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The first World Conference of Large Rivers took place in Rome from the 23rd to the 25th of October

The first World Conference of Large Rivers took place in Rome from the 23rd to the 25th of October

Sharing experience, information and know how about sustainable management of water: an important step forward in the international setting in this meeting organised by Italy. The first conference able to put together authorities related to the largest rivers of the world, as well as financial institutions and international organisations.


Canada presented the Saint Lawrence River. Jean Lemire, Emissary of Quebec for climate change stated: “We must adopt a strategy as citizens of the world”.


Participating countries signed a document called “Carta di Roma”. It will be one of the most important points to follow during the Cop23 meeting, that will take place in Bonn.

The Ministry of the Environment launches the Alliance of Italian Companies for Water and Climate Change.


*Francesca Paolucci


“Rivers play a crucial role in the challenge involving climate change, the environment and global economic development. There is, in fact, a common thread connecting the Po river, the Mississippi, the Reno and the Fiume Azzurro with the shortest rivers of Italy. The aim of this conference will be sharing experiences and making everyone feel part of an only, deep challenge of protection and growth, as happened in Paris”. With these words, Gianluca Galletti, the Italian Minister for the Environment, announced the first World Summit of Great Rivers during the Word Day of Water on the 22nd of March (insert link). The conference, which lasted three days, took place in Rome from the 23rd to the 25th of October, inside the Protomoteca hall of Campidoglio, headquarters of the city administration. The summit featured the intervention of important figures, such as Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican, who read a message from Pope Francis, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Virginia Raggi, mayor of Rome. All of them supporting the event organised by the Ministry of the Environment, in an attempt to remember the global value of water and the importance to optimise the proceedings managing it.

 Interventions made by representatives of the largest rivers of the globe, along with the presence of international organisations and the most important financial institutions of the world (Imf, World Bank, Eib) represented a true indication of the will to give birth to a remarkable meeting, truly committed to achieve concrete results, a cooperation and a synergy among countries, civil society and private sector involved. The International Conference finished with a speech given by Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic, and achieved important goals, above all the signatures on the “Carta di Roma”, the document containing the conclusions reached in the meeting, “the good common practices for the management of international rivers”, signed by 47 world reservoirs, that will also be one of the most important point discussed in the next meeting on climate (Cop23), which takes place in Bonn in November. The principles outlined in this document will also be crucial in the event organised by the Minister Galletti and Walter Mazzitti, program coordinator, a presentation introducing the Alliance of Italian Companies of Water and Climate Change which connects two worlds, the one of environment and that of industry, the most important Italian companies and category associations using water for production purposes. The main contractors of the deal committed themselves to a more responsible approach in the production process, evaluating and measuring the risks of a direct and indirect impact on the water resources. This is only possible carrying out actions aimed at optimising the management of water in the production of goods and services, promoting the “recycling” of purified waters, thus ensuring high security standards and, not less importantly, working to make future generations grow a sense of consciousness of the value of water and its possible sustainable use.


From the Nile to Senegal, across the Congo, from the Yangtze to the Mekong, from the Amazon to the River Plate, from the Mississippi to the Saint Lawrence, from the Volga to the Danube, international delegates of the most important watercourses of the world had the chance to introduce their own environmental realty from the economic, political and social points of view. They also had the chance to interface with different models of management of water resources. Examples such as Niger’s, which encourages a wide engagement on the part of civil society, were mentioned in the Conference. Just like others European watercourses - such as the river Sava -which build its policies of management around a high level of expertise, hi-tech and sophisticated systems. Since water is a precious good belonging to the community, the spirit characterising the international meeting was not the one of competitiveness, but that of sharing, in order to create the conditions to avoid environmental disaster with dramatic consequences. According to the mission statement emerged from the Conference, these conditions can be created through a complete synergy of the resources deployed, through dialogue and cooperation. The future of water is at risk, terribly threatened by climate change. On the other hand, the rivers themselves are often the cause behind destructive environmental backlashes.


