Milestones: 30 Years of Action

1990: Montreal

Representatives of 29 countries and over 60 NGOs meet for the Montreal Forum On Drinking Water and Sanitation. The meeting results in the Montreal Charter on Universal Access to Water and Sanitation, cosponsored by Oxfam Quebec, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and several UN agencies. The Charter has four key principles: 1) Access to water and sanitation is primarily a political question. 2) All actions require the respect of and partnership with local populations. 3) Water and sanitation must be integrated into a global development approach. 4) Countries must invest in education and training.

1990: New Delhi

The Montreal Charter is formally submitted at the conclusion of the First UN Decade on Water and Sanitation. The first seed of a world secretariat for water is planted.

1991: Abidjan, Quito, Cairo, Manilla, Nairobi, Paris

The International Secretariat for Water coordinates and oversees global consultations on the right of access to water and sanitation.


The ISW helps create an international forum of citizens and NGOs from the world’s big cities. The Third World City Summit is held in Montreal with the theme, “City-Community Collaboration: An Essential Partnership.” The summit results in a successful call to the mayors and governors of the world’s big cities, which is formally read at the Earth Summit in Rio the following year.

Meanwhile, Montreal Interventions, another ISW initiative, helps create a consciousness of integrated water management in urban territories, considering the entire watershed. This approach is now integrated into the water sector’s best practices.

1992: Rio de Janeiro

During the First UN Conference on Environment and Development, the ISW presents the results of the global consultations undertaken the previous year. It publicizes NGO and community groups’ official positions on the access question.

The ISW is officially incorporated in Canada.

With its Moroccan partners in Maghreb and Machrek, the ISW coordinates a regional conference: “Water, Citizens, Tradition and Culture – where does civil society fit?”

1993: Bulgaria, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Philippines, Senegal

The ISW launches Eco-Volunteers in partnership with the UN Volunteers Program. This successful concept has since spread around the world.

In Warsaw, the ISW negotiates an East-West meeting between representatives of European nations, the first since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The majority of delegates from the Balkans, Central and Western Europe all participate. During the event, the ISW announces the founding of Solidarity Water Europe (SWE).

1995: Central Asia

The ISW takes action in Central Asia, setting up drinking water and sanitation infrastructure in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to help grow local economies. We are still active there today.

1998: Strasbourg, France

The Strasbourg Declaration is published with the support of the Council of Europe and the International Committee of French Water Agencies, marking the formal launch of Solidarity Water Europe. The document has four themes: 1) Democratic access to water; 2) Protection of aquatic regions; 3) Water services for a fair economy; 4) The role of water in regional planning; 5) Water as a source of knowledge.

The ISW and SEE jointly announce that youth are a priority target. They decide to focus on information, outreach, volunteer programs and youth parliaments.


The ISW-SWE group is invited to sit on the Camdessus world panel on water infrastructure financing.

2000: Kyoto, Mexico, Istanbul, Marseille

ISW and SWE create the first Citizens’ House for Water for the World Water Forum at The Hague. This initiative is repeated in subsequent world water forums.

2002: South Africa

ISW and SWE are forceful advocates during the 2nd Earth Summit in Johannesburg. They are the brains behind the WASH campaign and promote “Gardens of Governance” as places for debate.


In the context of the UN Millennium Development Goals, ISW and SWE launch the publication of the Blue Books (1st generation) which are country-level reports written by independent resource persons.

The ISW and SWE release the Blue Books to tie in with the UN Millennium Development Goals. These country-level reports are written by independent experts. Today, the ISW and SWE are preparing a second generation of Blue Books with new sections on decentralized and cross-subsidizing funding mechanisms.


The ISW and SWE launch the International Water and Film Events at the four World Water Forums at Mexico City, Istanbul, Marseilles and Daegu, South Korea. These mini film festivals are a valuable tool for the water movement, with over 450 films ranging from 1 to 50 minutes. Since then, many initiatives rooted in the arts have been developed across the world.

2006 – 2011: Quebec

ISW and SWE initiate the project “A Celebration of Lakes and Rivers”, where young people aged from 18 to 25 define and apply the concept of international and citizen-led cooperation.

The ISW and SWE launch A Celebration of Lakes and Rivers, a project where youth from 18 to 25 define and apply the concept of citizen-led and international cooperation. Youth from across the province of Quebec participate along with representatives from Burkina Faso, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Mexico, Moldova, Peru and Turkey.

Project results are submitted to the heads of state at the La Francophonie summit and showcased in a 12-city tour across Canada. As a result of the activities, the ISW and SWE received the Bet on Water prize from the ROBVQ, an Indigenous-led organization managing Quebec river basins.


In Peru and Moldova, the ISW and SWE develop Integrated Water Resource Management projects, based on the idea that we are citizens of the watershed or basin we live in, and not merely of a nation-state. The [Blue Passport] and a partnership with the [International Network of Basin Organizations] (RIOB) grew out of this new stance.

Since the ISW’s founding in 1990, we have actively contributed to a deeper understanding of many concepts: the right of universal access to water and sanitation, the social contract, integrated water resource management as a foundational pillar; decentralized cross-financing, intergenerational practices, the role of citizens and civil society as partners in knowledge with managers and elected officials.

We also developed many communication tactics targeted at the general public during major international events. Some of these include:

  • The Drop of Hope
  • Rita the marionnette
  • Professor Hippopotamus and family
  • the Water Messengers
  • The Great Lakes–St Lawrence Symphony


2015 marked a turning point for our twin organizations, with the ISW celebrating its 25th anniversary, as well as for the future of the planet.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals were adopted, with goal  #6 dedicated to water. The adoption of the first-ever water development goal brings hope to our movement. It represents a promising step towards improving the conditions of 2 billion people living without access to drinking water, and the one billion still using open air toilets.

We reviewed the results achieved since our founding and began a process of reflection. As we move towards our focus areas for the future, the movement continues to dedicate itself to the least fortunate people on the planet and give a voice to civil society.

2021: 30 Years of influence

The year 2021 marks the start of the implementation of our corporate strategy for the period 21-25 – which is intended as a structuring framework on which our teams and partners can now rely to carry out their mission. This strategy does not represent a break with the SIE-SEE approach, but rather confirms and amplifies the action we are carrying out according to flexible models, with a view to implementing locally-driven solutions that involve citizens, and thus be in a position to meet the demands of a complex world.