Sustainable Management of Water Resources Vital to Achieving Anti-Poverty Goals Delegates Told, As General Assembly High-Level Dialogue Marks World Water Day

22 March 2010
GA/10925

Sustainable Management of Water Resources Vital to Achieving Anti-Poverty Goals Delegates Told, As General Assembly High-Level Dialogue Marks World Water Day

22 March 2010
General Assembly
GA/10925
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fourth General Assembly

High-Level Event on Water

Interactive Dialogue (AM & PM)

Sustainable Management of Water Resources Vital to Achieving Anti-Poverty Goals

Delegates Told, As General Assembly High-Level Dialogue Marks World Water Day

Three Panels Address:  ‘Water and the Millennium Development Goals’;

‘Water, Climate Change and Disasters’; and ‘Water and Peace and Security’

Foreseeing new challenges in the equitable and peaceful management of shared water resources, officials today at a high-level interactive dialogue held to observe World Water Day urged that “bold” and “holistic” solutions be discussed to forestall pollution and water depletion, when the General Assembly meets for talks on the Millennium Development Goals in September.

The day-long dialogue, which also marked the midpoint of the “Water for Life” Decade, was an opportunity to highlight the connection between water, climate change and disaster risk management, said General Assembly President Ali Abdussalam Trekiof Libya, as he opened the dialogue.  It also provided a chance to discuss the need for proactive engagement of all stakeholders to cope with those challenges.  Meeting in three separate panels, the Assembly examined the issues of water and the Millennium Development Goals; water, climate change and disasters; and water and peace and security.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha‑Rose Migiro, also addressing delegates at the opening, said the sustainable management of water resources was vital for economic growth and achieving all the Millennium Development Goals.  It was also central to public health, food security and stable societies.  So far, according to the United Nations joint monitoring programme on water and sanitation, the international community was on target to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without access to safe drinking water.

But, like others, she stressed that countries were lagging on a related goal ‑‑ achieving basic sanitation levels.  With over 2 billion people currently deemed to lack sanitation, the international community was likely to miss the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation by about 1 billion people.

In addition, Ms. Migiro said the theme for this year’s World Water Day ‑‑“Clean Water for a Healthy World” ‑‑ conveyed the point that the quality and the quantity of water were equally at risk.  And, with water catchments straddling national borders, transboundary water issues were likely to be brought to the fore, calling for better management of shared water resources.

Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov of Tajikistan, whose country played a major role in initiating the International Decade on “Water for Life”, said President Emomali Rahmon was proposing to declare 2012 as the International Year of Water Diplomacy.  The Aral Sea, once the world’s largest source of freshwater, was being depleted to support water-intensive crops in Central Asia and to meet the needs of a burgeoning population in ways that were not always efficient.  He suggested that more collaboration was needed between water-rich countries upstream and hydrocarbon-rich economies downstream.

Urging that sound water management be viewed as a “strategic solution” to development challenges, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, highlighted several United Nations initiatives on water.  In its role as Secretariat of UN-Water ‑‑ the inter-agency mechanism which brought together 27 United Nations entities ‑‑ the Department of Economic and Social Affairs was looking for ways to enhance the Organization’s support.

He said the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which ran a water governance programme, was working with the World Bank’s water and sanitation programme to develop rural and urban initiatives in water supply and sanitation.  The UN-Water/Africa group had set up the African Water Information Clearing House, a continent-wide information system, while the Economic Commission for Europe had focused on research and capacity-building in flood management and protection of water-related ecosystems.  There were also initiatives supported by the United Nations regional commissions for Western Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Today’s dialogue by the General Assembly took place on the heels of Water Day celebrations in Nairobi, co-hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).  Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, told the Assembly via video-link that three days of talks had culminated with the UN-Water Statement on Water Quality.  In addition, participants in Nairobi, including policymakers, scientists, eminent personalities and Kenyan Government officials, had agreed to establish a task force on water quality.

According to a report cited by Mr. Steiner, an estimated 90 per cent of wastewater in developing countries was discharged untreated directly into rivers, lakes or the oceans.  Such discharges, allied to the runoff of fertilizers, were part of the reason why de-oxygenated or “dead zones” were spreading rapidly in the seas and oceans of the developed world and emerging now in developing ones.  Half the world’s hospital beds were filled with people who had fallen ill to water-related issues, spotlighting not only the human toll, but the economics of investing in water, sanitation and water quality.

Speaking via video-link alongside Mr. Steiner, Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, Chair of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, said the current model for reclaiming water should be modernized for the twenty-first century, and made more energy efficient and cost-effective to meet climate change targets and spur green growth.  He said the Advisory Board would seek to broaden efforts on sanitation to examine water cleaning systems that would save energy and harvest nutrients.

In today’s first panel discussion on water and the Millennium Development Goals, one participant echoed Deputy Secretary-General Migiro’s call for inclusive policymaking, and said addressing water sanitation must be a collaborative effort, although added that Governments must lead in the design and budgeting for addressing the problem.  That panel was moderated by Jan Eliasson, former Foreign Affairs Minister of Sweden, and featured presentations by Buyelwa Patience Sonjica, Minister of Water and Environment Affairs, South Africa, Chair of the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW); Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, Foreign Secretary, Bangladesh; and Richard A. Grainier, Chief Executive Officer of Hestiun Environment.

At the panel discussion on water, climate change and disasters, with Jorge Jurado, Ecuador’s National Secretary of Water, as moderator, one panellist stressed that disasters happened when communities were ill-prepared, and that the world’s focus must move from disaster response to reducing risk and vulnerability.  Speakers on that panel included Abdelkebir Zahoud, State Secretary for Water and Environment, Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment of Morocco; Salvano Briceño, Director, United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva; and Barbara Frost, Executive Director of WaterAid, United Kingdom.

