|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-seventh General Assembly
High-level Interactive Dialogue
on Water Cooperation (AM & PM)
Secretary-General Calls for Greater International Cooperation to Secure Fragile
Resources as General Assembly Holds High-Level Dialogue on Water
Assembly President Stresses Need for More Equitable Access amid Arising Pressures
Greater international cooperation was critical for the security of fragile and finite global water resources, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today during a high-level event in observance of World Water Day and the beginning of the International Year of Water Cooperation.
“We cannot prosper without clean, plentiful freshwater,” Mr. Ban told the General Assembly’s High-level Interactive Dialogue on Water Cooperation. Climate change and growing populations around the world meant that the international community had a responsibility to work to more effectively and efficiently protect and manage water, he said.
Appealing to people around the globe to use water intelligently and not waste it so that all could have their fair share, he said water held the key to sustainable development. Yet one in three people already lived in a country suffering moderate to high water stress, he noted, adding that by 2030, nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent. Competition was also growing between farmers and herders, industry and agriculture, town and country, upstream and downstream, as well as across borders.
Opening the meeting earlier, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić ( Serbia) emphasized that the supply of freshwater which made up less than 4 per cent of the planet’s total was finite. It was critical, therefore, to find ways to make access to water more equitable as it came under increasing pressure from rising populations, unsustainable forms of economic development and climate change.
He went on to emphasize that achieving the Millennium Development Goals would be impossible without clean water and proper sanitation, and that it was crucial to make such issues an urgent priority in light of the rapidly approaching 2015 deadline for attaining the targets. In the time ahead, water resources would have to be managed in a more sustainable way, requiring practical and cost-effective solutions, he said. More than ever before, water stood at the centre of a complex and interdependent set of challenges facing the international community.
Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov of Tajikistan stressed that supplying safe drinking water to the significant number of people without access was an expensive endeavour, but if there was rational use and integrated management of water resources, all needs could be met. Although it was encouraging that many countries had begun to implement such an approach in recent years, many national plans had not been coordinated either with neighbouring countries or with other regions, and thus remained ineffective.
He pointed out that implementing such concepts required cooperation and partnership, not only among countries, but also among different economic sectors and water users. He cited the Aral Sea Basin as a sad example of irrational use of water resources that had resulted in the degradation of the Aral Sea and the socioeconomic and ecological deterioration of the entire region and its population of more than 60 million people.
Global climate change continued to aggravate the situation, affecting snow and glacier resources, he said, recalling that in the last 35 to 40 years, his country had witnessed more than 35 per cent degradation of its glaciers. As a major zone of river inflow formation in the region, where 60 per cent of all water resources formed, Tajikistan’s policy on water issues could be found in a wise saying: “Any person who gives water to the needy performs a kind and noble deed.”
Addressing the event by video link, Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Co-Chair of the High-level Forum observing official celebrations of the International Year of Water Cooperation in The Hague, underscored the need for full private-sector engagement in water-resource issues as it possessed the innovation and capacity to intervene with all stakeholders. Commenting on the many angry debates held during the High-level Forum, she said: “We really believe [that] for such a good cause we are allowed to be a little bit angry.”
Joining her was Michael Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), as well as Chair of UN-Water and Co-Chair of the High-level Forum. He said not only was the United Nations system participating in the Forum, but so were an “enormous” number of people contributing through social media. Participants were anxious to take stock of lessons learned, he said, adding that the Forum’s message would be brought to other platforms and meetings to ensure that it was taken on board.
In the panel discussion held this morning, titled “Setting the stage — Issues, challenges and opportunities for water cooperation”, one speaker echoed the Secretary-General’s call for the international community to address growing demand for food, energy and water, as well as the 40 per cent “water gap” that would result by 2030. Moderating the panel was Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.
During the afternoon panel discussion, one speaker urged all those seeking solutions to water challenges to move out of a gender-neutral stance, and emphasized that the need to engage women and youth remained a challenge. Seeking their input must go beyond “kind words and kind thoughts”, she said, describing women as the “foot soldiers of climate change”. They could not become “cannon fodder”. Moderating the discussion, titled “Exploring proposals, strategies and cooperative solutions for the period after 2015”, was Annette Huber-Lee, Director of the Asia Centre and Senior Scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute.
