The value of water – for our survival, peace and prosperity

Access to safe drinking water can be a matter of life and death. While water covers 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface, only 4 per cent is freshwater and only 0.5 per cent of this water is suitable for human consumption. At the same time, this critical resource for human survival is often undervalued, misused and misallocated, leaving far too many people having to struggle to obtain water for themselves and their families.

Today, 2.1 billion people still lack access to safely managed drinking water and around 40 per cent of the global population suffer from water scarcity.

“Every year, over 800,000 people, including more than 340,000 children under five, die from diseases caused by unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, or poor hygiene,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, as he addressed the fourth meeting of the High-level Panel on Water (HLPW) on 21 September.

Speaking before the high-level panel, committed to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, the Secretary-General emphasized the critical role that water plays for our survival, peace and prosperity. He discussed the impacts of climate change and how 90 per cent of natural disasters in the world are water-related, as well as water’s role for peace and conflict resolution.

As the topic of water and its related Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 took center stage in many different events during a busy UN General Assembly high-level week, its relation to peace and security was also explored.

“Climate change, pollution and growing demand for water are adding up to increased scarcity and ever greater challenges to sustainable water management,” UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said at the High-level event on water as a tool for cooperation and conflict prevention on 18 September.

“The distribution of water resources in some parts of the world has the potential to become a source of conflict. It is up to the international community to rise to this challenge,” Mr. Liu stressed, saying that water can and should be “a source of cooperation, a source of growth and an opportunity for mutual positive interdependence.”

Another high-level event honed in on the upcoming International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development”, which kicks off in 2018. Initiated by the HLPW, the decade aims to help solve many of the world’s water challenges and make SDG6 a reality by 2030.

“Let us work together with a common sense of urgency and action to energize effective and innovative implementation programmes at national, regional and global levels of the water SDGs,” Mr. Liu said at the event, highlighting the opportunities that the decade will bring.

The past week’s different discussions have made it ever so clear: Water should not be a source of conflict, but a well from which cooperation and solutions to challenges can emanate. And with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a guiding tool, the international community has the chance to make a difference.

As the President of the General-Assembly Miroslav Lajčák put it when addressing the High-level event “Towards Implementation of the International Decade of Action “Water for Sustainable Development”, 2018-2028”: “It is up to us – the people who can take our access to water and sanitation for granted – to work even harder on behalf of those who can’t.”

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