Water Cooperation as a Tool for Conflict Prevention
– As delivered –
Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at Water Cooperation as a Tool for Conflict Prevention
Good evening everyone. I want to thank Costa Rica, Senegal, Slovenia and Switzerland for organizing this event. I was very grateful to be invited to give a keynote address. I want to further thank all the members of the Group of Friends and the Global High-level Panel on Water and Peace and, in particular, President Danilo Turk for his commitment to this issue.
If I hadn’t been invited to speak at this event, I would have asked to come and listen anyway! That is because the theme of the evening will be very prominent during the 72nd Session of the General Assembly. This summer we will get a chance to review what we have done when it comes to water and Sustainable Development through the High-Level Political Forum. We are also less than four months away from being in the International Decade for Action on “Water for Sustainable Development”. Alongside these initiatives is a growing consensus that the UN needs to focus more on conflict prevention. As President of the General Assembly, I have also made prevention a key priority for my tenure. Water and conflict prevention will therefore be recurring themes in my daily work over the coming year.
I want to say two main things this evening:
– One, there is a clear and undeniable link between water, and peace and security.
– Two, it is up to us whether this link leads to more conflict, or more peace.
First, we need to talk about water and conflict. It is a fact of life that, when a resource is shared, and it becomes scarce, tensions can rise sharply.
It is also a fact of life that water is shared. The recent report released by the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace confirms that 148 states are drawing water from river and lake basins that cross into another country’s territory.
It is also a fact of life – and a frightening one – that water is becoming scarcer. A number of regions and countries are experiencing rising water stress due to poor agricultural practices, water waste, the degradation of ecosystems, and natural disasters. This stress is expected to increase over the coming years. Rapid population growth has also put significant pressure on the world’s water supplies. With new UN data estimating that the global population could reach nearly 10 billion in 2050, demand for water is likely to increase substantially.
Already we have seen the combination of water sharing, and water scarcity, leading to violence. And if we don’t take action, this will get much worse.
It is a fact of life that, when a resource is shared, and it becomes scarce, tensions can rise sharply..
To cut the link between water and conflict, and reinforce that between water and peace, we have two options.
First, we can tackle water scarcity. This will mean ramping up our efforts to implement Sustainable Development Goal 6. It will also mean accelerating work in a number of other areas. Agricultural reform will enhance conservation and lessen waste. Transparent institutions and rule of law will mean that investments in innovations of water technologies can flourish. Better and more diverse partnerships, including civil society, the private sector and local authorities, will allow us to pool experiences and capacities. And stronger coordination on global water governance will also allow best practices to be replicated.
However, if water scarcity worsens – as it looks set to do – we still have the option of redoubling our efforts in relation to conflict prevention. This will stop tensions turning into violence. Much more focus is needed on water diplomacy at the national, regional and international levels. When shared water management is routed in strong mediation and dialogue, we have seen great success in de-escalating tensions and preventing conflicts. However, given the urgency of the situation, there is a worryingly low number of these examples to draw from.
Water and prevention should be enhanced by our work to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, and our efforts to recalibrate the UN’s peace and security agenda around prevention.
We are already going in this direction. The UN –including the UN Security Council – is turning more and more attention to the link between water and conflict prevention. More states are signing on to international agreements for transboundary waters. Advocacy on this issue is growing, with much work in particular done by the Group of Friends. The final report of the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace also gives us some concrete recommendations for action.
Of course, given our dependency on water for life, and the urgent need to avert conflict, more needs to be done.
Now, you probably thought you had escaped without listening to any water-related puns. Unfortunately for you, I want to conclude by saying that, as we plunge into the 72nd Session, we should keep both water and prevention on our horizon. We need to build a dam between water and conflict, and a bridge between water and peace. It won’t always be smooth sailing ahead, but we must batten down the hatches and get to work.
Now, after all of that, I think you most definitely deserve some wine.