India and Pakistan need political will and good faith negotiations to find solutions to cross-border water resource and associated ecosystem issues, says World Conservation Union (IUCN) Director-General Achim Steiner.
Achim Steiner, Director-general of the World Conservation Union
“Engagement at all levels - government, non-government, academia etc. is needed to find solutions to cross-border issues related to water resources and associated ecosystems," Steiner told southasia.de in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of World Water Forum in Mexico.
“This can involve both formal and informal approaches to scope out the space for negotiation. There are many examples, but it is often a protracted process and can be likened to a meandering river,” suggested Achim Steiner.
Achim Steiner of Germany has recently been appointed as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme for a four-year term, effective 15 June, 2006. He will succeed Klaus Töpfer, who finished his second term on 31 March, 2006. Steiner will be the fifth Executive Director in UNEP's history. He has worked both at grassroots level as well as at the highest levels of international policy-making to address the interface between environmental sustainability, social equity and economic development.
South Asian countries are spending astronomical levels of money on defence. On the issue of making them understand the real eco-social threats to their security, Steiner said peace and stability are the key objectives of any society, and that these objectives can only be achieved with investments in sustainability, conservation and the environment.
Civil society has a key role to play in the process to ensure that environmental issues remain on the agenda and are a cause for action, he said.
Steiner’s professional career has included assignments with governmental, non-governmental and international organizations in different parts of the world. In Washington, where he was Senior Policy Advisor of IUCN's Global Policy Unit, he led the development of new partnerships between the environment community, the World Bank and the United Nations system. In Southeast Asia he worked as Chief Technical Advisor on a programme for the sustainable management of Mekong river watersheds and community-based natural resources management. In 1998 he was appointed Secretary- General of the World Commission on Dams, based in South Africa, where he managed a global programme of work to bring together the public sector, civil society and the private sector in a global policy process on dams and development.
In 2001 he was appointed as Director-General of the World Conservation Union. IUCN is the world’s largest environmental network with over 1,000 members including states, government agencies and non-governmental organizations in 140 countries.
On whether large dams ensure they are a platform for growth and sustainable development, Steiner said there were good and bad examples of dam projects.
“The complexity of dam projects in relation to their extensive social and environmental footprint - and often limited attention to these factors at planning stages - has in many cases led to impacts on communities and the ecosystem that contradict our notions of sustainable development,” he said.
But he added that with greater attention to these issues from an early stage of planning and a commitment to sharing benefits with those affected, such adverse impacts could be minimized and creative solutions to offset possible losses could be found.
On Pakistan announcing building of a series of large dams and the ensuing controversy recently, Steiner said it was not for IUCN to comment on an individual project.
He said that in the case of the Indus River, however, IUCN had long argued that more attention was needed for the fragile ecosystems of the coastal areas and the livelihoods that depended upon them. “More attention to assessing the environmental flow requirement of the river as proposed by a recent international panel of experts, as part of a multi-stakeholder consultation or decision-making process, would be welcome,” he said, adding that IUCN would be keen to contribute to any such initiative.
On how we can address the huge challenge of making our cities more sustainable, he said that despite a number of measures there remained a huge challenge to bring decent standards of living to vast urban populations that live in abject poverty.
“Again, solutions are available and can be adapted from one country to another - they need real political commitment and leadership,” Steiner said.