Addressing the issue of water and security, as moderated by Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President of the Arab Water Council and former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation of Egypt, were João Gomes Cravinho, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal; Ján Kubiš, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Coordinator of the Regional Commissions; and Olcay Unver, Coordinator of UN-Water’s World Water Assessment Programme.

There, one speaker noted that inequalities were increasing between those who could cope with water scarcity and the poor, who could not.  This had led many to claim that “water wars” would be inevitable.  However, a competing school of thought believed countries and communities would be brought together to cooperate in finding a way to share and manage water resources.

Background

The General Assembly this morning convened a high-level interactive dialogue on the implementation of the International Decade for Action on “Water for Life” 2005-2015, and the realization of the internationally agreed water-related development goals.  The meeting will feature an opening and closing plenary, as well as three high-level panel discussions.

Opening Remarks

Opening the dialogue, General Assembly President ALI ABDUSSALAM TREKI said:  “Water is life.  It is a precious and common resource for all mankind and all living beings.  How best we are able to utilize and preserve this resource, I believe, is a fundamental question that concerns our present and future generations.”  The challenges were serious, but the opportunities and the potential to work together to overcome them were no less significant.  It was right that the Assembly discussed the issue to help synergize the international community’s efforts to address it effectively in all its aspects.

Continuing, he said that midway through the International Decade, it was time to take stock of where the international community stood with regard to implementing its commitments and objectives.  Appreciable efforts had been undertaken over the years, leading to increased awareness and recognition of the crucial importance of the sustainable use and efficient management of freshwater resources, as well as attendant sanitation issues.  However, when one in six persons worldwide did not have access to safe drinking water, and when 2.5 billion people did not have access to basic sanitation, and when tens of thousands of children continued to die every day from preventable water-borne diseases, “we know, sadly, that we are lagging behind in the implementations of the commitments related to water and sanitation, contained in the Millennium Development Goals and other agreed goals in the outcome of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development”.

“We must be cognizant of its impact on the achievement of other targets related, [among others], to poverty, health, environmental sustainability; issues that we will also take up in the context of the Millennium Development Goals review summit in September,” he said, stressing also that water impacted our lives and the environment on a much wider scale.  It was a crucial factor in the climate change debate.  There were also links to natural disasters and their aftermath.  Indeed, as had recently been seen in Haiti and Chile, one of the most pressing challenges facing those populations affected by the devastating earthquakes was the supply of drinking water and proper sanitation facilities.

He went on to note that water-related disasters were themselves a puzzle:  while on the one hand they were characterized by floods, typhoons, tropical storms and hurricanes in some parts of the world, on the other hand, some areas were affected by serious droughts.  That exacerbated vulnerabilities in many developing countries, especially the small island developing States.  “This dialogue provides an opportunity to underscore the connection between water, climate change and disaster risk management and the proactive engagement of all stakeholders to cope with these challenges,” he said.

With the increased demand for water, coupled with dwindling supplies, the scramble for water resources was becoming more evident.  When it was an issue of survival, transboundary waters might become a source of potential conflict.  Nevertheless, he said, water resources also represented an opportunity for cooperation and it was that aspect that the international community needed to promote through dialogue and understanding, underpinning equitable and sustainable use and management of transboundary rivers, lakes and aquifers.  “I hope this dialogue will provide a rich perspective on all these issues and will contribute to our efforts for global solutions and implementation of water-related goals,” he said.

ASHA-ROSE MIGIRO, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, said sustainable management of water resources was vital for economic growth safeguarding ecosystems and achieving all the Millennium Development Goals.  It was central to public health, food security and safe societies.  Today’s interactive dialogue provided opportunities to take stock of what had been achieved with the assistance of the United Nations.  According to the latest report of the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water and Sanitation, 2.6 billion people still lacked adequate sanitation, which was a prerequisite to lifting people out of poverty.  Seven out of ten of those people lived in rural areas, but the number of urban residents without improved sanitation was also increasing.  Although 1.3 billion people had gained access to improved sanitation since 1990, the international community was likely to miss the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation by about 1 billion people.

She noted that, according to the latest report of the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water and Sanitation, the world was on track to meet the Millennium drinking-water target.  But, the number of people in rural areas not using improved sources of drinking water was five times higher than in urban areas, with nearly two fifths, or 37 per cent of the total, living in sub-Saharan Africa.  Women were known to have detailed knowledge of local water resources, but were rarely involved in decision-making.

She said the theme of this year’s World Water Day, “Clean Water for a Healthy World”, emphasized that both the quality and the quantity of water resources are at risk.  Preventing pollution, treating polluted water and restoring ecosystems was vital, and the onset of climate change made that challenge even harder, with the onset of more severe and frequent droughts and floods.  As glaciers receded, water quantity and quality would suffer, making it important to build resilience to extreme events.  That had been one of the priorities of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, launched last month.

The Hyogo Framework for Action provided an internationally agreed framework for reducing disaster risk, and was an important tool for climate change adaptation.  Managing the increased variability of water resources would require additional natural and constructed water storage, and would also entail cooperation between countries.  History had shown that cooperation, not conflict, was the most common response to transboundary water issues, but climate change, population growth and changing consumption and production patterns were creating new challenges for the equitable and peaceful management of shared water resources.

Wetlands, lakes and floodplains, and their catchments, were often shared between countries, and played a role in food production and managing flood impacts and pollution.  They linked populations of different countries and supported the incomes of hundreds of millions of people worldwide, in a form of hydrological, social and economic interdependence between societies.  Managing transboundary water resources must be tailored to a basin’s characteristics, and must reflect hydrological, political, economic, social and cultural needs.  It must be coordinated with other resources, like land use and spatial planning.  Data exchange and harmonizing monitoring processes could provide for effective management, in which public participation would be fundamental for enhanced transparency and decision-making.  Public participation would also facilitate the acceptance and enforcement of decisions.

