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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Zaragoza (Spain)

01 September 2008


Remarks at the Water Tribune

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, let me express my profound condolences on the tragedy of the plane crash last week which claimed so many lives. I wish the Spanish people courage and fortitude at this difficult time.

I am all the more grateful to the Government of Spain, and in particular to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Expo Zaragoza Commissioner Fernandez-Castaño, for hosting this magnificent international exposition on “Water and Sustainable Development”. Here at Expo Zaragoza, we can see yet another display of this country's strong global citizenship and commitment to the United Nations.

We at the United Nations are strongly committed to protecting and properly managing the world's precious water resources. Providing access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation are among the Millennium Development Goals agreed by UN Member States at the Millennium Summit in 2000. Today, we are taking every opportunity to raise awareness of the need to strengthen water resources management. We are encouraging Governments to use the Integrated Water Resources Management framework. And we are relying on partners like you to show what can be done using the latest knowledge, science and technology.

Much of the UN effort is driven by UN-WATER, which consists of some 25 United Nations bodies and a dozen international partners. UN-WATER monitors global progress on supplying safe drinking water and sanitation, and tries to strengthen the coherence of efforts to implement the global water and sanitation agenda. I am proud that UN-WATER has a pavilion at this Expo and I encourage you to visit it.

There has been progress towards achieving the water and sanitation MDGs, but not enough. Since 1990, roughly 1.2 billion people have gained access to an improved source of drinking water. However, with rapid population growth and persistent poverty in parts of the developing world, the number of people without access has declined by only around 10 percent. There are still more than one billion people lacking access to safe drinking water, and two-and-a-half billion lacking access to basic sanitation facilities. The international community, national governments and the private and non-profit sectors still have much work to do between now and 2015, the date agreed for meeting the water and sanitation targets.

Multiple challenges remain. Many public water utilities in the developing world are not financially sustainable. The pace of institutional and policy reform in the water sector is slow. The rapid growth of urban slums is compounding the problem of supplying safe drinking water to the poor. Private sector investment in the water sector is not forthcoming. And coordination of donor programmes and projects at the country level remains inadequate.

To these challenges we must add another of ever growing magnitude: climate change. As the earth warms, people who rely on snowfall and glaciers in high mountain ranges to replenish their water supplies have serious cause for concern. Extreme hydrological events such as severe storms, floods and drought likewise have the potential to disrupt water supplies and diminish food security.

The least developed countries, notably in Africa, are among those likely to be worst affected by water scarcity over the coming century. The United Nations is trying to do everything in its power to help countries meet this threat with concerted action; our focus now is on obtaining an international agreement, under the auspices of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, on the next steps that will guide the international response.

Expo Zaragoza is an important contribution that will help advance the world's efforts to provide safe drinking water and sanitation for all, and to manage the earth's water resources for the benefit of all the world's people, both now and in the future. I also thank the Government of Spain and the City of Zaragoza for their commitment to host the United Nations Office to Support the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”, which runs through 2015.

Water is life. I am confident that the millions of visitors from around the world who are visiting this Expo will leave not only with a deeper understanding of the issues and opportunities at hand, but with a strengthened resolve to do something about them.

Muchas gracias. Thank you very much.