The General Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. Monday, 25 March, to take up the agenda item “Follow-up to the Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade: Commemorative meeting on the occasion of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade”.
The General Assembly convened a high-level interactive dialogue on water cooperation this morning to mark the International Year of Water Cooperation. The meeting will feature opening and closing plenary sessions, as well as two high-level panel discussions titled, respectively, “Setting the stage — Issues, challenges and opportunities for water cooperation” and “Water, climate change and disasters”.
VUK JEREMIĆ ( Serbia), President of the General Assembly, opened the Dialogue by noting that the value of water was recognized in the holy books of the world’s great religions. Citing passages from the Bible and the Koran emphasizing the importance of water, he said it was important to be guided by those sacred words at the launch of the International Year of Water Cooperation. However, freshwater supplies were finite, making up less than 4 per cent of the planet’s total, he warned. Ways must be found to apportion it more equitably as it came under increasing pressure from rising populations, unsustainable forms of economic development and climate change.
He went on to underscore that achieving the broad spectrum of the Millennium Development Goals — including, most importantly, the alleviation of poverty — would be impossible without clean water and proper sanitation. That should be one of the most urgent priorities since the 2015 deadline was approaching rapidly, he said, stressing also the importance of preparations for the Special Event to Follow-up on Efforts towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Climate change, growing populations and increasing consumption needs were putting greater stress on water supplies and energy production, which were ever more interrelated, he said. In the time ahead, that nexus would have to be managed in a more sustainable way as it urgently required practical and cost-effective solutions which the thematic discussion would seek to promote. More than ever before, water stood at the centre of a complex and interdependent set of challenges that would stretch the imagination, resourcefulness and fortitude of Member States and the United Nations system for decades to come, he said.
BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that water, central to the well-being of people and the planet, held the key to sustainable development. “We need freshwater for health, food security and economic progress.” Yet, each year brought new pressures, he said, pointing out that one in three people already lived in a country with moderate to high water stress. By 2030, nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent. Additionally, competition was growing between farmers and herders; industry and agriculture; town and country; upstream and downstream; and across borders.
Climate change, as well as the needs of populations growing in size and prosperity meant that the international community had a responsibility to work together to protect and manage the fragile and finite resource, he said. The United Nations system, through UN-Water and its 30 UN members and 25 international partners, was fostering cooperation from the global level to grass roots. For example, the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Shared Waters Partnership was supporting political agreements on shared waters, as in the Nile Basin. Furthermore, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) supported the equitable management of transboundary water resources so as to avoid conflict.
Pointing out that agriculture was by far the largest user of freshwater, he said there was a growing and urgent need to reconcile its demands with the needs of domestic and industrial use, especially energy production. Climate change also presented a growing threat to productivity and food security, he said, adding that his Zero Hunger Challenge promoted sustainable agriculture by sharing best practices and harnessing the most appropriate technologies so that small famers and industrial giants alike could get “more crop per drop”.
He went on to underline that there could be no discussion of water without mentioning sanitation. While the international community had met the Millennium Development Goal on freshwater, it had fallen “woefully” short on sanitation. Some 2.5 billion people lacked access to the dignity and health afforded by access to a toilet, while lack of protection from untreated waste caused the deaths of thousands of children each day. Investment in sanitation was a down-payment on a sustainable future, he said, noting that there were a little more than 1,000 days left before the Millennium Development Goals deadline.
“But 2015 is not a finishing line, merely a milestone in a long and challenging journey,” he emphasized. As the international community developed the post-2015 development agenda, the aim was to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, while creating an equitable world of opportunity for all. To do that, it was necessary to give equal consideration to the environmental dimension of sustainable development. “We cannot prosper without clean, plentiful freshwater,” he said, appealing today, on World Water Day, for heightened cooperation around that common resource. It should be used more intelligently and wasted less so that all could get a fair share.
