Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the G77 Ministerial Forum on Water
Muscat, Oman, 23-25 February 2009

Thank you for this opportunity to address this distinguished forum, which offers a timely opportunity for decision-makers and practitioners to focus attention on the many challenges associated with water resources management in developing countries. I regret that, as this is a very busy period for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, I am unable to be with you in Oman in person.

Water is a key resource to secure a sound basis for sustainable development and poverty eradication. Water is essential for life and health, to grow food and protect ecosystems. In recognition of this vital role, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2005-2015 the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”.

The socioeconomic development of many countries is constrained by limited access to water and sanitation services. Despite progress on many fronts, the state of the world’s waters is still fragile, and their sustainable use and management are far from satisfactory. The world is lagging behind in reaching its target on halving the proportion of the population without access to basic sanitation services. At the current rate the world will miss this target by 500 million people. And although the target for drinking water may be achieved globally, current trends suggest sub-Saharan Africa will not meet it until 2035. These failings have serious consequence for the health, dignity, environmental and economic state of societies. We must accelerate progress.

At its 17th Session in May in New York, the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development will focus on agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa. Water plays a central role in addressing these issues, which are at the core of sustainable development. The session will decide on the actions and policy options that require our urgent attention.

One such area is the nexus between water challenges and climate change. The impacts of climate change are already visible in the water sector and include the increased variability in rainfall patterns, an increased frequency and magnitude of extreme events such as droughts and floods and a loss of natural freshwater reservoirs due to decreasing glaciers and snowfields. These impacts are posing additional challenges to achieving poverty eradication and ensuring food security and public health. Furthermore, the gradual change in sea level will lead to the loss of land and intrusion of saltwater into coastal areas. Supporting the needs of Small Island Developing States to decrease their vulnerability is particularly important. Protecting the vulnerable and designing smart adaptation efforts that contribute to poverty eradication and sustainable development needs to be our shared objective.

The broad nature of the water and sanitation agenda calls for greater coordination and stronger coherence in the implementation and monitoring of actions. The United Nations has established UN-Water, a mechanism to bring together the strengths of the UN system and promote increased cooperation and coordination. It works to provide a coherent platform to develop inter-agency responses in partnership with non-UN actors to better support the efforts of Member States to tackle the manifold challenges in the water sector. This work includes ensuring more efficient use of the existing human and financial resources of the UN system, the delivery of substantive assessments and recommendations and specific support to accelerate the implementation of agreed actions. I have submitted separately to this meeting an overview of the many activities of South-South cooperation programmes on water related issues that are supported by the United Nations system.

I am looking forward to the outcomes and recommendations of your deliberations and would like to ensure you of the firm commitment of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs to support country efforts and initiatives to achieve national objectives as well as internationally-agreed goals and targets for water and sanitation. The full and active participation and collaboration of the G77 and China is vital to achieving meaningful outcomes on the many challenges ahead of us. I look forward to working together with you from the annual ministerial review by the Economic and Social Council - bringing all stakeholders together to focus on global health - to the preparations for a comprehensive review of development at the MDG Summit in 2010.