by Alan Nicol

World Water Forum six is drawing to a close here in Marseille. Booths are emptying and participants are dwindling at the slightly drab Parc Chanot. The monolithic Art Deco architecture and box-like hangars host ‘water security’ debates, parliamentarians’ session, African ministers councils, and the occasional riot police (amongst many other characters and processes). All are focused, to a greater or lesser extent, on the huge range of global water issues.

The programme addresses a simple theme – Le temps des solutions – but behind this lies a surprisingly low level of energy (perhaps a certain ennui setting in?) which begs the question, who’s to take forward these ideas or will they simply evaporate into the ether? There is no question that the hosts and organizers cannot lead on this – the World Water Council has no accepted global mandate.

At the same time, the other side of town, the alternative forum takes place, but you wouldn’t know it. There is no visible protest, no guerrilla posters or fliers, nothing in fact to stir up the rather torpid atmosphere over here. It’s all pretty anodyne. One participant tells me that these global gatherings have probably reached their sell-by date, made superfluous in part by advances in digital networking (a large number of delegates from all corners of the globe seem to spend chunks of time on their touch-pads networking with the rest of the world).

One feature of the event remains fascinating, nonetheless. And that is the opportunity it provides for a snapshot of who is buying into or opting out of global water issues (DFID is invisible, for example, as are other aid agencies). But the BRIC(K)S are out in force. China has multiple organisations in attendance, Korea (to host the 7th Forum in Daegu in 2015) is very present, and Brazil and Russia are both showcasing their water management expertise (and coffee brewing prowess in the case of the former).

Evidence, if it were needed, that future water ‘solutions’ are more than likely to come from factories, financing frameworks and policies in these countries than from the more established aid-academic-policy making environments in Europe and elsewhere. The 7th Forum could (and should) be a landmark. This one isn’t. So see you there!