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  December 1998    

Cities mull rainwater as resource         From The Japan Times, 8 August 1998
Experts and local government heads from around the nation agreed Friday (7 August) in Tokyo that implementing rainwater utilization policies is critical if urban areas are to develop at a sustainable rate.

Japanese and foreign experts speaking at the Rainwater Utilization Forum for Local Governments and Citizens emphasized the role rainwater can play in cities.

"Although rainwater has been used for thousands of years, it has historically been concentrated in rural areas. Little emphasis has been placed on rainwater utilization in larger cities," said Juha Uitto, Senior Pro-gramme Officer of the United Nations University, in a keynote address.

One in five people lack adequate water supply and sanitation, and 5 million people, mostly children, die daily due to a lack of clean water, he said.

In light of the world's burgeoning population, notably in Asia, and the increasingly densely populated cities, "it seems obvious that freshwater in urban centers will be a critical factor in sustainable growth planning in the future," Uitto said.

Rain utilization can also play a role in rejuvenating the water cycle, said flood control specialist Yutaka Takahashi, a professor emeritus at Tokyo University, in the second keynote speech. Development has greatly changed the water cycle, Takahashi said. The increase in roads and buildings has created greater runoff into rivers increasing urban floods, as well as reduced seepage into the ground resulting in lower groundwater levels, he said.

Officials from the Environmental Agency and the Tokyo Municipal Government concurred, and spoke of the need for measures to improve the water cycle.

"For the sustainable development of cities, the water cycle has to be restored," said Yasuo Endo, Director of the Water Quality Bureau at the Environment Agency. Debate in agency working groups and attempts to protect and restore forests, wells, and natural springs that contribute to a healthy water cycle are under way, he said.

Kazuo Tatsuno, chief of the metropolitan government's Eco-Society Project, said the economic merits of rain water utilization must be emphasized and that economic incentives are also very important.

Following the speeches, six mayors from around the nation participated in a panel discussion on the present and future roles of rainwater utilization.

The first day of the conference concluded with the adoption of a declaration stating the importance of cementing a partnership with citizens and industry to encourage the acceptance and usage of rainwater holding tanks.

It also urged independent water usage, rather than relying on distant rivers, and the promotion of comprehensive plans for utilizing rainwater and improving ground seepage to restore the water cycle.

The declaration urges local governments to commit and support citizens and industry in efforts to implement rain utilization projects.

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