High-Level Conference on the Mid-Term Review of the Implementation of the International Decade, “Water for Life,” 2005 – 2015

Opening Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the High-Level Conference on the Mid-Term Review of the Implementation of the International Decade, “Water for Life,” 2005 - 2015

Your Excellency President Emomali Rahmon,
Your Excellency Prime Minister Akil Akilov,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to take part in the opening of this High-Level International Conference on the implementation of the International Decade for Action, “Water for Life”, 2005-2015.

As you know, the United Nations General Assembly, in resolution 64/198, welcomed the offer of Tajikistan to host this important event at the mid-point of the Water for Life decade.

I would like to thank the government of Tajikistan for its longstanding, dedicated work on water issues and for its cooperation with the UN System in making this event possible.

The Secretary-General, who visited the region recently, asked me to represent him at this important event. I will begin, therefore, by delivering a statement on his behalf. I quote:

“I thank the Government of Tajikistan for hosting this conference.

More people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war. These deaths are an affront to our common humanity and undermine our work for development.

Almost one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Two-point-six billion lack access to basic sanitation services. Meanwhile, we are pouring millions of tons of untreated sewage and industrial and agricultural waste into the world’s water system every day. Clean water, which is already scarce, will become more so with climate change. And as with so many global ills, the poor, including disproportionate numbers of women and children, suffer most — from pollution, water shortages, floods and lack of sanitation.

That is why the United Nations declared the years 2005 – 2015 the International Decade for Action on water resources management. The Decade is meant to focus efforts on fulfilling international commitments on water and related issues by 2015, with a particular emphasis on women’s participation. This conference is a key event for mobilizing the necessary support. Your work here will also contribute to preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 –Rio plus 20.

We must collaborate on action plans that enable everyone, in every country, to access water. This is a prerequisite for lifting people out of poverty and achieving economic growth. It is central to achieving every one of the Millennium Development Goals.

We must also improve our management of trans-boundary waters. Disagreements over resources can be averted, when there is collective political will to improve cooperation.

This is a crucial issue for Tajikistan and its neighbours. During my recent visit to Dushanbe and other Central Asian capitals, I urged leaders to resolve differences over resources and other issues through dialogue. The UN’s Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy can play a key role in such efforts.

The United Nations is committed to assisting Member States in tackling the complex political, economic and environmental challenges related to trans-boundary issues, as well as to water quality, scarcity and capacity-building. We must work together to protect our waters, and to enable everyone to have access to them. Please accept my best wishes for the success of your deliberations.”

That concludes the message of the Secretary-General.

Mr. President,
Mr. Prime Minister,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to share with you my own remarks on water and sanitation challenges and how the UN system can help member states reach the MDG targets.

As head of DESA, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, I have tried to prioritize water issues. As the Secretary-General highlighted in his message, water is central to achieving all the MDGs.

We are, therefore, very much encouraged to see Member States coordinate and host events like this one. Last December, the General Assembly adopted resolution 64/198, which welcomed Tajikistan’s offer to host this high-level review conference.

The offer was just one more example of Tajikistan’s leadership role on water issues, not only among Central Asian countries but on the international stage. Tajikistan’s role was also integral to the General Assembly’s decision to declare 2003 the International Year of Freshwater and the years 2005 – 2015 as the Water for Life Decade.

These efforts have prompted governments to reinvigorate their work on water targets. They have also drawn attention from the worldwide public and the media to water scarcity, water pollution, and the staggering numbers of people who lack access to water, our most precious resource.

Their collaboration has resulted in drawing a wide range of stakeholders here today – government ministers, members of civil society and NGOs, and colleagues from UN agencies and programmes. Thank you for your presence here. It is heartening to see strong support for the UN and for water issues here in Central Asia, a beautiful part of the world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Secretary-General’s message stressed the gross disparities that exist today in terms of water access. One billion people lack safe drinking water. The deep-seated economic, social and environmental causes behind this crisis of access demand immediate attention but lasting and integrated solutions – that is, sustainable development solutions.

As the latest World Water Development report advises, to address water problems one must think and act outside the water box. We must go beyond the water sector to engage and involve actors and policy makers in a variety of fields such as energy, social services, development finance, economics, sustainable forestry, statistics, population and the environment.

By way of example, my Department hosts ten divisions that bring together statistics, population, advancement of women, social development, sustainable development, development policy analysis, public administration, sustainable forest management and financing for development.

All of these fields are relevant for water resources and drawing upon their knowledge greatly enriches our consideration of water issues. In assisting the host government at its request in preparing this conference, my department drew on the resources and knowledge of several of these divisions.

The only way to promote sustainable development in each region is through dialogue and cooperation both at the country as well as the inter-country levels. What is needed is productive dialogue between economic, social and environmental actors and interests at both levels. The UN is an impartial servant of all 192 of its member states.

