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Canmore water expert to advise global council

As chair of the Canadian branch of the UN’s Water for Life initiative, Sandford has been at the forefront of public awareness and policy discussions with various levels of government concerning freshwater issues since 2005.

Invited to present a list of recommendations for action on the global water crisis at the Council’s 29th annual plenary meeting in Quebec City last May, Sandford was informed of his appointment by the council’s secretary-general, Dr. Thomas Axworthy. Formal recognition of the appointment came in late October.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with statesmen who have already made a difference to the future of humanity and who are now prepared to act in further service of improved water governance globally,” Sandford said. “For me, this is at once a daunting and inspiring challenge.”

Established in 1983, the InterAction Council — currently co-chaired by former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien — is an independent international organization that aims to mobilize the experience, energy and international contacts of a group of statesmen who have held the highest political office in their own countries. Its members jointly develop recommendations on — and practical solutions for — political, economic and social problems confronting all of humanity. 

“The council is unique in bringing together on a regular basis more than 30 former heads of state or government who work together to foster international co-operation in three principal areas — peace and security, revitalization of the world economy and the nexus between development, population and environment and universal ethics,” Sandford explained. “The members of the InterAction Council select specific issues from within these broad areas and then develop proposals for action. They then communicate these proposals directly to government leaders and other national decision-makers, heads of international organizations and influential individuals throughout the world.”

Thus far, the council has been influential in numerous diverse areas, including monetary, financial and debt issues; the interrelationship between population, environment and development; arms control; global deforestation trends; Middle East peace; and the quest for global ethical standards.

Current council members include former Norwegian Prime Minister Dr. Gro Brundtland; former Mexican President Vincente Fox; Dr. Abdel Majali, the former Prime Minister of Jordan; former New Zealand Prime Minister James Bolger and Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, all of whom comprise a newly formed sub-forum tasked with addressing growing concerns over the supply and quality of fresh water globally. The central focus of Sandford’s role will be to assist the sub-forum members in the implementation of 17 water-related recommendations adopted at the meeting in Quebec City. 

And, Sandford points out, the fact that water is on the agenda is testimony to the significance of global water concerns. 

“The fact that the global water situation has risen to the agenda of the InterAction Council is clear evidence of the seriousness of the problem. The InterAction Council only deals with humanity’s direst problems,” Sandford said. “The current situation is becoming ever more serious because of population growth which is increasing demand for water for food production and economic growth and because of the combined effects of landscape modification and climate change.”

Canadians and their government need to pay heed, he added.  

“Canada has not reformed its water policy for 25 years,” Sandford said. “The recommendations put forward by the InterAction Council demonstrate the direction the world is going with respect to water governance. The same growth factors and rapid population effects that have created water crises elsewhere have begun to make their appearance in North America. Canada is becoming vulnerable because it has created a culture of utter water wastefulness. If we do not dispel the myth of limitless abundance of water in Canada it won’t be long before we are overwhelmed by the same quality and quantity problems that are plaguing the rest of the world.”

Those problems, which are growing in evidence and severity, include groundwater contamination, quality decline associated with agricultural run-off and the serious problems related to mining and other resource extraction activities. Lake Winnipeg, for instance, is now the largest freshwater dead zone in the world.

Municipal, provincial, territorial and federal governments can learn from the international example being set by the council, Sandford said, particularly since 10 of 17 adopted recommendations are especially relevant in Canada. They include placing water at the forefront of the global political agenda and linking climate change research and adaptation programs to water issues; urging national governments to price water delivery services to appropriately reflect its economic value, while making provisions for those in poverty; asserting that where water supplies are threatened, water used to grow food should not be substituted for water to grow crops for biofuel production; linking agricultural and water policy with energy policy locally, nationally and globally; renewing local, national and international focus on monitoring hydrological processes and increased attention to mapping and monitoring of groundwater; and supporting the conservation of the world’s intact freshwater ecosystems, the establishment of ecological sustainability boundaries and investment in ecosystem restoration.

One of Sandford’s first acts in his new position was to establish a direct organizational link between the InterAction Council and the Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy, thus connecting more than 30 former heads of state with 50 of the world’s leading water policy experts. As formal meetings are being planned to take place in Amman, Jordan and China, leading to the eighth Biennial Rosenberg International Forum on Water Policy in Aqaba, Jordan in September of 2012, Bow Valley residents can feel especially proud that some of the content and co-ordination of these events is being conducted in Canmore.

These meetings follow the Quebec City gathering, where discussions included the need for a universal declaration of human responsibilities, threats related to weapons of mass destruction, and the need to put water on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

“InterAction Council members such as Bill Clinton, Helmut Schmidt and Jean Chretien are among the few people in world with the connections and the influence to do that,” Sandford said. 

“The people on this council do not waste a word or a moment. They know how to get things done. It is at once daunting and inspiring to be in their presence.” 

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