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World Water Day : 4 questions for the CEO of the WWF in France

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On this World Water Day, Four questions for Pascal Canfin,  the CEO of the WWF* in France, the World Wide Fund for nature.

The ecologist and former government minister considers water to be one of our planet’s most precious resources.

Some 84% of French people claim they are concerned about environmental issues, but water protection doesn’t seem to be high on the public’s agenda. Why is this?

There is an overall lack of awareness about the water cycle. What we refer to as the “water footprint,” a term used to define the total volume of fresh water used to produce goods and services consumed by an individual, a region, a business, or a sector, is therefore a little-known topic. This is explained in part by the fact that water is a general commodity that arrives directly to our taps, and whose cycle is not highlighted enough.

What’s more, access to drinking water was not recognized as a fundamental right until 2010, and there is still not an international voice promoting the importance of the issue. The problems surrounding water are not covered by any UN convention, and therefore they not benefit from the political momentum enjoyed, quite rightly, by the question of climate change, as seen at the COP21 summit.


You have worked as a parliamentary journalist, then a government minister, and today you head up an NGO. What do you see as the most effective solution to the risks currently surrounding water?

The agricultural and industrial sectors are responsible for the majority of the world’s water footprint. Today, the water footprint generated by production in France – the water used in France in the production of goods and services – totals 90 billion cubic meters per year. Crops represent 86% of this footprint, and cereal crops alone play a major role as they make up 50% of the water footprint generated by production in France.

Companies in these sectors are now able to exercise more control over their impact on water resources. To help them achieve this, the WWF promotes a tool for measuring risks relating to water called the Water Risk Filter, which should be used by far more industry players.


Is there a place you have traveled to where the relationship between humans and water particularly moved you?

Wherever water is hard to find, its precious, magical character quickly becomes evident. In the Sahel, for example, witnessing the Niger River flow through the desert is an experience after which you cannot help but realize how important it is to preserve our water resources.


Water is intertwined with the history of humankind. Which body of water (such as a river, a stream, a lake, or water frozen in glaciers) are you most sensitive to?

I am particularly moved by water found in mountain glaciers, as it tells us about our history and is a clear testament to global warming. The glaciers of the Alps are easy to see, and their fragility is palpable. The WWF is currently campaigning to have Mont Blanc listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to offer it greater protection.


Photo Credit : Benjamin Colombel