OQIL OQILOV, Prime Minister of Tajikistan, stressed that the proportion of people lacking access to safe drinking water remained significant and that supplying it was an expensive endeavour. Considerable investment in the order of “a few dozens of billions of US dollars” was required. The rational use and integrated management of water resources was crucial, and would, if fulfilled, allow all needs to be met. It was encouraging that many countries had begun to pay attention to that approach in recent years. In many cases, however, national plans had not been coordinated either with neighbouring countries or with other regions and had thus remained ineffective.
He continued: “Against the background of ever-increasing consumption of food and energy by the world population, deteriorating sanitation and global climate change, it is the nexus approaches, such as water-food-energy-climate that are becoming more urgent and practical.” Implementation of such concepts required cooperation and partnership, not only among countries, but also among different economic sectors and water users. The Aral Sea Basin was a sad example of irrational use of water resources which had resulted in the degradation of the Aral Sea and the social-economic and ecological deterioration of the entire region and its population of more than 60 million people, he said.
Further, global climate change continued to aggravate the situation, affecting snow and glacier resources, he continued. In the last 35 to 40 years, Tajikistan had witnessed more than 35 per cent degradation of its glaciers. The country was a major zone of river inflow formation in the region, where 60 per cent of all water resources formed. Further degradation of water resources was also of great concern amid rapid population growth, increasing water consumption and declining sources. Such pressures demanded that the region’s countries use water resources more rationally, with corrected plans, particularly in regard to agriculture and water preservation to ensure sustainable development.
Despite the abundance of Tajikistan’s water resources, part of its population experienced difficulties due to the absence of a water supply system and a lack of access to safe drinking water, he said. Over the past five years, the Government had adopted more than 15 programmes, strategies and plans of action. Pointing out that 90 per cent of all natural disasters were related to water, he said they were more frequent and intensive in his country, causing huge damage to the national economy, claiming large numbers of human lives, injuring many people and leaving thousands of others homeless. “Our people have a wise saying,” he said. “Any person who gives water to the needy performs a kind and noble deed.” That approach was the foundation of Tajikistan’s policy on water issues.
IRINA BOKOVA, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Co-Chair of the High-level Forum observing official celebrations of the International Year of Water Cooperation in The Hague, addressed the meeting by video link, stressing that the private sector must be fully engaged in water-resource issues as it possessed the innovation and capacity to intervene with all stakeholders. Water, energy and food security were connected, she said, adding that water was a crucial component of capacity-building. That was a complex issue, not only in terms of technology and science, but also peace and cooperation. Commenting on the many angry debates held during the High-level Forum, she said, “We really believe [that] for such a good cause we are allowed to be a little bit angry.”
MICHAEL JARRAUD, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Chair of UN-Water and Co-Chair of the High-level Forum, said that not only was the United Nations system participating in the Forum, but so were an “enormous” number of contributors through social media. It was not difficult to find consensus as all stakeholders realized that the issue of water was at the core of development. “We are not allowed to ignore it.” Participants were anxious to take stock of lessons learned, he said, adding that the Millennium Development Goals were unfinished business and that progress must be made in the coming years. The Forum’s message would be brought to other platforms and meetings, where future action and strategies were being addressed, he said, stressing that participants would ensure that the messages of the High-level Forum were taken on board.
RASHID AHMED BIN FAHAD, Minister for Environment and Water of the United Arab Emirates, said that his country was located in an arid region with little rainfall, no permanent water flows and numerous environmental challenges. In recent years, the growing population had caused challenges in access to water, he recalled, noting that the Government had adopted laws to deal effectively with water, energy, health, and consumption patterns. Its methods included making freshwater available to more people, recycling industrial water, optimizing wastewater management and adopting “green” economic policies. He stressed the need to rationalize water use and to reject wasteful models.
Internationally, the United Arab Emirates had hosted the first summit on water, bringing together leaders and experts to debate water policy, he said. The Government was creating freshwater stations which would be quite developed by 2020, he said. Solar energy was also being strengthened. Most countries with water insecurities were developing countries lacking the technological wherewithal to tackle those issues, he said, emphasizing that delay in tackling the problem would endanger millions of people. The United Arab Emirates welcomed efforts by the United Nations system to mobilize global efforts, transfer technologies and build the capacity to make drinking water available to all.
