Public Participation in water and health related issues

Having access to clean water is still one of the long lasting dreams in many countries. On 15-16 June, 2010 around 70 representatives from European governmental institutions and non-governmental organisations met in Bucharest, Romania to exchange experiences on information and public participation in water and health related issues. Most representatives were coming from Eastern European countries and organisations who run water and health related projects in Eastern Europe. Simon Koolwijk assisted the organizing committee to facilitate this workshop.
Main organizers of the international workshop were the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe - Water and Health protocol ) and WECF (Women in Europe for a Common Future). The overall goal of the workshop was to enhance the capacity of public authorities and non-governmental actors to cooperate in the implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health.

The workshop allowed participants to:
1. Review obligations and opportunities under the Protocol;
2. Exchange practical experiences and lessons learned
3. Overview existing tools and mechanisms to promote access to information and public participation;
4. Discuss ways and means to raise awareness – in general on the linkage between human health and water management
5. Discuss future needs in these areas and possible actions under the protocol.

One of the key discussion items was to discuss the access to information and public participation in the fields of health and water under the principles of the Aarhus convention.

There is still a lot of space for improvement commented the participants. They expressed: The implementation of the component of public participation in having water and health quality improved is still complicated. There is a lack of trust with authorities and the public to be involved in making improvements. And in many of our contries we miss a communication culture. However, some NGO's successfully succeed in building bridges and reach results. Now the dialogue is much better than 10-15 years ago, and local people are willing to make investments in clean toilets & water systems and are more aware of the dangers for health of dirty and contaminated water. However, the condition is that it should be affordable and not too expensive. If people know that water is touching their personal life, they want to be involved. There is a role to play for NGO's to build bridges with local governments. There are already some examples where public authorities and NGO's are working together. Also NGO's have a role to play in data gathering, monitoring and using these data for policy making.
The conference was very useful, commented one of the participants. The fact that we had an opportunity to discuss in small groups about the issues and that we could meet people with similar questions and issues was very helpful and stimulating!
More about Women for Europe and a Common Future can be found at youtube. WECFEU


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