She urged participants of today’s dialogue to seek bold and holistic solutions to water resource management, saying that the United Nations Secretariat would be “at their side” providing analysis, intergovernmental facilitation and support through its development activities.

OQIL OQILOV, Prime Minister of Tajikistan, remarking that the international community was crossing the midpoint of the International Decade, recalled a message from former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who called water “the lifeline for survival and for sustainable development in the twenty-first century”.  That message was still relevant and urgent five years after the launch of the Decade, where, though some targets were on their way to being met, progress on some was still lagging.  The decrease in freshwater resources caused by climate change might create additional difficulties, particularly in arid and semiarid regions, which were experiencing the worst forms of water stress.  The situation was being made worse by drinking water shortages in many countries, deteriorating water quality and degradation of water sources, and excessive population growth.

He expressed confidence that the three round tables to be held as part of today’s high-level dialogue would provide a “solid foundation” for discussions on those, and other, aspects of the United Nations water agenda.  In the view of the Government of Tajikistan ‑‑ which had initiated the International Year of Freshwater, and the International Decade for Action “Water For Life” ‑‑ realization of the Decade would facilitate the settlement of other problems, including health, food and energy security, environment, climate change and disaster risk reduction.

His Government had paid special attention to the water issue, since, despite being rich in water resources, 40 per cent of its people had no access to safe drinking water.  Hundreds of billions of cubic kilometres of freshwater were accumulated in glaciers and lakes, and another several billion were accumulated in river basins that accounted for more than half of the water potential of Central Asia.  But, Tajikistan used only 15 per cent of its rivers, with the rest going to downstream countries for irrigation.

He explained that the country was seeking to compensate for its energy shortages, typically experienced during the autumn and winter, by developing renewable energy sources, particularly its hydroelectric energy.  But, today, it only used about 3 per cent of that potential, making hydropower development a top priority.  Water-related natural disasters were another pressing issue, as they were causing severe economic losses, human casualties and depriving families of shelter.  Schools, hospitals, roads and administrative facilities had been known to be destroyed by landslides.

Irrigation in downstream countries had cause a degradation of the Aral Sea, he said, which was once the largest freshwater source in the world.  Its volume had decreased by 10 times, with the total area of irrigated land rising from 2.8 million hectares to 9 million since the middle of the last century.  Water consumption in the region exceeded international norms by several times, due to “irrational and inefficient water resource management”.  And, because of deterioration on irrigated lands, almost 40 per cent of those lands suffered from salinization.  The Aral Sea crisis could be addressed by rehabilitating irrigation systems and improving agricultural policy, with a focus on less water-consuming crops, which in turn, could improve food security in the region.

Excessive population growth in the countries of Central Asia, from 22 million in 1956 to 64 million today, had resulted in increased water consumption, he added.  Due to climate change, glaciers and snow caps had decreased in size, diminishing the water flow in rivers.  Those countries must revise their water consumption programmes and strategies, especially in agriculture.  Tajikistan had already decreased by 40 per cent the land allocated for cotton, replacing it with crops that consumed less water.  If both upstream and downstream countries were to establish mutually acceptable mechanisms of water and power resource management, it could contribute to sustainable development and long-term cooperation among them.  Upstream countries were rich in water resources, while downstream countries were rich in hydrocarbon resources.

Only the efficient and coordinated actions of countries, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders could accelerate progress in achieving the Decade’s goals in its second half, he said.  To that end, President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan had put forward a proposal to declare 2012 as the International Year of Water Diplomacy.  He also invited Governments, international and regional organizations, civil society and business communities to participate in the high-level international conference aimed at conducting a midterm comprehensive review of the implementation of the International Decade for Action “Water for Life”, 2005-2015, to be held from 8 to 10 June in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe.

SHA ZUKANG, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that he had spent his childhood in a rural village in China.  “I knew as a small boy that water is for life.  My family depended on river water to grow paddy rice; I took buffalos and ducks to water ponds.  Water gave my family our livelihood,” he said, adding that it still did today.  Thanks in part to integrated water resource management, rural livelihoods in China had improved by leaps and bounds in recent decades.  But, no one should ever take water for granted, as serious challenges remained in the area of sustainable water resources management.

“From Barbados to China, from Ethiopia to Australia, nations both developed and developing, have witnessed the devastating effects of drought in recent years.  Ask the farmers who have seen rice fields go dry and livestock decimated by a shortage of water, and you will truly understand why water is for life,” he said.  Water resources played a central role in reaching all economic, social and environmental goals and targets.  Without it, there were no prospects for achieving any of the Millennium Development Goals.  Indeed, sound water management must emerge as a strategic solution to development challenges.  Promoting integrated water resources management must become a central focus of the United Nations activities towards implementing the “Water for Life” Decade.

With that in mind, he said that Department of Economic and Social Affairs was proud to serve as the Secretariat of UN-Water, an interagency mechanism which brought together 27 United Nations entities and which provided a single entry-point to the United Nations system in that important field.  Stressing the multifaceted nature of water resource issues, he said the Organization had tapped into its specialized expertise to support Member States in implementing the Decade’s objectives.  Providing a snapshot of the world body’s efforts, he noted, among others, that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank had undertaken joint initiatives in water and sanitation.

The UNDP Water Governance Programme and the Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme were working together to develop rural and urban initiatives in water supply and sanitation.  Further, he said UN-Water/Africa was focused on monitoring progress in implementing regional and global initiatives and on improving access to information on African water resources.  The UN-Water/Africa group had set up the African Water Information Clearing House, a continent-wide information system backed up by subregional networks of water and geo-information specialists and institutions.  Similar initiatives had taken place in other regions.  The Economic Commission for Europe had focused on research and capacity-building in flood management and protection of water-related ecosystems.