JOSE ZAMORA, Minister for Environment and Water of Bolivia, described water as a precious gift of Mother Earth. The right to water and sanitation was essential for the realization of all other human rights. However, the reality of access to water and sanitation was distressing, he said, pointing out that some 2.5 billion people were still without access to basic sanitation. Bolivia’s new Constitution defined water as the most basic human right, and in the last six years, water had been made available to more than 1 million people. In 2012, drinking water coverage had reached 79 per cent and sanitation 50 per cent. However, much remained to be done in terms of sanitation, and despite its efforts, Bolivia would not be able to provide water to all citizens on its own. That would require international cooperation and participation, he said.
He went on to underline that management culture should be based on community solidarity, both upstream and downstream. Water should not be controlled by private businesses, as that caused the question of water to lose its social and cultural importance, as well as its human component. Privatizing water had failed to promote sustainable development, he noted, stressing that there was no relation between privatization and the eradication of poverty. As long as capitalism continued to privatize water, it would destroy all forms of human solidarity, he said, warning also that wherever profit and capital were predominant, people would be condemned to exclusion and poverty.
Reiterating his warning against the growing tendency to privatize drinking water and sanitation services, he said the Bretton Woods institutions, self-proclaimed heralds of sustainable development, represented financial bodies and believed that Governments should give water sources to their “ravenous appetites”. Governments repressed, wounded and killed in order to defend private capital, but Bolivia would not allow that to happen, he pledged. Reiterating that water was not a business but a right, he warned that the history of privatizing water could not be repeated. The sale of environmental services, though skilfully concealed, could no longer have weight in the international community, he said, adding that his country did not believe in economic payment but in community complementariness, not on the basis of payment, but through mutual support because people and the environment were interdependent. The water market did not guarantee the human right to water, he said. That was the role for the Government and communities.
MAMOUNATA BELEM/OUEDRAOGO, Minister for Water, Hydraulic Planning and Sanitation of Burkina Faso, stressed that the topic under discussion was “everyone’s business” and that water management must integrate the needs of all with a view to sustainable development. The international community was aware that water was one of the major challenges facing the global community, she said, emphasizing that Africa had not escaped that reality. The declaration of a 1998 conference held in West Africa called for integrated water management and the adoption of management plans, she recalled, adding that it was a concept that must be achieved at the watershed level. In that regard, international, regional and national organizations must promote strategies for the rational management of water resources, she said, noting that her country was integrating that shared vision.
She went on to say that Burkina Faso had ratified the 1998 declaration before adopting and committing to a national programme addressing multiple concerns, including the need for a national framework on water management and a national programme on safe drinking water. On the regional level, the Government had established the Nakanbe River Basin Agency, leading to the development of four other such bodies. Such action brought all stakeholders into sustainable activities towards water management. Recalling the 2010 United Nations decision declaring water a universal right, she pointed out that it was, now more than ever, at the heart of countless conflicts and must be managed through multiple approaches, including post-2015 strategies.
FEDERICO RAMOS DE ARMAS, State Secretary for Environment of Spain, said the average distance a woman in Africa or South Asia walked to get to a source of clean water was six miles, yet the average daily water consumption in the West was nearly 200 litres. There were too many schools with neither drinking water nor sanitation, he said. “We should not fool ourselves because we are sources for this.”
Noting that an array of different issues, from food security to peacekeeping, depended heavily on access to water, he called on the international community to remain optimistic because there had never before been access to such technical and scientific advances capable of responding to challenges. Priorities included reducing drought and pollution, improving access to water, and reducing water wastage. The United Nations was destined to play a key role, he added.
He said that his country’s Government realized the importance of support and had devoted more than €800 million to projects in 19 countries. A prominent part of that expenditure had gone to the Inter-American Development Bank Conference, born of an initiative that had brought together public and private bodies responsible for water. Training professionals to fill a gap that had been particularly instrumental in sustainable management was one of its goals, and professionals from all Latin American and Caribbean countries, in addition to Spain and Portugal, had participated in that forum.
