UN marks World Water Day with calls for integrated management of vital resource

22 March 2007 – With some 700 million around the world currently suffering from water scarcity, a figure that could increase to more than 3 billion by 2025, integrated cross-border management of this vital resource is crucial, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today in a message marking World Water Day.

“The state of the world’s waters remains fragile, and the need for an integrated and sustainable approach to water resource management is as pressing as ever. Available supplies are under great duress as a result of high population growth, unsustainable consumption patterns, poor management practices, pollution, inadequate investment in infrastructure and low efficiency in water-use,” he noted.

“Yet even more water will be needed in the future: to grow food, to provide clean drinking water and sanitation services, to operate industries and to support expanding cities. The water-supply-demand gap is likely to grow wider still, threatening economic and social development and environmental sustainability.”

He stressed that international cooperation will be crucial since many of the world’s rivers and aquifers are shared among countries. “The way forward is clear: strengthening institutional capacity and governance at all levels, promoting more technology transfer, mobilizing more financial resources, and scaling up good practices and lessons learned,” he said.

Of the hundreds of millions of people currently facing water shortages an estimated 425 million are children under 18, and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Ann M. Veneman kicked off the Walk for Water Event in New York City to mark the Day.

“In many parts of the world women and children walk long distances to fetch water for their families for drinking, washing and cooking,” she said. “Access to clean drinking water is critical for the health of children around the world.”

Many top restaurants in the city are asking diners to pay $1 for tap water they normally get for free, with the funds going to UNICEF’s drinking water projects around the world.

UN World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan noted that over 1.6 million people die every year because they lack access to safe water and sanitation, 90 per cent of them among children under five, mostly in developing countries.

“For every child that dies, countless others suffer from poor health, diminished productivity, and missed opportunities for education. Much of this illness and death could be prevented using knowledge that has existed for many years,” she said.

Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, malaria and dengue could rise due to climate change, which makes availability of freshwater less predictable because of more frequent flooding and droughts, she warned.

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner also stressed the dangers of climate change. “If we want to avoid ‘Water Scarcity’ as the permanent theme for the 21st century, a big part of the solution is cuts in greenhouse gas emissions of 60 to 80 per cent,” he said, referring to humankind’s role in heating up the planet.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf pointed to the agricultural sector’s role as the number 1 user of water worldwide and its consequent duty to take the lead in addressing rising global demand and its potential drain on the earth’s natural resources.

“With the right incentives and investments to mitigate risks for individual farmers, improving water control in agriculture holds considerable potential to increase food production and reduce poverty, while ensuring the maintaining of ecosystem services,” he said.

“The potential exists to provide an adequate and sustainable supply of quality water for all, today and in the future. But there is no room for complacency. It is our common responsibility to take the challenge of today’s global water crisis and address it in all of its aspects and dimensions.”

UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura stressed the threat to peace and poverty eradication posed by the growing scarcity and competition for water. “It is imperative to secure a more effective and equitable allocation of this vital resource,” he said in a message.

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