Highlighting the joint UN-Water initiatives under way within the other United Nations regional commissions for Western Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, he also noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) were actively contributing to global water and sanitation monitoring through the Joint Monitoring Programme.  In addition, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had, among other activities, strengthened the implementation of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities.  Finally, he said that to implement the second half of the International Decade, UN-Water and its 27 member entities looked forward to enhancing the Organizations’ support and contributions.  “And we’ll do so in a coherent and coordinated manner, with the UN system acting as one and delivering as one,” he said.

Prince WILLEM-ALEXANDER, of the Netherlands, Chair of the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, speaking via video-link at the culmination of Nairobi’s Water Day celebrations, said the world was “on track” with its water goals.  Also drawing attention to last week’s findings by the Joint Monitoring Programme on Water and Sanitation that the world was expected to reach its drinking water target, he noted that 810 million people, including 120 million in sub-Saharan Africa, had gained access to drinking water since 2000.

“That is a great result, but we cannot lean back,” he said, noting that while the number of people obtaining access to water had risen, it was uncertain whether that water was safe to drink.  An alarming quantity of water carried unsafe levels of microbes and chemicals, making people sick as opposed to helping sustain life.  The theme of the today’s dialogue was clean water for a healthy world, for it was not enough to have water; it must be fit for humans to drink.

He said there needed to be a concerted effort to treat polluted water before returning it to the environment, for which the international community needed a twenty-first century model.  Business-as-usual for waste water collection, treatment and reuse was not the answer.  In the next three years, the Advisory Board would seek to broaden efforts on sanitation to include a new focus on waste water, examining systems that would save energy and harvest nutrients.  Current methods of moving water took up 35 to 40 per cent of municipal energy bills.  New and more efficient systems would save energy and also contribute to climate change efforts, and should be adapted to meet varied requirements.  There needed to be a waste water revolution with engineers and city and regional planners, mayors and other local officials taking a proactive role to stimulate structural change and technological processes.  Developing countries could seize a real opportunity for green growth and sustainable jobs.

He pointed out that the world was not on track on its sanitation goals, however.  The international community needed to underline the need for a further commitment on that score.  Pleased with the outcome of talks in Nairobi, he wished participants in New York luck with preparing “bold steps” for the meeting on the Millennium Development Goals in September, urging the United Nations to act as one on water and sanitation.

In a brief address, also via video-link, ACHIM STEINER, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said it was an honour and challenge for UNEP to serve as coordinating body for the Organization’s World Water day events.  He was pleased to report that talks in Nairobi over the past three days had culminated with the UN-Water Statement on Water Quality.  In addition, participants in Nairobi, including policymakers, scientists, eminent personalities and Kenyan Government officials, had agreed to establish a task force on water quality.

He hoped that the activities carried out and statements delivered over the past three days on water quality, as well as on energy, could provide the impetus to the broader effort to help the United Nations “deliver as one”.  Several key reports and surveys had provided a backdrop to the discussions on water quality.  Those studies had highlighted, among other things, that some 2 million tons of waste was released into freshwater systems daily, with serious effects on human consumption, as well as on the river and lake ecosystems.

According to another report, Sick Water? The Central Role of Wastewater Management in Sustainable Development, a rapid response assessment launched today by UNEP and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), an estimated 90 per cent of all wastewater in developing countries was discharged untreated directly into rivers, lakes or the oceans.  Such discharges, allied to the runoff of fertilizers, were part of the reason why de-oxygenated or “dead zones” were spreading rapidly in the seas and oceans of the developed world and emerging now in developing ones.

He went on to say that, today, half the worlds’ hospital beds were filled with people who had fallen ill to water-related issues.  That spotlighted not only the human toll but the economics of investing in water, sanitation and water quality.  Over the past three days, several key points had emerged, including that it was now cheaper than ever to tackle the top priority ‑‑ water pollution.  Indeed, it was no longer necessary to pollute freshwater sources to ensure low-cost growth, industrial or otherwise.  Another key point raised was the need to scale up investments in water management and ecosystem infrastructure, he said, stressing that:  “Having a glass of water does you no good if it is dangerous to your health.”

Panel I

In the morning, the Assembly held an interactive dialogue on “Water and the Millennium Development Goals”.  Moderated by Jan Eliasson, President of the sixtieth session of the General Assembly, former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, it featured presentations by Buyelwa Patience Sonjica, Minister of Water and Environment Affairs, South Africa, Chair of the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW); Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, Foreign Secretary, Bangladesh; and Richard A. Grainier, Chief Executive Officer of Hestiun Environment.

Opening the discussion, Mr. ELIASSON recalled his experiences as the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator and United Nations Special Envoy in Darfur, which had shown him the urgency of dealing with the water issue.  Some 885 million people did not have access to water.  While progress had been made, there were great regional differences.  In sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, implementation was far from satisfactory.

Efforts also had to be made on sanitation, he said, as 2.6 billion people ‑‑ 40 per cent of humanity ‑‑ lacked satisfactory sanitary conditions.  Some 4,000 children died daily due from lack of water and poor sanitation, and there were more total deaths caused by that situation than from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS combined in southern Africa.  Moreover, water and sanitation were strongly connected to almost all other Millennium Development Goals, notably Goal 1 (poverty and hunger), Goal 3 (gender equality), Goal 4 (child health) and Goal 5 (maternal health).  The fact that they remained problems was a “humanitarian tragedy and an affront to human dignity”, he said.

To improve those conditions, better organization was needed, he said, noting that it was time to bring in the private sector, Governments, universities and others to tackle the problem.  Turf battles had to be broken and work must be undertaken horizontally.  Also, a higher percentage of development aid must be allocated to water, and higher priority given to water and sanitation at the national level.  World Water Day should be used to move from words to action.  “We all have a responsibility,” he said.