Looking forward to the next such conference, he said it would focus on access to international waters. Spain had a long tradition of water management, and new episodes of drought and water scarcity encouraged the Government to improve sanitation and implement non-conventional sources such as desalinization and recycling to ensure greater access to water. Spain had already overcome many of the obstacles that countries faced today, and the Government was committed to cooperation and sharing expertise in that field. Development was intended to create an environment in which human beings could enjoy long, healthy and creative lives, he said. The international community must neither lose sight of that goal nor be swayed by corporate interests in respect of water, the most basic of human necessities, he emphasized.
Panel Discussion I
Moderating the morning interactive dialogue, “Setting the stage — Issues, challenges and opportunities for water cooperation”, was Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. It featured presentations by Balázs Medgyesy, Government Commissioner, European Union Strategy for the Danube Region, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hungary; Zafar Adeel, Director, United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH); and Uschi Eid, Vice-Chair, United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation and Co-Chair of the Bonn 2011 Water, Energy and Food Security Conference.
Mr. ELIASSON emphasized his strong commitment to the conservation and management of water, recalling that, during his General Assembly presidency, he had raised his glass of water and told delegations that water was “a luxury and a dream” to millions of people. Although some progress had been made since, billions of people still lacked sanitation, a euphemism for toilets. Because of that, 3,000 children died every day from diseases and illnesses related to the lack of sanitation and clean water, a tragedy he had personally witnessed. “We need to make peace with nature,” he stressed. “This is what this is all about.” Recalling the recent launch of a drive for sanitation, he said that, if the United Nations was to gain credibility, it must accelerate that goal.
Mr. ADEEL, the first panellist, then gave an overview of UN-Water’s recently launched analytical brief on water security, saying it investigated the definition of water security and provided a starting point for water security as a sustainable development goal. Among the key elements, were innovations in financial mechanisms, engaging the private sector and enhancing transboundary cooperation. Because of the link connecting water security, climate change and the water cycle, the brief also suggested including the issue on the Security Council’s agenda, he said. The United Nations system also had much to offer through its capacity-building efforts, bringing a focus to water security, helping Member States to implement water-security policy, and monitoring and reporting through existing UN-Water mechanisms which could then be transferred into the post-2015 dialogue.
Mr. MEDGYESY said climate change had exacerbated challenges in the Danube region, which had suffered consecutive years of flooding and decreasing access to clean drinking water. The European Union and other actors faced challenges as to how they could provide sanitation and clean water throughout the region, given the numerous challenges, he added. Water and rivers were critical to tourism, agriculture and the quality of life, among other things. Although there were some conflicts of interest between uses of water, the current environment presented an unprecedented opportunity to resolve such challenges.
He said such solutions should be in line with European Union water legislation and cover various sectors, as well as all three pillars of sustainable development — economic, social and environmental. Innovation was necessary to establish optimal strategies, from flood management to finding the best solutions to drinking water shortages throughout the region, he said. There was no alternative to water cooperation, without which no amount of resources could safeguard international security. Good governance was of key importance in addressing water challenges and issues. It was also important to think “outside the box” in order effectively to address the water question.
Ms. EID rounded out the panel, saying that if growing demand for food, energy and water continued to rise at the current rate, it would create a 40 per cent water gap by 2030. “We cannot make decisions without knowing if it will do good or harm in another sector,” she said, stressing the importance of establishing a nexus that would take into account the effects of water on other resources. Many steps had been undertaken to improve resource efficiency and to manage successfully the nexus required for resource productivity and productive potential. “Go to your cities and see how much water is being lost in your pipes and how much food is being thrown out,” she said, adding that throwing out food meant throwing out water and energy as well.
Policy coherence and coordination among various United Nations agencies was necessary in addressing such challenges and gaps, she continued. Transboundary river and basin organizations must look into the links between the water needed for irrigation, and the water needed for production and soil. On the national level, interministerial coordination was crucial, she said, noting that ministers from all sectors should communicate better. It was important to examine the interconnectedness of supply chains from a private sector perspective and also to establish accounting systems.
In the ensuing interactive discussion, speakers agreed that water and sanitation were linked to all the Millennium Development Goals, and that the world still had a long way to go. Some 2.5 billion people were still without access to basic sanitation, while 780 million lacked access to clean drinking water. Several speakers, particularly from arid countries, cited the innovative initiatives that their Governments were undertaking so as to tackle the effects of climate change, including drought, flooding, and land degradation. National programmes were addressing water resources through a multitude of actions and strategies, while multi-stakeholder participants and grass-roots efforts incorporated traditional methods of water use and conservations. The transfer of technology to developing countries was instrumental in supporting their efforts to achieve water security.
