Closing of the Launch Event of the International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028
– As delivered –
Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at Closing of the Launch Event of the International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Dear Colleagues,
We have now completed the launch of the International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development.
We heard from many of those who contribute to decisions and policies on water – and those who are leading the charge towards change.
I think there are many lessons to glean from the past days’ discussions. And, I will make three main points, to highlight them.
First, the strongest message was about suffering.
Think about that for a moment. This event is about water. Yet, one of the main messages to come from it was about human suffering. This gives a real – and sobering – indication of our current state of play.
We heard about how 2 billion people are drinking contaminated water. 2 billion! This is more than an inconvenience. In many cases, it leads to sickness and death. In fact, we heard the shocking statistic that one child dies from contaminated water, each minute.
We also listened to tales of water scarcity. This has led families of Small Island Developing States to collect rainwater for their own survival. It has left communities in the Horn of Africa wondering if – or when – the next crippling drought will come. And it means that residents of Cape Town now look to the future with fear.
And, this is even worse for people in humanitarian situations. Over these two days, we have heard some horrific stories of the link between water and suffering, in places like the Lake Chad Basin and the Gaza Strip.
But, people are not alone. Because the planet is suffering around us.
We heard that nearly 90% of all natural disasters in the world are water-related. Cities, towns and villages are being battered by hurricanes and storms, which are more extreme, and more frequent, than ever before. Land is turning from a source of life into barren desert. And, in some cases, it is actually disappearing into the ocean. Furthermore, eco-systems are coming under increasing pressure. And glaciers are melting away. In fact, we heard that 1000 glaciers in Tajikistan have completely vanished.
Obviously, this paints a very bleak picture.
Which is why, as my second point, I want to focus on another message: one of hope.
There have been successes. And there have been breakthroughs. In every region. Because the challenges facing water are not limited to one country, or one corner of the world. And, they can only be overcome by creativity, and thinking outside-the box.
Scientific and technological innovations from the Middle East promise to revolutionise agriculture – from desalinised irrigation to “cloud seeding”.
Central Asia has been home to successful cross-border water management, which allows countries to explore opportunities such as hydro-energy, together. And it also creates a platform for conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
Countries in East and South-East Asia have pioneered the use of education as a tool for improved water conservation, and disaster resilience.
Creative projects in the Pacific region have resulted in success, and now need to be scaled up.
Africa has developed new regional platforms for cooperation on, and investment in, water.
And, from Europe to Latin America and the Caribbean, increased technology transfer and sharing of scientific knowledge on water is being seen.
But, as my third point, I want to emphasise that our work is not even nearly finished.
We are, really, at the precipice of disaster. While we are starting to slow ourselves down, we are still far from safety.
That is why, as one speaker, noted, this cannot be another decade of talking – it must be a decade of action.
And, this needs to happen in several ways.
First, we must follow our commitments up with hard resources. We heard that $1.7 trillion US dollars are needed between now and 2030 to deliver on SDG 6. And, as with all other SDGs, we will not be able to reach our water goals and targets with public financing alone. And so, we need to get creative in mobilising water resources.
Moreover, the demands for technology transfer, and stronger data capacities, must also be addressed during our talks about resourcing.
Secondly, we need to address the hurdles preventing both women and young people from creating and accessing solutions for water. Water-related challenges have a disproportionate effect on women and girls. And so, they must participate in, and lead, our efforts for change – from national policies to local water management. Also, we all listened yesterday, as Ms. Autumn Peltier demonstrated how valuable young voices are in our work for water.
Third, we need to broaden our vision. Water is not just a development issue. It can also be a weapon of war; an accelerant to a humanitarian crisis; and a major push factor, for irregular migration. We need to reverse these trends, and harness the potential for water as a tool of prevention, instead.
And, finally, simply, we need to work together more.
Particularly at the regional level, and between countries with shared water resources. We heard many examples of best practices from countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.
And, we listened to the best practices of countries, which are doing more to work together, from within. For example, Nigeria’s High-Level Ministerial Dialogue, which allows for an inclusive conversation on water.
We also learned about the initiative by the Netherlands, Mexico and the United Nations to launch a new coalition for action, at this year’s High-Level Political Forum. This will bring together governments, UN entities, civil society organisations, businesses and academia – in a new partnership for water. And, it will better allow us to take forward many of the recommendations of the High-Level Panel on Water, and the Secretary-General’s Action Plan for the decade ahead.
Finally, we cannot talk about cooperation without acknowledging that further discussion on water governance – at local, national and international levels – is necessary.
So, we need to work together. Between states. Within states. And as part of a broader partnership than we have ever had, on water.
Challenges facing water are not limited to one country, or one corner of the world. And, they can only be overcome by creativity, and thinking outside-the box.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.
I want to thank you all for making this a successful, informative and inspiring launch.
I will conclude, this afternoon, by quoting Ms. Autumn Peltier.
She said – “I always hear of the problems in other countries around the world, having no water or very polluted water. I really started to think, my mind wondered, and I thought ……..what if we ran out of water? What will happen? Then, I got scared.”
And, we should all be scared. Because, if we fall over this precipice, there will be no coming back. At least, not to anything that resembles the life we live today.
But fear is only useful if it spurs action. This week is just the beginning. Now, we need to see a whole decade of it.
Thank you for your attention and for your active participation