Opening the panel, Ms. SONJICA said the Ministers Council was a mechanism for high-level coordination, leadership, advocacy and wise use of Africa’s water resources.  African Heads of State and Government had shown a great political commitment to improving the water and sanitation sectors, notably at the 2009 Second African Water Week, held in Johannesburg, where Africa’s water challenges were broadly recognized as central to the continent’s development agenda.  However, 340 million Africans still lacked access to safe water, and 580 million lacked access to basic sanitation.  Seven of every ten rural people had no access to a toilet, while 884 million people worldwide used unimproved water sources.  In 2006, more than 37 per cent of global population had no access to toilets, latrines or other improved forms of sanitation.

The problem stemmed, in part, from inadequate water infrastructure financing, she said, noting that a water governance mechanism for Africa was also needed.  Policy frameworks were lacking and technical capacity was low.  Financial commitments, though increased, were far outstripped by need.  By 2020, an estimated 75 million people would be confronted with water challenges as a result of climate change.  Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals should be seen as a commitment to hold Governments accountable for the targets that they had defined.  The global financial crisis had shown that the State and public sector could enable access to basic social goods, making the Goals reachable.  Investment mobilization and harmonization was needed, as was a focus on sustainability and continued strengthening of capacity.  Official development assistance to Africa was at $20 billion per year ‑‑ far less than the target set at Gleneagles.  The question about what would happen after 2015 must be asked and answered.  “Why are we still under-budgeting for water?” she asked.

Speaking next, Mr. QUAYES asked what was truly being celebrated during World Water Day.  Water was an overarching synergy in moving forward on all the Millennium Development Goals.  Given that, he asked participants to consider the gender dimension in accessing water.  Women had a traditional role in fetching water, which impacted on their school enrolments rates, health, ability to find food and care for their children.  “It’s not always a celebration,” he stressed.  For countries like Bangladesh, the Maldives and other low-lying coastal States, climate change posed an existential problem.  In his country alone, an estimated 20 million people could be displaced by rising sea levels.  In Bhutan and Nepal, glacial lakes were on the verge of bursting.

However, there was an interesting dichotomy, he said, in that what was essential to life ‑‑ water ‑‑ now posed an existential threat because of consumption patterns.  In discussing the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, it was important to realize the moral dimension to the issue.  That moral exigency must translate into a need to deliver.  He was certain that today’s event would have a seminal impact on how the global community looked at the pace and direction taken in the attainment of Goals.  Also, it was important to understand the externalities of the individual Goals.  They were often viewed as insular and independent; however, they were mutually dependent.  That interrelationship would allow for creating Government structures to address population and manage both water bodies and expanding human habitats.

Rounding out the panel, Mr. GRAINIER said his company was ready to partner with the United Nations to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  Children around the world had the right to a better future, which included access to safe, potable water.  His company invested in the energy, health-care and construction sectors, among others, providing real solutions to the world’s biggest environmental concerns.  It was building environmentally friendly mass housing, something that more than 1 billion worldwide did not have.  He asked what the benefit was to providing water that was not potable.  Major cities in Europe had water problems and even New York was battling to keep an ageing sewage system in operation.  In developing countries, raw sewage and industrial waste were big challenges.

He said his company invested in other companies that represented the future of water development.  One such business had developed a system that controlled bacteria, viruses and algae, as well as filtered and removed contaminants like pesticides and inorganic matter ‑‑ all without using harmful chemicals.  That meant water could be made hygienic at its source.  Such technology could be run by a solar panel or wind turbine, or from a distance, by using mobile phone networks.  Such advances would allow people to attain clean and potable water from their wells.  He hoped that, through such progress, the Millennium Development Goals could be achieved.  “Together, we can make it happen,” he said.

In the following interactive discussion, speakers agreed that water and sanitation were linked to the achievement of all the Goals ‑‑ and that the world was still far from reducing by half the number of those without access to those services by 2015.  Around the world, 1.1 billion still lacked access to a water supply, one speaker recalled, and more than 2.6 billion lacked access to improved sanitation.  To achieve the Goals, the world must provide 173 million people with access to improved sanitation per year.  There was an urgent need to step up research, monitoring, and assessment of water quality at global, regional and local levels.

Several speakers, particularly from low-lying coastal States, pointed out that climate change was undermining water security.  Freshwater supplies were vulnerable to climate change and more must be done to address that issue at the Sixteenth Conference of Parties meeting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held in Mexico in November.  Similarly, sound water resource management and development were vital for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, and several speakers outlined national and regional initiatives to improve that situation, both at home, and in other nations that were lagging behind.

To deal with a lack of resources ‑‑ and inequity in resource allocation ‑‑ donor strategies had to better prioritize water and sanitation, one speaker said, especially for sub-Saharan Africa, where the total aid package must be substantially scaled up.  For its part, the United Nations should play an important role in the exchange of scientific and technological research in the field of water sources to least developed countries.  In that context, one participant said the Organization should adopt water principles at the “Water for Life 2005-2015” conference, to be held in Tajikistan in June.

Also, access to water and sanitation was a human right and States must take action to ensure those rights were met, others noted. One speaker welcomed that the Human Rights Council had appointed an independent expert on that subject.

In closing, Mr. QUAYES agreed that water access was a human right.  The Human Rights Council had created a mandate in that area.  Also, the linkages among the Goals reflected the fact that mandates on poverty and safe drinking water had been conducting joint missions.  On the link between water and climate change, he drew attention to a climate change summit to be held in South Asia in April.  Water management was important, too, he said, and during his recent travels to Beijing and New Delhi, water management and water sharing issues had figured prominently in discussions.  “Let water unite us in the realization that, yes, the challenges are common and yes, the responses have to be common,” he declared.

