At World Economic Forum, Ban Ki-moon pledges action on water resources

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Davos, Switzerland

24 January 2008 – Cautioning that a shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos today that the United Nations will take action to address the problem in the context of reaching global anti-poverty targets.

“Our experiences tell us that environmental stress, due to lack of water, may lead to conflict, and would be greater in poor nations,” Mr. Ban told leaders from governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, industry, academia and the arts attending the annual meeting in Davos.

“Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon,” he warned.

The Secretary-General cited a recent report by International Alert identifying 46 countries, home to 2.7 billion people, where climate change and water-related crises create a high risk of violent conflict. A further 56 countries, representing another 1.2 billion people, are at high risk of political instability, according to the study.

“This is not an issue of rich or poor, north or south,” he said, pointing to examples of water problems in China, the United States, Spain, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Republic of Korea. “All regions are experiencing the problem.”

The Secretary-General emphasized that water resources must be protected. “There is still enough water for all of us – but only so long as we keep it clean, use it more wisely, and share it fairly,” he said.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which call for halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015, are key to this effort, he said.

Mr. Ban announced that he would gather world leaders at the UN this September “for a critical high-level meeting on the MDGs, focusing in particular on Africa.”

While emphasizing that “governments must engage and lead,” he said the private sector also has a role to play in this effort.

The United Nations Global Compact – an initiative aimed at making globalization more equitable by promoting human rights, labour and environmental standards – last July launched its “CEO Water Mandate” to galvanize businesses in this effort.

“Only about 20 companies have joined the CEO Water Mandate. A drop in the bucket, perhaps, but I like to think it is a small wave that will gather force and spread across the globe,” said Mr. Ban.

Before addressing the Forum, the Secretary-General met in Davos with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. They discussed the implications of the Annapolis process and the developments in Gaza and the West Bank, according to a UN spokesperson, who said the reiterated his call on Israel to refrain from actions that will harm the well-being of the general civilian population in Gaza.

Later, Mr. Ban and Quartet envoy Tony Blair discussed Palestinian capacity-building, the Paris donors’ conference and the importance of accelerating projects that donors had promised at Paris, and the situation in Gaza, the spokesperson said.

The Secretary-General also met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and talked with him about the democratic process in Pakistan and Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan.

During Mr. Ban’s subsequent meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the two discussed UN-Afghanistan cooperation.

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