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Interview with Bert Diphoorn: World Water 2011 on Water and Urbanization

Bert DiphoornApril 2011


Bert Diphoorn is the Director of the Human Settlements Financing Division at UN-Habitat, the Agency responsible for coordinating this year's theme for World Water Day.

This is the first time in human history that most of the world's population lives in cities: 3.3 billion people... and the urban landscape continues to grow. According to the United Nations's publication "World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision", the urban areas of the world are expected to absorb all the population growth expected over the next four decades while at the same time drawing in some of the rural population. Globally, the level of urbanization is expected to rise from 50 per cent in 2009 to 69 per cent in 2050.

The theme of this year's World Water Day "Water and Urbanization" under the slogan "Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge" is focussing on raising awareness on the impact of rapid urban population growth, industrialization and uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts and natural disasters on urban water systems. We aim to encourage action by governments, organizations, communities, and individuals around the world to actively engage in addressing urban water management challenges. UN-HABITAT is the coordinating agency on behalf of UN-Water for this year's event.

This year's global commemoration of World Water Day will be held in Cape Town, South Africa. The event is a joint collaboration of UN-Water, the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW), the United Nations Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).
The three-day global event will bring together approximately 1,500 international and local participants, comprising over 20 thematic sessions, 40 exhibitors and high-level panel debates.


Key messages

UN-HABITAT has worked closely with UN-Water Members and other partner organizations to develop key messages for this year's World Water Day. They have been categorized into 5 thematic areas: urbanization, sanitation and pollution, governance and management, investment and finance, environmental impact and climate change.

  • Urbanization - The major impending impact of rapid urban population growth and the growth of informal settlements is the most pressing and urgent challenge in the water sector.
  • Sanitation and Pollution - The impact of industrialization, water pollution, lack of sanitation and environmental degradation (on land, in fresh water and marine environments) needs greater recognition and attention.
  • Governance and Management - Improve governance, deepen the reform of local government, city and utility management.
  • Investment and Finance - Increase investment and sustainable financial management of urban water supply, sanitation/sewerage, wastewater treatment and storm water infrastructure.
  • Environmental Impact and Climate Change - Impacts on the environment from climate change, conflicts and natural disasters pose huge challenges for urban water and waste management.

Approach to World Water Day 2011 involves:

  • Engaging top leadership – Get key messages to world leaders to recognize the importance of urban water and waste management and use their influence to inspire positive action.
  • From a day to a year: The WWD 2011 will be a launch of activities and approaches that seek to reach out for the year ahead and beyond.
  • Getting women, children and youth involved – Reach out to all stakeholders, but especially get women, children and youth involved in activities to celebrate the activities.
  • Strong media exposure – Give special attention to engaging the media to give high exposure to in WWD 2011.
  • Connecting people - Connect as many WWD 2011 events across the world as possible using tele/videoconferences, live broadcasts, facebook, twitter, etc. to provide a sense of community and enable mass participation in the global celebrations.
  • Learning exchanges – Encourage learning and information exchanges between different constituencies, cities, towns and between countries. WWD will also seek to mobilize the major water agencies and partnerships to focus their attention on urban issues.
  • Reaching out beyond water – There are many stakeholders not directly involved in water management, who are affected or can contribute to improving water and sanitation management. WWD 2011 seeks to reach out to business, the health, education, energy, infrastructure and environmental sectors to play a part in addressing the complex urban challenge

World Water Day is held annually on 22 March to highlight the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of freshwater resources. It dates back to the 1992 when the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) recommended it as an important reminder to the world. The United Nations General Assembly then designated 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day.


Bert Diphoorn

Last update:07 Oct 2014