Swiss School of Engineering for the Wood Industry       



Proposal for the Creation of Free World-Water University in the Circuito das Aguas Region of Minas Gerais in Brasil[1]

1. Introduction

The United Nations General Assembly in resolution 55/196 proclaimed the year 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater (IYFW 2003). The resolution was adopted on 20 December 2000 receiving support from by 148 countries. The IYFW 2003 provides an opportunity to accelerate the definition and implementation of principles of integrated water resources management and will be used as a platform for promoting existing innovative and spearheading new initiatives in water resources at international, regional, national and local levels. The IYFW 2003 is expected to follow up on agreements reached at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, September 2002) and should have an impact far beyond the year 2003.

In 2002 the citizen movement defending the water resources of the Circuito das Aguas in the State of Minas Gerais (coordinated by Dr. Franklin Frederick) established contacts with a series of organizations of the civil and academic society in Switzerland. A mayor outcome was the agreement on engaging in a joint process of the development of a partnership between European and Brazilian organizations aiming to support a sustainable development program for the whole area of the Circuito das Aguas in the State of Minas Gerais.

The Swiss Competence Center for Development and Environment (CDE) of the University of Bern together with the Swiss School of Engineering for the Wood Industry (SWOOD) of Biel after studying possible synergies with this program elaborated some ideas on how to concretize such a Brazilian-European partnership.

CDE is a non-profit center pertaining to the University of Bern and is concerned with development and environment in the North, South and East, with a special emphasis on sustainable management of natural resources based on a transdisciplinary approach. The team of CDE is composed as a multidisciplinary team of specialists with different academic backgrounds and areas of expertise and in more than 50 partner countries. It concentrates on problems and issues with local and global dimensions and is active in regional, national and international programs. CDE is leading two global networks regarding “World Overview on Conservation Approaches and Technology” (WOCAT) and the National Center of Competence in Research North-South (NCCR N-S) dedicated to the development of mitigation strategies for syndromes of global change.

SWOOD, a University of Applied Sciences, is a branch of the Berner Fachhochschule. The assignment has four aspects: 1) to train professionals in wood technology, process and product management, wood construction, 2) to provide continuing education and post-graduate studies in line with latest standards, 3) to undertake research and development and network these activities with those of other universities of applied sciences and 4) to offer specialist services, in the frame of accredited laboratories. Beeing the only school of this type in Switzerland, SWOOD orients itself internationally for cooperation; the contact with the economy is another important principle. This gives the students the opportunity to complete their formation under different and enriching contexts. One important goal is promoting wood as renewable material as base of modern ecological technologies. In this concern, SWOOD is interested in the realization of  a sustainable development project in the Circuito das Aguas.

2. Creation of a “Free Global Water Center”

It is suggested that the Brazilian-European partnership could best be organised on the basis of the creation of a “Free Global Water Center” which could be a center piece of the sustainable development project of the Circuito das Aguas region.

The structure and goals of a Free Global Water Center should be organised according to most innovative principles of a transdisciplinary understanding of science, development and technology. Applying a transdisciplinary approach means that high raking interdisciplinary research is aiming to complement and strengthen empirical knowledge (mainly local or indigenous) of other groups of actors e.g. knowledge about medicinal qualities of mineral waters, sustainable management of plants, animals, soils and water as well as those knowledge and skills related to social organization.

Science and technology are thus becoming part of social learning process of the whole society where scientific knowledge is seen as part of a dialogue between different knowledge systems aiming to mobilise the potentials of all them. This means that research topics, methodologies, techniques and the process of interpretation of the results must be adapted to the requirements defined on the basis of a permanent dialogue between all relevant stakeholders involved in resolving the challenges of sustainable development.

The Free Global Water Center could play an important role as moderator of such a permanent stakeholder dialogue taking the sustainable development programme of the Circuito das Aguas as a pilot region where this new approach to science, development and technology can be further deepened. Special emphasis will be given to the development of innovative forms of sustainable water management, taking into account the interrelations this has with the other natural resources (inorganic and organic geological depositions, soil, plants, animals, air).

The pilot project will justify converting the Free Global Water Center into a global platform aiming to disseminate the experiences achieved as well as interacting and supporting similar initiatives in other parts of the world. Because of the actual absence of such an institution, the present project could become a mayor initiative to be launched as part of the International Year of Freshwater to be celebrated in 2003.

The Free Global Water Center should be launched as a common initiative of the civil society and government agencies interested in supporting such an initiative. A first step to concretise could consist in the organization of an international congress of relevant water management stakeholders (scientists of all relevant disciplines; private, public and community based water administrators; representatives of alternative medicine, organic agriculture, agroforestry, water related environmental-ecologist interest groups, indigenous and rural communities and other civil society organisations).

