22 March 2010
Deputy Secretary-General
DSG/SM/496
GA/10926

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General Spells out Widening Range of Risks to Global Water

 

Resources, in Remarks to General Assembly High-Level Dialogue


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the General Assembly’s High-Level Interactive Dialogue on Water, in New York today, 22 March:


I am pleased to address this High-Level Interactive Dialogue on Water.


The sustainable management of water resources is vital for economic growth, safeguarding essential ecosystems and achieving all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  It is central to public health, food security and stable societies.


The mid-point of the International Decade for Action on Water for Life provides an opportunity for Member States to take stock of what has been achieved with the support of the United Nations system, and to plot the course ahead.  According to the latest report of the United Nations Joint Monitoring Programme for Water and Sanitation, 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation.


Access to clean water and adequate sanitation are a prerequisite for lifting people out of poverty.  Seven out of ten people without improved sanitation live in rural areas, but the number of people in urban areas without improved sanitation is increasing as urban populations grow.  Although 1.3 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the world is likely to miss the MDG sanitation target by a billion people.


The statistics for clean water are somewhat better.  According to the latest report of the Joint Monitoring Programme, the world is on track to meet the MDG drinking-water target.  Nonetheless, the number of people in rural areas who do not use an improved source of drinking water is over five times the number in urban areas.  Thirty-seven per cent of people not using an improved source of drinking water are in sub-Saharan Africa.  Furthermore, while it is recognized that women -- as the main users of water points -- often have the most detailed knowledge of local water sources, they are rarely sufficiently involved in decision-making processes on water.


The theme of this year’s World Water Day, “Clean Water for a Healthy World”, emphasizes that both the quality and the quantity of water resources are at risk.  Preventing pollution, treating polluted water and restoring ecosystems is vital if we are to safeguard this precious resource.  The onset of climate change is making this challenge even harder with the onset of more severe and frequent droughts and floods.


As rainfall becomes more unpredictable and glaciers recede, water quality and quantity will further suffer.  It is vital that we build resilience to extreme events.  This is one of the priorities of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing launched last month.  The Hyogo Framework for Action also provides an internationally agreed framework for reducing disaster risks, and is an important tool for adaptation to climate change.


In many developing countries, water stress is already high.  Managing increased variability of water resources will require additional natural and constructed water storage.  It will also entail cooperation between countries.  History already shows that cooperation, not conflict, is the most common response to transboundary water management issues.


However, climate change, population growth and changing consumption and production patterns are creating new challenges for the equitable and peaceful management of shared water resources.  Wetlands, such as lakes and floodplains, and their catchments, are often shared between countries.  They provide invaluable ecosystem services -- from food provision to the reduction of flood impacts and pollution.  Transboundary basins and aquifers link populations of different countries and support the incomes and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.  They create hydrological, social and economic interdependence between societies.


Managing transboundary water resources must be tailored to a given basin’s characteristics.  It must reflect a range of environmental, hydrological, political, economic, social and cultural needs.  And it must be coordinated with other natural resources and sectoral policies, such as land-use management and spatial planning.


Exchanging data and joint -- or at least harmonized -- monitoring and assessment among all riparian countries can provide for effective transboundary water management.  Public participation is also fundamental.  It can enhance transparency in decision-making.  It can create understanding and ownership, and facilitate the acceptance and enforcement of decisions and policies.


I urge all delegations in their interventions at this Dialogue to seek bold and holistic solutions to water resources management.  As your countries implement the second half of the Water for Life Decade, I assure you that the United Nations secretariat will be at your side, supporting your policymaking through analysis, through intergovernmental facilitation and through all our development activities.


I wish you a successful and productive meeting.


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