Ms. SONJICA said that addressing water sanitation must be a collaborative effort.  Partnerships must be strengthened where they existed and created where they did not.  Each stakeholder had to identify its role, but in the end, Governments must lead in the design and budgeting for addressing the problem.  “We under-budget for water,” she said.  “Water is treated as a Cinderella.”  Beyond 2015, it was clear that the world would not have reduced by half the number of people living without safe water access.  “We need to redouble efforts,” she said.

Mr. GRAINIER said his company could help find solutions to some of the issues raised today.  Delegates who had offered comments would receive a letter from his company in the coming weeks.

Speaking during the interactive discussion were the representatives of Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Nauru (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States), Equatorial Guinea (on behalf of the African Group), Canada (also on behalf of Australia and New Zealand), Nepal (on behalf of the least developed countries), Bolivia, Australia, Colombia, Russian Federation and Venezuela.

Panel II

The Assembly then began an interactive panel on water, climate change and disasters, which was moderated by Jorge Jurado, National Secretary for Water, Minister and Presidential Cabinet Member of Ecuador.

Panellists included Abdelkebir Zahoud, State Secretary for Water and Environment, Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment of Morocco; Salvano Briceño, Director, United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva; and Barbara Frost, Executive Director of WaterAid, United Kingdom.

Opening the panel, Mr. JURADO noted that, in Ecuador, water had been recognized as a fundamental human right in the Constitution since 2008.  The country’s Constitution further stated that water was a strategic national asset for public use, and thus Ecuador was the first country in Latin America to take the decision to declare water to be an essential human right.  The Constitution gave priority to human consumption as a basis for human rights, and also to guaranteeing irrigation, which in turn guaranteed food sovereignty.  The Constitution also included the economic and protective uses of water, thereby offering a prime example of a country that had made a sovereign, independent decision to adopt a very clear perspective on water.  That could serve as an example to the rest of the world.

It was also necessary to take other aspects into account, he said, because the initiatives that had been undertaken in the United Nations regarding water were very important, but a great deal remained to be done.  It was essential to ensure that water was handled not just in a needs-based manner or in terms of emergencies because, although situations must be dealt with, water must be looked at from a holistic, integrated approach.  It was necessary to consider where water was coming from, to have a clear understanding of the hydrological cycle to best protect water where it existed, and to bring water to areas where there were shortages so that it was distributed in the best possible manner.  The panel would serve to reflect on all that had not been achieved in the last five years, and on what still needed to be done in the next five years, he said.

The first panellist, Mr. ZAHOUD, stressed that water was a vital issue that was important to people’s lives and to the planet.  Experts acknowledged that climate change was a fact that should be dealt with, and many of those experts warned that it was necessary to address the deteriorating situation in a determined manner and to start implementing solutions.  Delay would have further consequences.  Developed countries had achieved their progress without calculating the cost of greenhouse gases, which was the real cause of the suffering being experienced today.  It was necessary to start, without delay, to implement programmes that would address the impact of climate change.

For its part, Morocco had consistently supported the legitimate positions of all of the international groups to which it belonged, including the African Group, the Arab Group, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China.  Morocco also participated in all international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, even though the problem was very limited in the country and in most African countries.  It was also implementing an initiative to develop the production of solar energy in the country, in order to achieve the objective of having 40 per cent of its energy as clean energy.  As for adaptation to climate change, Morocco had also started an initiative to develop a large number of dams, as well as an early warning system.  In addition, it was also participating in South-South cooperation to bring success to initiatives with some sister African countries, such as Senegal and Burkina Faso.  He also emphasized that avoiding the scarcity of water depended on international efforts and regional cooperation, and that the role of the developed countries ‑‑ which were fully responsible for supporting programmes and providing them with funding ‑‑ should not be ignored.

Speaking next, Mr. BRICEÑO stressed that natural hazards did not cause disasters ‑‑ it was the combination of an exposed, vulnerable and ill-prepared population or community with a hazard event that resulted in a disaster.  Climate change would, therefore, affect disaster risk in two ways ‑‑ first, through the likely increase in weather and climate hazards, and second, and more importantly, through increases in the vulnerability of communities to natural hazards, particularly through ecosystem degradation, adding to insufficient land-use planning, rapid unplanned urban growth, and increasing poverty in many countries.  Climate change would add yet another stress to those, further reducing the ability of a community to cope with even the existing levels of weather- and water-related hazards.

Least developed countries were disproportionately affected, he said, owing to intrinsic vulnerabilities to hazards and comparatively lower capacities for risk reduction measures.  Small island developing States were also particularly vulnerable.  The immediate task was to capitalize on the common concerns of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, both in policies and practical action, and to seek the multiple wins of reducing disaster risk, adapting to climate change, and attaining the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development.  Further, he said that environmental authorities usually had responsibility for guiding climate change adaptation, whereas authorities for disaster management, civil defence and home affairs typically had responsibility for promoting disaster risk reduction.  Increasingly, however, countries were seeing the shortcomings of such “silo” approaches and were seeking to systematically link climate change and disaster risk reduction, often as an element of their development planning.  He added that it was vital for policymakers who dealt with water, climate change and disasters to use and build upon existing capacities and resources, rather than start anew.

For her part, Ms. FROST said that WaterAid was an international non-governmental organization that worked in some of the world’s poorest countries of Africa, Asia and the Pacific.  It worked with some of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people, in areas where some of the Millennium Development Goals would not be achieved.  When the organization talked to poor people about their priorities, water was inevitably number one.  If safe water was close to their homes, they would be able to earn a living instead of going out for hours to collect water.  It could not be right that, in 2010, 2.6 billion people still did not have anywhere to defecate, and thus risked ill-health.