The UN’s forte is providing spaces where all countries as well as major groups and diverse interested parties can come together to dialogue — that is, forums where each one can enjoy an equal voice at the table. This impartial convening power is the hallmark of the UN.

The United Nations stands ready to assist nations, at their request, in facilitating dialogue and discussions. I reiterate this point because the UN has only the agenda given to it by its Member States. The UN Charter commits us to serve nations when and where we are asked to do so.

Agenda 21, which we will assess comprehensively in two years, is a magnificent example of a holistic agenda embraced by all member states that guides UN action on a daily basis.

Excellencies,

I also remind you that UN country teams, along with my Department in New York, have a long tradition of assisting countries in response to their requests, including those of Central Asia, with policy advice on water and energy issues. My Department serves as Secretariat for UN-Water and UN-Energy – two inter-agency coordination mechanisms that draw on the collective experience of the UN system in governments.

As the Secretariat of these two knowledge and collaboration networks, we may not have all the answers in-house but we can draw on the expertise of over two dozen partners from the UN system and civil society to help countries who ask for our assistance to find integrated and sustainable solutions to their water and energy problems.

In the area of water resources, though the network of UN-Water, countries can obtain expertise, if they request, in such areas as developing transboundary water agreements, water as a sustainable energy source, efficient irrigation for more crop-per drop, implementing integrated water resources management at river basin levels, watershed management, adapting to the water-related impacts of climate change, transforming women’s and girls’ lives through better water access, and improving industrial supply chains for more efficient water use.

The network of UN-Energy can help countries address issues of energy access for the poor, energy efficiency in industry and promoting renewable energy. The lack of modern fuels and electricity in most developing countries entrenches poverty, constrains the delivery of social services, limits opportunities for women, and erodes environmental sustainability.

Currently 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity and 2.4 billion people lack access to modern fuels for cooking and heating. Often these are the same people who lack access to water and basic sanitation services. It makes sense, therefore, that we create integrated solutions for sustainable water and energy access.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The international decade for action, “Water for Life, 2005-2015,” was intended to persuade policy-makers and the public to place a greater focus on water-related issues at all levels so as to accelerate progress towards the internationally-agreed targets and goals on water access and sanitation.

This conference is very much about reviewing progress since 2005 on the international decade and suggesting additional measures needed over the next five years to bring water related issues to the fore of policy and action at country and international levels.

In doing so, this conference will consider six dimensions of the water challenge in six round tables, where practical policy and technical solutions such as those that I have mentioned can be discussed.

Please consider how you can tap into UN resources on concrete policy and technical guidance. And please think outside the water box. Adopt a sustainable development approach to all water issues.

In this way you can identify entry points where you can request the United Nations to serve you in finding solutions to your water challenges. As you do so, consider also the close water-energy nexus and search for integrated solutions to water and energy challenges.

The record shows that since 2005 public awareness of the use and management of freshwater resources for achieving sustainable development has increased dramatically. Among many concrete measures, UN-Water launched two action programmes with dedicated offices in Zaragoza and Bonn geared to communications and advocacy and capacity building to support the decade. The 27 agencies of UN Water have worked hard to support member states in implementing the decade.

Nonetheless, much more remains to be done over the next five years to ensure the success of the decade. Among other things, water issues need to be placed firmly in the public mind in the context of sustainable development. Policy makers need to be persuaded to allocate a greater share of public funds for water resources develop

ment and access. And greater progress is needed in transboundary water cooperation and concrete steps need to be taken towards more effective transboundary agreements at river basin levels.

The details of the progress on the decade since 2005 are contained in the Note of the Secretary General on the review of the decade contained in document A/64/693 which was provided on the conference website as background documentation for your deliberations. I urge you to refer to it.

Excellencies,

I am confident that the six round table discussions will provide useful policy and technical guidance on water quality initiatives, adapting to climate change, promoting integrated water resources management, particularly at the basin level, and techniques for transboundary water cooperation.

The outcomes of these deliberations will provide entry points for future cooperation between my Department, other UN entities and member states at national levels in further implementation of the Water for Life Decade. Region by region, water targets must be met. I reiterate the willingness of the United Nations to assist you in implementing them.

Please participate actively in the next two days. Your feedback and recommendations here will feed into the Millennium Development Goals Summit in September. They will also be incorporated into the planning and agenda-setting for the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil – also referred to as “Rio plus 20”.

I will serve as Secretary-General of that conference; may I take this moment to encourage your contributions and support toward its success.

Remember that addressing your water problems is all about promoting sustainable development in your countries, considering the economic, social and environmental pillars and their inter-linkages.

May your deliberations here be stimulating and productive! I look forward to reviewing the outcomes.

Thank you.

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