Because the global challenges we face must indeed be met with actions at local level. I only need to point to the findings of the UN Millennium Project and the Sachs Report.

Ladies and gentlemen, one person who really knows how to work is Wangaari Maathai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. In her acceptance speech, she took her audience back to her childhood in Kenya. The water in the small river near the family home was clean, safe and healthy. Fifty years on, she could still remember her joy and wonder as a child every time the frog spawn in the stream transformed into thousands of tadpoles.

But now, fifty years later, said Ms Maathai '.. the stream has dried up, women walk long distances for water, which is not always clean, and children will never know what they have lost.' With these words, she revealed the exact reasons why she set up the Green Belt Movement in 1977. This organisation, which since then has planted more than thirty million trees, is making a big difference for many people, mainly because they themselves play a leading part in the work of the Green Belt Movement. Putting an end to deforestation in this way not only leads to economic development in rural areas. It also improves the water supply, strengthens the ecosystem and - last but not least - boosts the self-confidence of the thousands involved. Or, as the Nobel Prize winner herself put it: 'The challenge is to restore the home of the tadpoles and give back to our children a world of beauty and wonder.'

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the kind of leadership we need if we are to do justice to the motto of the fourth World Water Forum: local actions for a global challenge. Wangari Maathai is the living proof that 'think globally, act locally' can - and must - be more than a clever slogan in the global dialogue on water, development and sustainability. Or to put it another way, for me, the significance of this Forum lies in the follow-up at local level.

I think it is safe to say that, at this point, we don't need more new policies. What we do need is swift action. Especially in view of last year's Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. That report brings home to us how careless we have been with the earth's natural resources in the past fifty years. It also shows that the tide must be turned if we are to survive. Biodiversity is at stake and with it, the well-being and very existence of future generations.

Water is a crucial factor and it is no exaggeration to say that the figures and water scenarios presented in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment are frightening. Let me give you a few of those figures. The number of flood events rose dramatically between 1950 and 2000. In Asia, they increased sevenfold and on the American continent roughly by a factor of nine. Recent, highly destructive hurricanes and cyclones like Rita, Katrina and Damrey give us little hope for the future. Especially in the light of climate change which - amongst other things - will lead to more extreme weather conditions and rising sea-levels.

Another factor that is cause for concern, given the already increasing scarcity in many regions, is the growing demand for water. In the most pessimistic scenario, global water withdrawals will increase by 85 per cent between 2000 and 2050. At the same time, water availability will increase by no more than seven per cent. The main reason for this growing demand is population growth and the need for more food. As I have stressed on many earlier occasions, the global water crisis is mainly an agricultural crisis because 70 per cent of all water withdrawals are being used to grow crops. And that is only an average. In some countries, the figure is nearly 100 per cent. In the light of the scenarios I have just sketched, water managers and scientists of all kinds will be under increasing pressure to ensure that in the near future farmers can grow more crop per drop. The world simply must increase its agricultural productivity with less water. There is no other way. Those among you who also attended the second World Water Forum in The Hague and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 will recognise this as one of my favourite themes. But, as I just said, we don't need new policies. The ones we have are cutting edge.

The growing demand for water has yet another dimension which, I am convinced, will become increasingly prominent in the years to come. That is the ongoing discussion on our future energy supplies. The demand for energy is growing, one of the reasons being the rapid economic growth of countries like China and India. At the same time, reserves of fossil fuels are limited. So it is logical that the demand for hydropower will increase. In many respects that is good news for the world, since hydropower is clean and ecosystem-friendly. But generating it calls for a continuous, reliable flow of water, with consideration for the interests of all stakeholders. That is not only an extra challenge for water managers. It also places restrictions on withdrawals of water for other purposes.

Another development is the cultivation of crops for bio-energy. That too calls for great quantities of water. In Brazil, for example, companies are already engaged in the large-scale cultivation of sugar cane for the production of ethanol. This requires an average of 23,000 cubic metres of water for every hectare per harvest. It does not take a mathematical genius to work out that producing energy in this way calls for massive quantities of water. This is another issue water managers will have to deal with.

Ladies and gentlemen, we were recently confronted with the notion that the West is addicted to oil. I am sure that we can safely admit here that the whole of mankind is equally addicted to water: some of us are privileged to be addicted to a lifestyle, all of us however, are addicted to life. Reality is that Homo sapiens managed without fossil fuels for tens of thousands of years, but without water, he will only survive a few days. As we cannot be cured of this particular addiction, we need to bring our desire for water under control with sustainable development strategies. That is what we agreed in Johannesburg. For water this means that every country should draft and implement its integrated water management plans without delay. I will be talking about that subject at greater length later in the week.

The point I am trying to make today is that the global challenge we face is growing as we speak. And ultimately there is only one way of tackling these very serious problems. That is, by taking small steps, with initiatives on the ground, like the ones we will discuss today. But I'm also looking forward to hearing the proposals the Gurria Task Force on innovative financing mechanisms will be presenting tomorrow. Because these could be the start of many new projects.

It is important that in this way we take the global dialogue on water a step forward this week, towards real people coping with real problems. Like the people in Darewadi village in the Indian Maharashtra region. With the help of the Indo-German Watershed Development Programme, they have succeeded in halting the process of desertification around their village. It took them only ten years to do so. In that time, the crop growing season has increased from three to ten months a year. The number of crop varieties has increased. The value of farmland has quadrupled. And the tanker truck that used to supply the villagers with water from April to July stopped coming in 2004, because it had become redundant. All of this was the result of an intensive programme combining capacity building, tree planting, and new, village-led watershed management activities.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings me back to the inspiring example of Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement. Her approach works because she focuses on local actions by real people dealing with their own, very real problems. What she has shown us is that 'restoring the home of the tadpoles' calls for an extraordinary form of leadership. Not the kind that produces more followers, but the kind that produces more leaders at all levels of society. That is the kind of leadership I wish all of you here this week at the fourth World Water Forum. And not just this week, but even more so in the weeks months and years to come.

Thank you.