Loïc Fauchon, who will present civil-society proposals on water commitments on Wednesday to the nearly 120 heads of state and government expected at the Rio de Janeiro gathering, urged them to recognise water security - having enough clean water for social and economic needs - as a top priority.
"We would like political leaders to accept that water security is one of the main global security issues which has to be placed at the top of the global debate," he told AlertNet in an interview before the U.N. conference on sustainable development, adding that it should be on a par with food, nuclear or maritime security.
The Marseille-based World Water Council is an international platform for dialogue, established in 1996, in response to growing global concern about water issues. It has more than 300 member bodies in over 60 countries, including governments, businesses and water-focused NGOs, and organises a world water forum every three years.
Water has been identified as one of seven critical issues for the Rio+20 meeting, along with decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and agriculture, oceans and disaster preparedness.
Fauchon said water should be one of the main pillars of any new set of development targets that follow on from the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called for leaders in Rio "to agree to define sustainable development goals with clear and measurable targets and indicators".
In the MDGs, water was part of a wider goal on achieving environmental sustainability, with a commitment to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
The United Nations says the water part of this target has already been met, with over 2 billion people gaining access to improved drinking water sources, such as piped supplies and protected wells, between 1990 and 2010. But the sanitation goal remains off track.
Ensuring everyone in the world has access to clean water and sanitation will "take a long time", but setting a target date is key in holding politicians to account, Fauchon said.
“It will be very important to be able to say... to governments, the United Nations has decided to make water one of the goals so you need to make water a real political priority in your country," he said.
"Putting it as a goal does not solve anything, but if we do not have it, it will be more difficult for us to push the cause of water and the cause of access to water and sanitation," he added.
'TAPS BEFORE GUNS'
One of the most concrete ways for governments to start implementing people's right to water is to enshrine it in their constitutions, Fauchon said. But only 40 states have done this so far, around half of them in Africa, he noted.
The president of the World Water Council said he would also urge leaders at Rio+20 to ensure that all schools built in their countries have drinking-water taps and toilets. Around 60 percent of African schools have no toilets, he added.
Another priority for Fauchon is to encourage governments to make a stronger link between their policies on water and energy, and to give their blessing for water initiatives that tackle the impacts of climate change to be financed with money from the fledgling U.N. Green Climate Fund.
Fauchon said he will be happy if he comes away from the Rio+20 meeting with a concrete commitment from leaders on at least one of the World Water Council proposals, "because it will show they have understood that water needs to be one of the most important priorities in the coming years".
The water expert, who also runs the Water Supply Group of Marseille, said great progress has been made in the last decade on driving water issues up the global political agenda, but it isn't enough.
"We need to push and push again this idea that taps should come before guns in public budgets," he said. "But I am very optimistic about the coming years, because there are too many countries in which there is a situation of water crisis."
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)