Water cooperation was needed on all levels, from local to global, speakers said. All stakeholders, from the public sector to non-governmental organizations to businesses, must be included in the process as each offered different aspects of each solution. Several delegation members emphasized the need for sustainable and fair development of water sources. Looking to the future, several speakers stressed that, although it was a challenging time, it was important to recognize opportunities for cooperation instead of conflict. Similarly, what had worked in the past was currently not working.
Speakers noted that Governments were more willing to recognize water as a human right. Its inclusion in national constitutions and the implementation of related policies in national agendas elevated the issue of water to the global stage. Water security should be approached through a human rights perspective as it was essential to life, health and human dignity. Although access to water had increased for millions of people since implementation of the Goals, basic sanitation was still a very serious problem requiring increased attention.
Ms. EID agreed that water should be a stand-alone Millennium Development Goal. In addition, the use of water in the South African mining industry should be used as an example by other countries. It was essential to focus on water efficiency, as well as recycling, she stressed.
Mr. MEDGYESY said it was necessary to develop priority areas covering transformation and economic development in terms of cross-cutting issues. Once strategies were set, they would be taken into account in setting the future agenda. The sufficient answers of yesterday were not the sufficient answers of today, he said, adding that, amid the growing pressures, it was important to learn from each other and to grow collective experiences.
Mr. ADEEL said water scarcity and stress were at the forefront of climate change and other development challenges.
Participating in the interactive discussion were representatives of South Africa, Finland (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Switzerland, Uzbekistan, India, Germany, Mexico, Singapore and China.
Also taking part was a representative of the European Union Delegation and the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine. A representative of the non-governmental organization Toilet Hackers also spoke.
Panel Discussion II
Annette Huber-Lee, Asia Centre Director and Senior Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute, moderated the afternoon discussion “Exploring proposals, strategies and cooperative solutions for the period after 2015”. The panellists were Kusum Athukorala, Chair of NetWater and the Sri Lanka Water Partnership; Jeremy Bird, Director General, United Nations University International Water Management Institute; Karin Krchnak, Director, Freshwater, World Wildlife Fund, United States; Julia Backnall, Head of Water, World Bank; and Jason Morrison, Technical Director, CEO Water Mandate.
Ms. HUBER-LEE said there was no question water and cooperation was of key importance to sustainable development, not only in terms of drinking and sanitation, but also in terms of food, energy and services upon which everyone depended. However, cooperation must be real rather than mere coordination of actions where the more powerful dictated policy. Furthermore, transboundary water use referred not only to national borders, but also to those between cultures, genders and wealth groups, to name a few. Key voices had not been empowered to participate in the dialogue around water and cooperation, she said. They had been excluded from decision-making and knowledge of water strategies. She urged participants to “act now, make a difference now” to make cooperation real.
Ms. ATHUKORALA, the first panellist, urged all participants in the quest for water cooperation solutions to move from a gender-neutral stance and make a greater effort to leave their comfort zones in order to engage with marginalized stakeholders for an expanded platform of social data. Unlikely partners and strategies should also be sought. On the national level, water partnerships had been developed with academia, State agencies and community-based organizations. Unusual partnerships were now being developed in the private sector, including several projects involving a garment company, an insurance firm and the Anglo-Dutch multinational corporation Unilever.
She called for a change in strategies, challenging mass convictions about what must be addressed. For instance, sanitation around menstrual hygiene required specific approaches, as well as revisiting tools and culturally appropriate strategies. Furthermore, the need to engage women and youth remained a challenge, and seeking that input must go beyond “kind words and kind thought”, especially in light of the widely held belief of women’s need for sustainable development. As women were the “foot soldiers of climate change”, she said they should not “become cannon fodder”, but be “included in the process”.
