ISTANBUL - Jose Luis Luege Tamargo, the directorate-general of the National Water Commission in Mexico, was one of the attendees of 5th World Water Forum, organized in Istanbul. The outcomes of the forum will appear in time but according to him there is one obvious result: There is now an increase in interest of foreign countries in Turkey’s water policy

Only time will tell what the outcomes of the 5th World Water Forum will be for Turkey, but the meeting’s previous host country, Mexico, is reaping the benefits.

Jose Luis Luege Tamargo, directorate-general of the National Water Commission in Mexico, or CONAGUA, was one of the attendees at the 5th World Water Forum, organized in Istanbul last month. In accordance with his country’s National Water Law, Tamargo has an obligation to exercise authority with regard to water-resources management and administration, custody and management of national waters and their inherent public assets.

According to Tamargo, if there is one obvious result of the forum already, it is the increasing interest of foreign countries in Turkey’s water policy. Mexico, he said, is very interested in some local actions that have been taking place in Turkey’s water sector.

Doubling the budget

Although discussions about water scarcity and unsuccessful management continued after the Mexico forum in 2006, Tamargo said his country’s water agenda has seen tremendous changes over the past three years. The government has doubled its public-awareness budget and invested in major infrastructure projects and international cooperation. As an example, Tamargo noted that Mexico has increased the percentage of wastewater treated and reused from 33 percent to 55 percent, giving special priority to irrigation uses. The country plans to evaluate 100 percent of its wastewater by 2030.

A special session, "Mexico to Istanbul," took place between the two forums and was attended by various stakeholders. Among the results were the creation of the Hashimoto Action Plan, a water summit specific to the Asia-Pacific region, a significant increase in the volume of the financing for Asia and the Americas and the mobilization of parliamentarians, ministers and local authorities.

Tamargo said Mexico is very interested in enhancing international cooperation and plans to sign a memorandum of understanding with Turkey this year that will include cooperation activities in fields related to water management, including the conservation of water in watersheds and aquifers, the strengthening of management institutions, the supply of drinking water, sewer and wastewater-treatment services and the modernization of water systems.

Mexico and Turkey have already established an open dialogue on water issues, sharing projects and achievements resulting from the fourth forum. The Istanbul event included a special session on "Efficient Use of Water in Agriculture" that dealt with the past experiences of Turkey, Mexico and China and potential challenges for the future.

During the 5th World Water Forum, the Mexico delegation made two technical visits for the purpose of enhancing information exchange with Turkey. The first visit examined the Marmaray Project under the Bosphorus, which will be the world's deepest undersea tunnel. The second visit was to the construction site of another Bosphorus tunnel, one that will bring fresh water from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side.

Forum in Mexico focused on local action

According to Tamargo, the Mexico water forum differed from the others in that it focused on the implementation of local action, but he thinks the experience the country gained from it can be replicated in other parts of the world.

This year, for the first time at a World Water Forum, mayors from 120 cities around the world presented a "Declaration of Mayors and Local Authorities." Signatories committed to developing local policies to help attain the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the number of people lacking sustainable access to safe drinking water, among other improvements, by the year 2015. A World Encounter of Water Legislators was also held with more than 100 legislators, representing 17 countries. Previous innovations at the Mexico City forum helped Istanbul achieve its high-level trialogue between ministries, parliamentarians and local authorities, Tamargo said.

Tamargo described the 4th World Water Forum as a plural forum that fostered the participation and dialogue of multiple stakeholders with the purpose of exerting influence on the design of public policy at the global level. He believes that it will lead to an improved quality of life for all of humankind and more responsible social behavior concerning the use of water, and in time, to sustainable development.

"Thanks to the 4th World Water Forum, Mexico gained positioning and visibility as one of the most relevant stakeholders in the world water community, and was portrayed as a responsible, proactive participant in the care and sustainable management of water," Tamargo said.

One of Mexico City’s main challenges now is to reverse unsustainable conditions in the metropolitan zone, one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world.

"The Valley of Mexico, covering the Federal District [Mexico City] and parts of the states of Mexico and Hidalgo, shows a severe water imbalance," Tamargo said. "More than double the volume of water is extracted than is reloaded into the aquifers, and there is practically no treatment of wastewater."

Improving conditions

The Water Sustainability Program for the Valley of Mexico Basin is attempting to heal the watershed in a comprehensive way with measures such as re-using treated water in the industrial and agricultural sectors, releasing more water for public urban use, accessing new sources of supply and intensifying work in the high parts of the watershed to benefit its 19 million inhabitants.

While the National Water Commission carries out priority projects to strengthen Mexico’s water sector and work toward water security in the areas of drinkable water, drainage and sanitation, the country is also investing heavily in infrastructure works such as dams and wastewater-treatment plants that will generate thousands of jobs.

As in Turkey, the main user of water in Mexico is agriculture, primarily for the irrigation of crops. "The area assigned to agricultural work varies between 20 million and 25 million hectares, with a harvested area of between 18 million and 22 million hectares per year," Tamargo said, adding that there are approximately 2,200 storage dams in Mexico. But 35 percent of these dams are more than 40 years old, which means they are approaching their expiration date. So Mexico must now implement rehabilitation and conservation projects to protect populations living downriver while guaranteeing the supply required for drinking water, irrigation and electrical-power generation.

Although there are places with available water that are suitable for agriculture, "they have to be utilized to their full capacity," Tamargo said. "Therefore, it is necessary to build infrastructure in order to obtain greater benefit from those land areas."

The world’s societies need to turn their attention to water-related topics as soon as possible, Tamargo said. "We need real and active participation of people. Water is everybody’s business." Yet, he added, building awareness poses a difficult challenge. "Water security can only be built with the participation of all," he said. "All the governments need to call for a real change in the attitudes of society through the promotion of a new culture based on shared responsibility, a sense of community and water solidarity."