Tim Kasten is the Deputy Director of UNEP's Division of Environmental Policy Implementation and Coordinator of the Freshwater and Terrestrial Ecosystems Branch of UNEP and currently serves as Vice-Chair of UN-Water. We asked him to reflect upon the achievements made to address water quality challenges over the past year and his thoughts on the emerging priorities for the near future.
In 2010, UNEP, UN-Water and its members and partners have made a concerted effort to increase international focus on water quality issues. What do you see as the most significant achievements made over the past year?
Starting on World Water Day and over the past year we have been able to raise awareness on issues of water quality. In the past, much more focus has been on water quantity issues and getting water to people, to industry and to agriculture, which is very important and we must continue to work on this. But at the same time we need an equal focus on water quality because if water arrives to people in a state that is not usable it can cause damage to people in terms of human health. Equally if water reaches municipalities,industries and the environment in a state where it is too polluted to use, then water in large quantities does not help.
Of course, it requires a lot of money and resources to clean up the water, which is why we stress looking at water quantity and water quality together. [This year] we have done this by beginning to raise awareness on this issue and have continued that thematic focus on water quality at the Stockholm World Water Week in September 2010 also. The UN Water membership and partnership have also agreed this past September to create a new Thematic Priority Area, where we will begin a greater and continuing focus on these issues of water quality. It is not just about raising awareness anymore, it is about documenting where we have problems, documenting where we have solutions and identifying the appropriate means of moving ahead.
The huge advantage of doing this through UN Water… is that we all have something different to add. The multi-disciplinary nature of UN Water, where some agencies are looking from a human health perspective, others from a groundwater perspective, from an urban water perspective, or in the case of UNEP from an environmental perspective, provides a more comprehensive view of the issues as well as a much stronger program to address them than if they were just being addressed by one agency.
At the 2010 World Water Week in Stockholm, you led a session on "Pathways to Shortcut Historical Pollution Trends". What have we learned? What can countries and communities do to decouple water pollution and economic growth?
Industrialized countries have gone through a certain level of learning experience both making mistakes and having successes. We do believe these lessons, and the technologies that go along with them, can be transferred to developing countries to shortcut pollution trends experienced in the past in industrialized countries. In the past, certainly from the 1930-1950's, industrialized nations saw no end to our natural resources and environmental resources and pollution was not really seen as a large problem. As a result, they were producing at the expense of the environment. Now of course we realize that development without the recognition of the environment was a mistake and the industrialized countries have moved to correct that. But many developing countries are still in that era of industrialization and development. We think a lot can be learned and transferred to developing countries so they do not need to make the same mistakes. Countries do need to develop, but we believe if that development occurs in the context of a Green Economy that development will happen in a more environmentally sustainable way.