Statement to Heads of State and Government at the 5 World Water Forum

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to Heads of State and Government at the 5th World Water Forum Istanbul, Turkey, 16 March 2009

I am honoured to have this opportunity to address this eminent audience.

Water is the foundation of life, the basis of our economic growth and the key to sustainable development.

World leaders have agreed that water and sanitation are at the forefront of the global development agenda. Yet, much more action is needed to achieve the development goals, which are threatened by multiple global crises.

Our debates on this first day of the 5th World Water Forum will set the tone for discussions among the thousands gathered here to prepare recommendations and commitments to advance progress on water and sanitation.

The progress made so far, particularly towards the MDG on access to drinking water, is cause for optimism. But so much remains to be done to ensure that we remain on track in the face of the financial and economic crisis and that we never lose sight of the 40 per cent of the world’s population still without basic sanitation facilities.

I have three key messages to share with you today.

First, strong financial support to the water and sanitation sector must continue as part of governments’ stimulus packages addressing the current financial and economic crisis. Those without access to basic water and sanitation need immediate assistance.

Moreover, this sector provides some of the highest socio-economic returns on investment. Depending on the country, one dollar invested can yield as much as 34 dollars in benefits.

Second, water is at the heart of sustainable development, cutting across key economic, social and environmental concerns. Competing demands for water, particularly for food and energy production, are on the rise, while climate change further constrains our water resources. We must address these critical challenges in an integrated and comprehensive manner.

This also means that national action cannot be delegated to one ministry alone, but rather requires contribution by all relevant entities, supported from the highest political level.

That brings me to the third message – the importance of pursuing Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

This is why, in the United Nations, intergovernmental discussions on water are centred in the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. The Commission brings together research and policy, from sectoral and cross-cutting perspectives, to provide global direction and action on sustainable management of water and sanitation. Its current session addresses the issues of agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa, recognizing water as the major cross-cutting issue.

I urge you – as policy leaders – to attend and bring your findings from this Forum to the High-level Segment of the Commission during the second week of May.

I also encourage your engagement in the 2010 MDG Summit process, which will aim to mobilize intensified efforts to achieve the goals as the 2015 deadline approaches.

I wish to thank the Government of Turkey and the World Water Council for organizing this fifth World Water Forum. The Forum’s theme, “Bridging Divides for Water”, strikes the right chord. The world must overcome its divisions on water.

Only by acting urgently and decisively, together, can you ensure that the billions of people who desperately need clean water and adequate sanitation will be able to live healthy and dignified lives.

Thank you.