12 December 2002 The United Nations today launched the International Year of Freshwater in a bid to raise awareness and action to manage and protect clean water resources, with UN officials calling attention to its vital role in health, hygiene and development.
In her opening remarks to a panel discussion held at UN Headquarters in New York, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, said freshwater issues were at the heart of humankind's hopes for peace and development in the 21st century. "If we continue with business as usual, it will take only a little more than two decades for two-thirds of the world's population to be living in moderate to severe water stress," she warned.
The Deputy Secretary-General explained that the main goals during the course of the Year would be to raise awareness, create a platform for creativity with regards to new ideas, technologies and arrangements, and increase participation throughout all segments and levels of society.
The Year should also promote peaceful dialogue on water-related issues, Ms. Fréchette added, noting that it is often said that water crises and scarcities will at some point lead to armed conflict over this precious resource. "But water problems can also be a catalyst for cooperation," she stressed, calling for greater interaction between governments, the private sector and "users" to create "equitable and environmentally sound solutions."
"The International Year is not an end in itself, but rather a beginning - the start of more intensive efforts to address one of the major challenges of our times," the Deputy Secretary-General said.
The General Assembly proclaimed the International Year in December 2000, following that year's Millennium Declaration by world leaders, who pledged to reduce by half the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or to afford, safe drinking water by 2015. According to the UN, 1.2 billion people are without access to fresh water and 2.4 billion lack proper sanitation. More than 3 million die each year from diseases caused by unsafe water.
In his message marking the occasion, Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that the Year would strive to "mobilize the world behind these goals by raising awareness, by generating new ideas and strategies, and by promoting participation, partnerships and peaceful dialogue."
The Secretary-General also underscored the importance of improving stewardship of water resources. “Let us use the knowledge and technology at our disposal,” he said, “and do our utmost to protect the world’s precious resources – our lifeline for survival and sustainable development in the 21st century.”
Mr. Annan also called for "much more efficient irrigation, far less toxic agriculture and industry, and new investments in water infrastructure and services."
As part of the Year's observances, next month the UN will issue the first edition of the World Water Development Report, a joint effort involving 23 UN agencies and other entities that provides a comprehensive view of today's water problems and offers wide-ranging recommendations for meeting future water demand.