With political will, commitment and the right investment, however, change could happen.  But, despite considerable commitments in many of the countries in which her organization worked, people were still struggling with, among other things, droughts, floods, and erratic rainfall, which posed serious health hazards and constraints to livelihoods.  Success had been witnessed in some initiatives, however, and ending water poverty was possible.  Moreover, she said that water was a precious commodity, but there was also a crisis regarding equitable distribution.  One in eight people lived without safe water today, but that daily disaster could be solved through investments and good governance.  Investment in sanitation and water would, of course, enable the other Millennium Development Goals to be met.  2010 was a critical year, because it was halfway through the International Decade for Water and approached the 10-year milestone towards the targets of the Millennium Development Goals.  Targets had been set and commitments had been made, and it was now necessary for Governments and the United Nations to galvanize and bring an end to the crisis.

The ensuing interactive dialogue centred on the challenges of water in the twenty-first century and the problem of conservation of water resources, the connection between the Millennium Development Goals and water, and the risk of disasters related to natural hazards.  Several speakers called on the United Nations to step up work regarding cooperation between United Nations bodies and participating nations and to take further steps to tackle the water crisis, utilizing the knowledge and expertise accumulated through the experiences of Member States.  Many stressed the need for cooperation and exchanges of experiences among countries and regions, as well as a need to further educate and inform public opinion about the water crisis.  Some speakers discussed the water problems and challenges in their countries, particularly regarding drinking water and sanitation installations, with one speaker noting the need to deal with the issue of conflict that resulted from the depletion of water.

In response, Mr. BRICEÑO said that the comments made by the participants who took part in the interactive dialogue clearly showed that the issue of water was well-recognized.  What was still missing, however, was the need to focus on reducing risk and vulnerability, rather than to continue the focus on just preparing to respond to the disasters, which was what most Governments and institutions ‑‑ including the United Nations ‑‑ still did.  There was a greater inclination to just respond, because disasters provided high visibility to those who wanted to show themselves.  But that did not allow for investment in enough resources to reduce vulnerability, and that remained a challenge.  Calling on everyone to realize that there was an urgent need to shift the focus to reducing risk and not just responding to disasters, he said that it was also necessary to realize that such an approach was essential in all international processes.  Therefore, it was not a separate subject, but a component of all policies.  In addition, he said that there was an urgency to use what Governments had already agreed upon, such as the Hyogo Framework for Action, which was still not known by enough people.

In closing remarks, Ms. FROST said it was critical that something be done about the water crisis; otherwise, the Millennium Development Goals would not be realized, and climate change and disasters would exacerbate the situation for poor people.  It was necessary to help local governments come up with the right plans and systems to deliver.  She also expressed support for the calls heard to turn theory into action.  That is what had to happen, beginning with recognition of water and sanitation as human rights.  Such recognition would go a long way in turning theory into action, she concluded.

Participating in the interactive discussion were the representatives of Kazakhstan, Belarus, Japan, Argentina, Kyrgyzstan, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Guatemala, Mexico, Libya, Hungary, Egypt, Senegal, China and Sweden.

Panel III

In the afternoon, the Assembly held an interactive panel on “Water and peace and security”.  Moderated by Mahmoud Abu-Zeid, President of Arab Water Council and former Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation of Egypt, it featured presentations by João Gomes Cravinho, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal; Ján Kubiš, Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and Coordinator of the Regional Commissions; and Olcay Unver, Coordinator, United Nations World Water Assessment Programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Opening the discussion, Mr. ABU-ZEID said many critical issues had already been raised during the day’s earlier panels, with all of them confirming the importance of the theme at hand.  Development was essential for peace.  Peace was essential for development.  Water was essential for both of them.  Indeed, water and sanitation were practically linked to all of the Millennium Development Goals.  Water was also a human right.  Next year’s thematic focus on water and diplomacy would do much to contribute to the ongoing discussion in the international community regarding water and conflict.

He further noted that conflicts over water consisted of three spheres:  the hydrosphere; the economic sphere; and the political sphere.  Inequalities were increasing between the rich, who could cope with water scarcity, and the poor, who could not.  This had led many to claim that “water wars” would be inevitable.  However, a competing school of thought believed countries and communities would be brought together to cooperate in finding a way to share and manage water resources.

He said that, in general, the world did not suffer from a water shortage, but a mismanagement of that precious resource.  Although an increasing number of States were experiencing water stress, they lacked adequate institutions to deal with its scarcity.  Regional peace and economic development were also a precondition for the kind of cooperation that was needed.  Fortunately, history was full of examples of such cooperation.  However, the tension and anxiety that could arise from water disputes still prevailed, and efforts at reconciliation seemed to be the only solution.

Picking up from there, Mr. CRAVINHO underlined water’s human security dimension, which was more important than ever today.  The developmental impact of water’s scarcity was also enormous.  In the case of sanitation, lack of access was the most important factor.  When the discussion moved into the realm of human rights, it moved into the realm of accountability for ensuring safe and affordable access.  Also, the human rights of water could not be divorced from the impact of climate change, particularly in the cases of where people were already suffering from desertification.  Critically, adaptation to climate change afforded a number of new areas for cooperation, but increased international cooperation for sharing water resources was critical.  Indeed, international water management offered new areas in which to pursue conflict prevention.

Outlining the history of cooperation on shared water sources between Portugal and Spain as an example, he said the cooperation between the two countries had developed over a century and a half, while recent agreements in the last decade had deepened their common approach to water scarcity.  It was clear from their example that successful agreements were predicated on:  a shared long-term vision of goals and benefits; the definition of a good strategy that ensured fair access in a way that addressed both current conditions and longer-term forecasts; surveillance functions that monitored both sides; and the active involvement of all citizens. Such an approach had proved to be more than just a tool for conflict prevention, however.  It also served as the basis for sustainable regional development that also encompassed peacebuilding between the two countries.