A new initiative was needed that would include women in efforts around water cooperation and increase their visibility, she said, calling for an International Day of Women and Water. Without their input and participation, and without international cooperation, water cooperation efforts would result in “another set of meetings and papers”, but no change on the ground, she cautioned. In response to a query about broadening the nexus of women in other areas, she said there was a dearth of data on women’s activities. In the realm of water management, for example, it had been thought that women did not engage in night irrigation simply because there were no data showing otherwise. In fact, they did but someone must be on the ground collecting that data.
Mr. BIRD said he supported the inclusion of water as a separate development on the post-2015 agenda. Water scarcity was an umbrella framework, but it was not only about water scarcity; it was also about economic scarcity. To illustrate that point, he told of a colleague travelling through Africa who had repeatedly been stopped by children asking for empty water bottles. They had water sources but no containers with which to carry the water, he said.
Turning to the question of sanitation, he emphasized that the whole treatment process must be considered. “What happens when the pit is full?” he asked, noting that there were approximately 100 million septic tanks in India, but hardly any treatment, and that 80 per cent of surface pollution traced back to treatment issues. Another holistic approach to groundwater irrigation for agriculture required investigating excess electric and water use that lowered groundwater, he said, citing a case in which feeder lines had been reconfigured, leading to significantly higher water levels.
He noted that when it came to the supply elements, it was equally important to include the quality of water as the quantity. In waste management, the “whole-picture” approach was necessary and effective, he said, describing the treatment of wastewater and faecal matter in making fertilizer in Ghana. Another important issue was resilience to shocks such as floods or droughts, which were often intensified by climate change. Families climbing out of poverty that experienced such shocks often lacked reserves like insurance or savings, and could fall back into poverty for the lack or such resources. Predictive capability and preparation were necessary to prevent that, he said.
Ms. KRCHNAK said freshwater ecosystems continued to be degraded faster than either terrestrial or marine ecosystems, and that a multi-stakeholder approach was essential because climate change was compounded by multiple hazards. “Are we really building resilience in our water management solutions?” she asked. Building capacity and corporate water stewardship in the post-Rio+20 world required the participation not only of political actors, but also the private sector and civil society. Noting that the World Wildlife Fund had just entered into a business partnership with Coca-Cola, she said that unique partnership between private sector and non-governmental entities was instrumental in the future of water and environmental preservation.
Pooling of resources should be taken seriously, she continued. It was a great time for Governments and other multiple stakeholders to come together and pledge action. Water insecurity knew no borders, and the nexus approach offered opportunities to examine basin-wide management, which would benefit freshwater ecosystems. It was also essential to bridge water-resource management and coastal management, she said. All rivers and aquifers should have management schemes and river basin management plans. The challenge was not always having the analysis done, but rather how to bring together multiple stakeholders as a platform for discussion, and to adopt a management programme and cohesive understanding of the analysis.
Ms. BUCKNALL declared: “We are living with our heads in the sand.” While the destruction or abuse of many freshwater ecosystems was not yet felt by major economies and ecosystems, most of the “blowback” was felt by people whose voices were not heard. It was astounding to go to India, where people used iPads but defecated in the open, she said. That disconnection between objective and reality should be addressed through political engagement, as well as technological assistance. It was essential to move creatively and holistically from idea to action.
Pointing out that current international water habits had been developed in a period of plentiful water, she said engineering standards had equally been developed in a world of 2 billion people, but would not work in a world of 9 billion. Breaking that inertia was difficult as it caused people to be locked into water-consumption patterns that would not work in the future. The World Bank supported the post-2015 sustainable development goals from a technical point of view, she said, emphasizing the need for one global indicator to monitor how water issues affected everyone, everywhere, whatever the conditions.
Mr. MORRISON provided a business perspective on the topic, saying that how some actors approached partnership today was an important part of developing cooperation. The CEO Water Mandate, a sub-initiative of the United Nations Global Compact, comprised 100 companies involved in mining, apparel, and the food and beverage industry, to name a few. Many of the companies involved had proven track records in water stewardship, but others were just beginning. From a technical point of view, businesses recognized that the water crisis was a fundamental issue, and that awareness had been growing over a decade of working in countries suffering from water scarcity. Water had been in the top five of the global risk index, he noted, emphasizing that water scarcity was not an altruistic issue.
