15 February 2008


15 February 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation was an alarming problem, which should be addressed in the context of providing a new human right, said Joaquín Antuña, President of the Spain-based non-governmental organization Peace and Cooperation, as he launched the Peace and Cooperation School Award 2008: “Water for all” at a United Nations Headquarters press conference this morning.

Joining Mr. Antuña were Nancy Rivard, President of the Airline Ambassadors, a United Nations-affiliated humanitarian organization that co-sponsored this year’s award, and two youth ambassadors, who were helping to promote the programme in the United States.  The press conference was sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Spain.

Mr. Antuña explained that his organization had chosen the theme of “water for all, water for life and water for people” as it had celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary on 25 December 2007.  Since 1993, the Peace and Cooperation organization had launched 25 peace awareness campaigns to educate students worldwide about important global issues.  To date, students from 87 countries had been involved.

The issue of safe drinking water was represented in the Millennium Development Goals as Goal 7, Mr. Antuña pointed out, and access to safe supplies made “common sense for life”.  Citing World Health Organization data, he said that some 1 billion people lacked access to safe drinking water, while 2 billion lacked adequate sanitation.  Every day, 4,500 children died from inadequate hygienic conditions.  Every year, 2.2 billion people died of illnesses associated with water shortage, such as malaria.

The United Nations had led efforts to address the water challenge, he said, notably since 1972, when it had launched the Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, which called on Governments and peoples to exert common efforts to improve the environment.  Among the United Nations other numerous initiatives had been the 2002 Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development and the designation of 2003 as the International Year of Fresh Water, which had included the first publication of the World Water Development Report by 24 United Nations agencies.

Together, global warming, climate change and fresh water shortage formed part of what French author Albert Camus called “la condition humaine”, or human development, he said.  For Spain, 2008 was an important year, as the country would host a major water exposition at Saragossa from 14 June to 14 September.  Furthermore, his organization had designated 7 February as “international school day for understanding and peace”, celebrated this year in Egypt.  Plans were also under way to celebrate the event next year in Morocco, recognizing that country’s hosting of the World Water Forum at Marrakech in 1997.

Taking up the Airline Ambassadors’ involvement in such issues, Ms. Rivard traced the idea to engage students in the debate on global issues back to 1993, when she had met Mr. Antuña at a preparatory meeting for the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements.  Since then, the Airline Ambassadors had jointly sponsored the international school competition, addressing such topics as hunger, human rights and gender violence, and involving more than 1 million students.

On the issue of water for all, she said the Airline Ambassadors was providing clean water filters to developing nations on all five continents for one year.  “It’s a very important issue; we’re adopting it at all our projects around the world,” she said.  Moreover, her organization had provided two airline tickets to the grand prize winner of the student competition, who, last year, had been from Mexico.

Presenting this year’s poster, drawn by a 13-year old from Slovakia, David Kidwell, a youth ambassador who had recently visited South Africa with the Airline Ambassadors, described five options for students to participate in the competition.  First, children up to 8 years old could submit a picture on the importance of water.  Students aged 9 to 12 could design a mural, those aged 13 to 16 could made a poster and older students could create a video.  In addition, entire schools could submit entries in any of the six United Nations languages.

Rounding out the panel’s presentation, Kasey Shelly, another youth delegate who had travelled to El Salvador with the Airline Ambassadors, underscored the importance of spreading the word about water shortage.  “It is imperative, as young people, that we work to make our classmates, our friends, our neighbours aware of what is happening,” she stressed.  Water was not a perk; it was a basic human right, and to be deprived of it was simply unacceptable.  With increased awareness generated by young people, she would strive to find a solution, so that countries like Guatemala and Malawi would have a clean and adequate water supply.  She hoped to involve more American students in the competition, “to show that they know, and that they care, and that they are going to work with us to find a solution”.

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