3. Free World-Water University from the perspective of Tree Biology and Wood Science

1)  A World Endangered / A Changing World

•     ecologically

•     economically

•     socio-culturally

2)  The Characteristics and Impacts of Science and Technology

•     compartmentation of disciplines

•     analysis-oriented methodology

•     materialism, causality and competition

3)  The Needs:  A holistic and differentiated approach / a concept of organism /  a world- and

                         mankind-compatible science and technology / an understanding in cyclic processes

     These elements usually exist in current  disciplines, they have however to be systematically

     developed, in three main axes:

•     transdisciplinarity                                                  

•     synthesis-oriented methodology                              

•     relation, mutualism and synergy                  

4)  Consequences and Potentials  -  with examples from Tree and Wood interacting with Water

•     spirality: from the universe to water, tree, cell and molecule

•     rhythms: from astronomy to germination and wood / water properties

•     climate change: the worldwide dimension of climate regulation and carbon forestry

•     sacred trees and healing springs as archetypes

5)  Water at the Center: a Vision


                                                                                           Forestry &    Agronomy

                                                                        Theology       Agroforestry           Limnology

                                                              Philosophy                                              Oceanography

                                               Art Sciences                            WATER           Water Technologies

                                                               Ethnology                                          Geology Hydrology

                                                                   Sociology, Archaeology             Physics

                                                                              Medicine               Chemistry


6)  Why Brazil?

4. The Free International Year of Freshwater 2003: Perspectives and Future Actions


4.1 Evolution of global discussions

International Conference on Water and Environment, held in Dublin in 1991. The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development was giving a contribution to the preparation of the Earth Summit (UNCDE) in Rio de Janeiro, 1992. The statement contains four Dublin Principles:

1. Freshwater is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment.

2. Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels.

3. Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water.

4. Water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good.

The focus of these principles, and of the action plan, on issues of environment, gender, governance and sustainability are still relevant today. They were taken up in Chapter 18 of Agenda 21, prepared at the Rio de Janeiro Conference in 1992.

Despite this important progress water resources were not, however, a particularly prominent issue. The balance has, to a great extent, been redressed since then through the importance given to freshwater issues by the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) in their second (1994) and sixth (1998) sessions and in the 1997 UN General Assembly Special Session. All contained a call for a concerted effort to                                                    ???

In the 2nd World Water Forum, held in The Hague in 2000 a further refining of the approach took place. Also parallel developments of great significance were happening. The most important of which was the preparation of the World Water Vision, launched at the World Water Forum in The Hague in March 2000, and the Ministerial Declaration on Water Security in the 21st Century, affirmed by the representatives at the parallel Ministerial Conference in The Hague. The Ministerial Declaration identified seven challenges for the global community, challenges that provide the basis for the policy issues discussed below:

1. Meeting basic needs: to recognize that access to safe and sufficient water and sanitation are basic human needs and are essential to health and well-being, and to empower people, especially women, through a participatory process of water management.

2. Securing the food supply: to enhance food security, particularly of the poor and vulnerable, through the more efficient mobilization and use of water and the more equitable allocation of water for food production.

3. Protecting ecosystems: to ensure the integrity of ecosystems through sustainable water resources management.

4. Sharing water resources: to promote peaceful cooperation and develop synergies between different uses of water at all levels, whenever possible, within and – in the case of boundary and transboundary water resources – between states concerned, through sustainable river basin management or other appropriate approaches.

5. Managing risks: to provide security from floods, droughts, pollution and other water-related hazards.

6. Valuing water: to manage water in a way that reflects its economic, social, environmental and cultural values in all its uses, and to move towards pricing water services to reflect the cost of their provision. This approach should take account of the need for equity and the basic needs of the poor and the vulnerable.

7. Governing water wisely: to ensure good governance, so that the involvement of the public and the interests of all stakeholders are included in the management of water resources.

The seven challenges from The Hague represent a major turning point in the development of water policies, but they are not the final word. Indeed, work has continued. Work undertaken within the preparation of the WWDR has identified a further four challenges for the future. They were discussed and approved at the International Conference on Freshwater, held in Bonn in 2001:

8. Water and industry: focuses on industry needs and the responsibility to respect water quality and take account of the needs of competing sectors.

9. Energy and water: recognizes that water is vital for all forms of energy production, and that there is a need to ensure that energy requirements are met in a sustainable manner.

10. Ensuring the knowledge base: reflects that good water policies and management depend upon the quality of knowledge available to decision-makers.

11. Water and cities: acknowledges that urban areas are increasingly the focus of human settlements and economic activities, and that they present distinctive challenges to water managers.

The considerations of these principles make clear that the pathway that leads to a more sustainable water management must be part of a global transsectorial and transdisciplinary policy that forms part from an overall strategy for sustainable development.

A cornerstone of such a strategy is based on a continuous stakeholder dialogue and involvement of all actors concerned. The relevance of this kind of strategy has been proofed in the “Stakeholder dialogue on sustainable water management – priorities for policy frameworks and best practice”, held in Switzerland in 2002. The international meeting of government organizations, NGO, researchers and private enterprises allowed to exchange experiences and ideas laying ground for cross-sectorial analysis and cooperation between stakeholders, regions, countries and municipalities.  

