Joao has been blogging from the World Water Youth Forum in Istanbul, Turkey.
The last 3 days of the World Water Forum in Istanbul were extremely busy, and prevented me from sending any updates. Now that the marathon is over I will try to summarise those long, intense days that concluded one of the world’s largest events on tackling water and sanitation issues.
March 20th, the 5th day of the congress was a busy day for us, once the Youth Forum officially ended, and the Ministerial Conference kicked off. The day went by in a second, with lots of activities, side events and meetings happening at the same time. It was particularly hard given that we had to squeeze in our work on finalising the declaration in time to present it to the closing plenary.
Unlike the previous night, the group was more willing to discuss the text of the declaration and try a more alternative and interactive approach to the process. We decided to brainstorm quickly together over the main points, and then break into small groups to incorporate the ideas and feedback into the final text. Anyone who felt strongly about a particular issue was welcome to join a specific drafting team. This proved to be a much more productive exercise than spending huge amounts of time and energy discussing each comma or grammar mistake with the whole group.
While committed volunteers stayed back to work on finalising the declaration, all the others went back to the Forum sessions to learn, share and engage with the rest of the delegates. One of the highlights of the day was a special session named “Thinking outside the water box!” which featured different organisations presenting their experience in engaging new, web-based and interactive technologies to engage citizens in finding solutions for water and sanitation.
The session attracted lots of youth delegates, and interestingly enough most of the content was not new for the young people there. It didn’t take much for the audience and the panellists to realize that young people were far ahead in the game when it comes to using web-based technology and social networks. The young people were invited to present their experiences of using platforms such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness, share knowledge and experiences and engaging their peers in making a difference.
As a result of the session, the final statements of the Theme 6, related to Education, Knowledge and Capacity Building were reconsidered, and included a much stronger push for the recognition of young people as key partners in the efforts to tackle water and sanitation issues.
At the Closing Ceremony, the Youth Forum once again gave an example to the organisers of the Forum in inviting a representative from the Alternative Water Forum to come and share their views and values with all the young participants, guests and the media attending. The small action was meant to wake up the authorities to the fact that we need to combine efforts and work together, if we are to make a difference and solve water related problems.
Although the Youth Forum finished, our work was far away of being over! March 21st was probably our busiest day at the event.
All of us young people attending the Water Forum met in the morning in our Youth Meeting Room. The aim of the day was to promote and advocate for our Declaration announced the day before.
A quick training on how to lobby and advocate was held for the less experienced participants while a group of 10 crossed Istanbul all the way to the Ministerial Meeting happening in a hotel in the other side of town.
The group’s goal was to meet with government representatives and discuss youth participation. We wanted to lobby for the Youth Forum’s Declaration and in doing so, advocate for the recognition of young people as equal partners in development.
We divided ourselves in two groups: 4 people went to a session each, to represent youth on the panels. I, along with 5 other participants, stayed in the hall trying to meet and lobby the government delegations that there.
In one afternoon we managed to meet with representatives (including Ministers!) of 23 different countries. Out of those, 15 countries committed to take the declaration forward and to increase their efforts to engage with young people in the planning and delivering of their programmes and policies.
We asked those governments to add a small statement in the Ministerial Declaration that would “recognize young people as equal partners in development efforts specially those related to water and sanitation.” Unfortunately, although the Ministerial Meeting was just starting, all the representatives we met said it was already too late to change anything in the declaration, even if the change was minimal. Most of them asked us why there had been no young people in Rome, to lobby for youth participation earlier on in the process. The answer was simple but sad: we were not invited!
This brings about a question that stayed throughout the forum: How serious are governments and development agencies about engaging young people as partners in their efforts?!
During the Water Forum, hardly a single panel or session went by without raising the importance of youth participation, or the recognition of the amazing resource young people can be towards community improvement. Yet, the decision makers took very few actions, and expressed an even smaller will toward actually walking the talk!
Most country representatives were absolutely positive about engaging young people, but very few actually used the opportunity to discuss the best way of doing so with us. Representatives that we met during the lobbying day were particularly surprised to hear from us that we were especially expecting to be held accountable for our actions.
One of the key points we raised while promoting youth-led development, was the fact that young people are tired of double standards and the lame excuse that being young can justify any mistake. We want to be given the same opportunities and a chance to play fair as any other stakeholders.
Take the example of the Water Forum itself: the “adult” version of Forum took 3 years of preparations and meetings among the major groups, all led by a big core group of professionals coordinating it. The Youth Forum was planned in less than 3 months by a group of inexperienced but highly committed young people that worked night and day to ensure the event would happen and lead to something concrete.
This would maybe explain why there were no young people attending the preparatory events? And why we were unable to lobby and influence the final Ministerial Declaration to recognize the role young people have to play in development.
Youth officially is a major group, so shouldn’t this major group have the same support and recognition as any other? How can the organisers expect an active and constructive presence of young people if the standards of participation are not the same?
The forum came to an end with the certainty that there is still a lot that needs to be done. All of us young people that attended the World Water Forum returned home with the mission to take the message forward. We no longer want to attend events and be kept discussing next door. But we want to engage with all other stakeholders at an equal level, engaging everyone in a true, intergenerational partnership.
If we are really serious about solving the challenges related to water and sanitation worldwide, it’s time for us to swallow our pride, roll up our sleeves and get serious about joint action. If we want to make change happen, we need to join efforts and work together!