Water and culture themes of the World Water Forum in Mexico

April 2006 -

On 22 March of this year, World Water Day was celebrated in Mexico City. The ceremonies took place during the fourth World Water Forum, where for a week under Unesco’s leadership people exchanged ideas about water and cultural diversity. During the sessions subjects such as the lessons that can be learned from Indian cultures were discussed as well as further expansion of the Internet-based Network of Water Anthropology. The first international Water and Film Event, where dozens of films over virtually all aspects of water were shown, was held at the same time.


Dutch crown prince Willem-Alexander at the World Water Forum

The water problems that face people globally – too much, too little, the wrong quality – are closely related to overpopulation. Since the initial days of development aid, people have sought solutions based on the contribution of (generally) western technical knowledge. However, experience has shown that the proposed solutions only help resolve some of the world’s problems. These problems are frequently inherent in the culture: religion, sociological structure, institutional hierarchy and personal values stand in the way of a proposed implementation pattern. In order to come up with sustainable solutions, the diversity of cultural values must also be taken into account.
The Director General of Unesco, Koïchiro Matsuura, noted in his speech that the cultural dimension of water must be better understood. He also stressed the necessity for an ethically-based system for water management that respects traditional and local knowledge.

The city of Mexico itself stands on the site of a former lake, where ancient civilisations built the first settlements. The consequences of this are apparent; one sterling example is the cathedral on the Zócalo, the largest square in the old heart of the city, which tilts farther and farther with each passing decade. About thirty kilometres south of Mexico City is Xochimilco, the ruins of Aztec’s former capital: a network of channels and artificial islands that reflect the Aztec’s efforts to survive under difficult circumstances. Xochimilco is on Unesco’s World Heritage List.