4.2 The need for globally coordinated pilot regions for sustainable water management

A mayor challenge in moving further in sustainable water management is represented by the implementation of the principles identified at global level in concrete socio-economic, institutional, cultural and ecological settings.

The multifunctionality of water implies that a wide range of water users is relating their specific claims towards water resources, which are increasingly scarce. Dealing with the resulting problems represents eminent social and political challenges. It is therefore not surprising that the principles of sustainable water management are stressing on the importance of social, political and institutional rather then on technical aspects. This means not to ignore the importance of technology advancement but expresses the recognition of the fact that the technical contributions must be integrated into concrete socio-cultural environments that are able and willing to integrate them. Political and institutional processes are therefore conditioning the viability of the technical or economic innovations required for a more sustainable water management.

The globally accepted concept of sustainability has an essentially normative character. It concentrates on what ought to be, emphasizing on the three dimensions of economic, socio-cultural and ecological sustainability (“magic triangle”). In terms of operativeness this means that a certain set of technical, economical and ethical values should be sustained over a long time period. The identification of those concrete values thus becomes a social process of learning and negotiation, which because of the multifunctionality of water becomes to be a multi-stakeholder negotiation process. The concrete solutions are thus also bound to concrete contexts, are exposed to changes and the specific responses of the actors to those dynamics of transformations.

Another mayor feature of the sustainability concept is that it does not provide a theory for explaining the causes of unsustainable development trends. This means that the social learning and negotiation process about the concrete contents and values of sustainability must


be related to an accurate and comprehensive framework of data and analysis describing the present state of things. High quality transdisciplinary research can be filling this gap, because it explicitly means to organize the research process as part of multi-stakeholder dialogue.

One mayor and most controversy issue of the international water debate is the question whether privatization of existing or new water management schemes are or not a solution to the global water crisis. Taking into account the multifunctionality of water and the three dimensions of sustainability makes clear that privatization only can be a solution if it is the outcome of a deliberatively and socially controlled negotiation process involving all relevant stakeholders. This means that privatization even if it is sustainable in terms of ecology and/or economy but is rejected by the main part of the civil society cannot be considered as sustainable because of ignoring the social dimension of the sustainability concept. 

The above-mentioned principles related to sustainable water management made clear that the problems must be tackled in concrete contexts. This leads to the question on how to aggregate the results of those concrete contextually bound initiatives in order to allow benefiting from as well as contributing to the debate and potentials of a global water policy. CDE is managing two global networks (WOCAT and NCCR-N-S) giving concrete examples on how to achieve this purpose.

Possible steps in the building up of a Free Global Water Center (FGWC)

The geographical contexts are Joint Areas of Case Studies (JACS) where different research centers (Individual Projects - IPs) combine their activities in a transdisciplinary perspective, based on a permanent multi-stakeholder dialogue. Research will be on different themes, while activities will start with a focus on core issues that are defined according to existing collaboration and competence. It is suggested that the Circuito das Aguas could be the first JACS. As the Free Global Water Center extends its activities to other regions of the world the number of JACS will be increasing.

The research activities should be derived from a series of 'Priority Actions for Mitigating Syndromes of unsustainable water management ' (PAMS). They are the basis for the establishment; testing and imple­mentation of strategies for mitigation in concrete contexts will be a demand-driven approach that should normally be related to regions where the NCCR has conducted research. These PAMS cannot be planned at the onset of the Free World Water Center program because they must respond to opportunities and innovative ideas that emerge during the implementation of research projects. To define the PAMS, stakeholders concerned will be asked on a regular basis to formulate need-oriented research and pilot action projects.

The IPs in the different JACS will exchange and systematize their experiences and outcomes permitting to elaborate Global Overviews (GO) about ecological, economical and social aspects. This leads to the establishment of a database that will be linked to the discussions of global water issues by elaborating reports on topics of special importance for the global water policy.

Another element that will allow contributing to the global water policy debate is related to Transversal Topics (TTs). These topics of a transversal nature will constitute an important research component. Work on these transversal topics will allow scientific insight of an interdisciplinary nature. Possible themes will be, for example, 'intermediate cities', 'revalorization and broadening of local and scientific knowledge on mineral springs', 'organic agriculture and alimentation', 'water interrelationships between nature, society and cosmic dynamics', 'innovative responses for more efficient water utilization and harvesting in agriculture, forestry, livestock keeping, housing, building and energy generation',  'new forms of water sanitation technology and management models', 'nature conservation', 'livelihood strategies', or 'gender balance'.

(Pages 44,45,46)

1] Proposal developed by Dr. Stephan Rist (CDE) , Dr. Ernst Zürcher (SWOOD) and Dr. Franklin Frederick (Circuito das Aguas)