Water was a material risk for companies, he said, pointing out that the greatest risk came from outside factory fences. Even if a company was highly functional and enjoyed successful water stewardship within its facility, it would have to address water scarcity outside the factory, he said, describing how one company had spent several million dollars to ensure the efficient use of water. However, when it had begun to address the issue “outside the factory fence”, it had successfully saved twice as much water at one hundredth of the cost.
Businesses were not the only ones facing water risk, he continued. All sectors, civil society, local communities, and Governments shared risk and interest. Therefore, a growing number of companies subscribed to the fact that sustainable water management was the most viable action for reducing water risk. For the post-2015 agenda, there was a strong case that water security aligned best with the interests of companies engaged in long-term business. He also pointed out the existence of enabling platforms, including the Global Water Action Hub, an online platform sharing best practices for particular challenges and regions, and where partners could be found quickly enough to expedite implementation on the ground.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, several speakers stressed the need for an international legal framework to regulate relations among States sharing freshwater as a very important step in maintaining international peace and security. Numerous speakers also emphasized that, despite efforts to ensure more equal access to drinking water, disparities persisted in Africa. It was important to promote behavioural changes in low-income families.
Noting that water-purification measures had become an imperative need during disasters, several speakers said international institutions must help low-lying coastal States cope with crisis and help resettle people whose homes had been destroyed. The answer lay not only in focusing on urban living conditions, but also in ensuring stability for rural communities.
As for post-2015 challenges, a few participants said the concept of security had overtaken that of sustainable development. It was a challenge to combine, manage, and clarify the way forward in a time of armed conflict and high ambitions for sustainable development, while also addressing the security challenges posed by climate change.
Ms. ATHUKORALA responded by stressing the importance of communications. Regarding iPad owners defecating in the open, she said such circumstances would require behavioural role changes. “No loo, no bride,” she said, recounting the story of an old Indian family tradition by which parents would not give away their daughter in marriage to a household lacking a bathroom. Emphasizing that building toilets would not solve the problem, she said it was crucial to educate and empower people, pointing out that plenty of toilets were used to hold rice because the appropriate infrastructure had not been built.
Mr. BIRD, responding to points about transboundary cooperation, said further research was required to understand the gap between countries that were cooperating and those that were not. It was essential to promote incentives for sharing water supply, he added.
Ms. KRCHNAK said that enabling conditions and joint funding were needed to improve resource management, water, sanitation and hygiene. It was also essential to create partnerships that would promote shared learning, and important to bring experts to other countries where they could learn in different environments. She added that social media could serve as a positive, useful tool.
Ms. BUCKNALL said it took political engagement and management to ensure that toilets were not used merely for storing grain. Throwing money at the problem would not solve sanitation challenges, just as building dams would not solve the problem of water. Six years ago, the World Bank had been promoting a book on water in the Middle East, yet only at midday had she realized that today was World Water Day. However, there was cause for optimism that in a few years’ time, a huge difference would have been made because of social media. Today, World Water Day was among the topics trending most on Twitter, she pointed out.
Mr. MORRISON also noted private sector innovation on how to impact access to water. It was not just one sector that must “lift up its game”, but all sectors if future demand for water was to be met.
Participating in the interactive discussion were representatives of Slovenia, Turkey, Brazil, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Burkina Faso, Iraq, Benin, Morocco and Indonesia.
Officials representing the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Educational, and Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also took part.
Other participants were representatives of the non-governmental organizations Water Keeper Alliance, Water Sanitation Hygiene for Everyone (WASH) and WaterAid.
Assembly President JEREMIĆ ( Serbia) offered a brief oral summary of the day’s proceedings, saying it was clear that everyone was working to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals and focusing on the post-2015 agenda, one of the most important issues facing the General Assembly. Achieving universal access to water should be a priority for all, he said, urging all stakeholders to continue to reach out to the most marginalized groups, including women, children, girls, youth, the poor and indigenous peoples. A more equitable distribution of water resources was crucial to global health, but would require participation on all levels. Everyone could play an important role, he said, declaring: “We cannot afford to fall back on ‘business as usual’.”
* *** *For information media • not an official record