Moreover, as Hakima El Haité, Climate Advocate of the Reign of Morocco and President of the COP22, pointed out in her touching intervention, there are millions of people in the world who do not have access to water, who live in countries where the international care is scant. In the light of this, Hakima El Haité urged the international community to take a more decisive stance as regards the concrete implementation of the measures taken in the Agreement of Paris 2015. Her idea is to put pressure on institutions so as to obtain financial resources and help weak countries to face a wild globalisation.


Taking care of watercourses, private and public sectors working together, civil society and stakeholders, sharing expertise and know how and making investments are the right tools to rehabilitate those areas affected with ground degradation, those abandoned areas due to hydrogeological risks, as well as creating new growth opportunities. This was the central issue discussed during the confrontation session held by the rivers’ representatives, among which Niger, Ganges, Sava and River Plate, the Ngo EcoPeace Middle East and “Legambiente” and the dedicated committees of the international and European organisations.


Furthermore, the meeting represented a concrete occasion to deal with the methods of financing for climate change adaptation, thanks to the presence of world financial institutions and local organisations such as Monica Scatasta (European Bank for investments), Sonja Koeppel (UN-ECE), Gian Maria Milesi Ferretti (Imf), Christian Severin (Global Enironment Facility), Khatim Kherraz (Sahara and Sahel Observatory).


The confrontation of big rivers laid the basis for the construction of a strong and forward-looking union, sharing objectives and development policies with due regard for biodiversity and taking into considerations the diversity of territories, cultures and socio-political systems.


Canada, with the San Lorenzo river, was represented in the Conference by Jean Lemire, recently elected Emissary for Climate Change by the provincial government of Quebec. Lemire released an interview for “Centro Studi Italia Canada” (inserire link), which presented the long-term management of watercourses, through huge internal programs of development, such as the Maritime Strategy and the North Plan. These two programs form a part of a broader view involving eight Federal States of the U.S. and two Canadian provinces, ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to the Big Lakes, for a total length of 2.340 miles (3.700 km) across the border areas between Canada and United States: the Seaway System.



The “River Contract”


The contribution of Italy in the cooperation of the forces operating in the management of water resources was significant. It was especially provided by the “Fiume contract”, which gave a significant contribution, through the intervention of its scientific coordinator, Massimo Bastiani. Indeed, Bastiani highlighted the importance of mediation in the relations among miscellaneous subjects with different interests at stake. The “Fiume Contract” is a voluntary tool, a strategic partnership model between interested actors, approved and used by several countries, among which Canada (verificare). The “Fiume Contract” has more than 250 ongoing projects under evaluation. By means of it, it is possible to inform and actively involve the local community, with its authorities and companies, in order to achieve a common goal by adopting a responsible approach.


Even the United States shared their experience, through the intervention of Belinda Constant, co-president of the Mississippi River Cities and Town Initiatives (MRCTI), who talked about the operations required after natural disasters (Katrina, Isaac, Ike, etc.) caused immense damage costing the State and local economies hundreds of billions of dollars. In this cooperation context, Belinda Constant’s call “Let’s go to work!” was clear. What is generally expected is the creation of an efficient model of investment through the collaboration of Federal States and Canadian provinces, united by the common goal of “adopting a strategy as citizens of the world”, as Jean Lemire highlighted.


In the end, the words spoken by the Minister Galletti in his closing address shifted the focus to the role of women: “We have seen many women representing large rivers and international organisations. This is a further sign of progress, a further element of trust”. The minister later highlighted the importance of focussing on Africa, to which the Italian government gave five millions of euros for a monitoring project regarding the rivers Congo and Senegal. “In this summit we have dedicated much of our attention to the African countries, those which suffer the most climate change and lack of water”.


The river is the symbol of restorative vision, farsightedness and cohesion. It originates from a source and flows into a sea of ideas, united in the same vital space. The river was the symbol of this three-days conference organised by Italy, which produced an important step forward in the international framework as regards the management of water resources. Today water is no longer a reason of conflicts. On the contrary, it is a source of peace and union.


* Coordination and research Centro Studi Italia-Canada