Next, Mr. KUBIŠ said the Economic Commission for Europe promoted a number of initiatives that should be seen as important examples to emulate in terms of water and security.  The need to foster cooperation and prevent conflict was the impetus for the Commission’s own Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, which entered into force in 1996 and was not only complementary to the similarly named United Nations convention, but was the only international water convention currently in force.  At its creation, the countries of Europe were looking for a legal and practical basis for managing their shared water resources. Consequently, the Commission’s Water Convention aimed at strengthening national measures for the ecologically sound management of transboundary watercourses and international lakes.  Its strong focus on cooperation and shared responsibility was perhaps its most important asset.  It also included provisions for monitoring and alarm systems, while its protocol on water and health was the first international instrument linking water quality and human health.

The Commission’s Water Convention also provided a basis for countries to react to climate change, he said.  In this regard, guidance had been developed to support countries in addressing conditions in transboundary situations.  He highlighted the resulting initiatives among different organizations in the pan-European region that assessed threats in conflict-prone regions, stressing that the political wisdom of the region’s leaders, as well as its present system for water management, demonstrated an ability to harmonize the interests of both upstream and downstream countries.  Meanwhile, in Central Asia, work was being done to improve dam safety and to strengthen the legal basis for water resource management, as well as the regional institutions responsible.  In that regard, he stressed that institutional capacity was essential in addressing ongoing and emerging water management problems.

Mr. UNVER recalled the number of arid regions where water shortages contributed to poverty, such as Darfur, Somalia, and the Middle East, saying it was now clear that water was related to peace and security, as well as to food, energy, health, the environment and trade.  Water stress had resulted from growing populations, which in turn increased growing energy and food needs.  It was predicted that 2025 would be the “turning point” when almost half of the world’s population would be living in situations of water stress.  Beyond transboundary issues, it was known that “water footprints” could be created for food and products.  Indeed, food production accounted for a significant proportion of the global water budget and this concept could be used to reach better resource allocations.

He went on to say that policies and actions aimed at tackling climate change, the economic crisis and other economic development issues must include a water dimension.  Water was the primary element through which climate change would have an impact, yet the world was still waiting for a sufficient mitigation and adaptation package in terms of the climate change negotiations.  Better water governance and the implementation of integrated water resources management could provide critical contributions.  Concepts, such as benefit-sharing and common joint projects could help different parties to get involved in needed negotiations.  The ratification of the United Nations Water Convention could also help.  But what wasn’t known could also really hurt.  In terms of water’s resource management, not enough was known about water’s quality and use in different communities and those monitoring and data-collection networks that already existed were deteriorating quickly.  For too long water had been too low on the priority list of policymakers who were outside the “water box”.  However, the investments needed to make significant progress in water management were not large compared to other policy goals, like reducing poverty.

When the floor was opened for discussion, speakers underlined regional cooperation as the level at which water management was the most essential and effective, with some emphasizing the need for regional, as well as international, agreements to reflect local needs.  In that regard, Brazil’s representative highlighted the River Plate treaty and the Amazon treaty.  She also welcomed the call for 2012 as the year of water diplomacy and urged the development of a global action plan on sustainable water management that addressed access to water and sanitation as basic services linked to the right to development, and the use of water in agriculture and other multiple uses of water.

Italy’s representative highlighted Central Asia’s particular fragility vis-à-vis water resources and underlined the need for their effective and cooperative management among the countries of that region. To that end, the representative of Tajikistan stressed that his country sought to ensure a balanced energy and water strategy with its neighbours.  Turkey’s representative summarized outcomes of the Fifth World Water Forum, which was held in Istanbul last year.  Among other things, he said participants affirmed the important links between the production of food and energy and water.

Mr. ABU-ZEID announced that, while nearly 20 more speakers had requested the floor, there was no more time, and he invited the panellists to respond.

Mr. CRAVINHO said there was an “enormous heritage” of knowledge when it came to managing water resources.  Still, in regions like Central Asia and the Middle East, challenges were ongoing and there was an obligation to do better with what was known.  This was particularly true in the area of human development and every country had a responsibility in helping other members of the international community achieve that goal.

Mr. KUBIŠ said there were grounds for optimism given the number of examples of cooperative action that existed.  In that regard, he, too, highlighted Central Asia.  Nevertheless, strong institutions at the regional level, as well as strong legal instruments, were needed to move forward.  He called for the accession of his circle of Members States to the Commission’s Water Convention.

Mr. UNVER said that, in parallel to the third report that was launched during the 2009 World Water Forum in Turkey, an initiative to update the freshwater, transboundary dispute database was launched.  As a result of these efforts, there was a numerical basis for the claim, made by Brazil and others today, that when it came to water, cooperation was seen more frequently than conflict.

Concluding Remarks

Thanking the membership and other stakeholders for their strong and active participation in the discussions, Assembly President TREKI said all interventions would be reflected in a detailed Chairman’s summary to be issued in the next few days.  Offering a brief oral summary, he said the dialogue had reaffirmed that water was central to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  Access to water for drinking and productive activities, along with access to sanitation services, was a prerequisite for lifting people out of poverty, for promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality and increasing maternal health.  Statistics showed that much more needed to be done to meet the Goals, however.

He said discussions also reaffirmed that managing water resources in a sustainable way was vital to achieve economic growth and safeguard ecosystems.  Improving water resource management would help to adapt to the challenges of climate change, requiring additional natural and constructed water storage.

Continuing, he said during the talks, participants noted that it had been possible for parties with divergent interests to use a common resource in a cooperative spirit, as shown through history.  The challenge regarding water must be addressed through global responsibility, from the local level to national, regional and international levels.  Governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations and all other stakeholders must strengthen existing partnerships and create new ones where needed.

“I strongly believe that this high-level dialogue will put the water issue back on top of our international agenda, and that the General Assembly will lead our collective efforts by continuing to provide the political momentum to this endeavour,” he said.  A detailed summary of the day’s dialogue would be used as input for the Dushanbe Conference in June, as well as in other processes.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.