Day 4: The forum continued to grow in numbers. At times switching between sessions became an exercise in mass-marching accompanied by African drumming. Sometimes the flow would drag you into directions you would prefer not to go - sessions on complex ceramic filters and other such gems. The thematic focus moved on to water supply and sanitation (again, illustrating the degrees of separation within the water world between 'big' and 'small' water issues).
Messages emerging included the usual calls for more and better technological solutions, but also the need for more innovation in matching technologies to contexts, including effective 'labelling' by users such as NGOs and local government of what works best, and where. On health issues, the debates were not exceptional, but interesting links were made to wider issues, including HIV/Aids and the need to see water and sanitation interventions as complimentary to tackling the pandemic through supporting increased nutrition for Aids sufferers.
Looking to the long-term and the MDG targets the talk in the corridors was of likely failure, but the critical importance of the political message. How the message was conveyed, however, was key and there was a need to avoid simple notions of lack of access; rather the social and institutional causes should be the focus.
Citizen voice was a strong theme in and out of sessions (a subliminal reflection of the mass demonstration days earlier perhaps?). But the Forum was still struggling to find a formula for bringing politics at a local level into the major equations of how voice and choice can really influence long-term policy. One of the key links made was between education, accountability and transparency.
Interestingly this perhaps more than anything else illustrated the need for the water sector to become more joined up horizontally with other sectors. Or perhaps, even more controversially, to do away with a 'water sector' in its entirety as the issues being encountered were evidently so embedded in broader development debates. Very little discussion emerged, for instance, on sectoral connections to the challenge of the new 'aid architecture', though it was gratifying to hear a Danida representative use the work that WPP recently undertook on sector harmonisation and alignment to make this point in a session on financing in Africa.
An evening event hosted by Thames Water showcasing examples of multistakeholder dialogues showed how a better combination of short talks, small groups and some liquid lubrication could increase the interest factor and stimulate some good (well, better at least) discussion. It was a good day to celebrate!
The WPP team will be providing a daily blog on Forum activities and will post a final Forum report on World Water Day, 22nd March.
For more information on WPP visit www.odi.org.uk/wpp