5 February 2009


5 February 2009
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General, at high-level symposium, says concerted global action

Needed to address urgent, multidimensional issue of water security

Following are Deputy Secretary-General Asha‑Rose Migiro’s remarks to a high‑level symposium on “Water Security”, in New York, 5 February:

It is a pleasure to be with you today.  I congratulate the World Water Organization for planning this important event.

Water security is an urgent, multidimensional issue.  We in the United Nations system place great emphasis on this most fundamental concern:  the access of all people to freshwater.

Water is life.  It is a critical natural resource without which humankind cannot survive.  The lack of safe water and sanitation is inextricably linked with poverty and malnutrition, particularly among the world’s poor.  It limits girls’ school attendance and exacerbates maternal mortality.  Yet, today about 900 million people still rely on unimproved drinking‑water supplies, and 2.5 billion people remain without improved sanitation facilities.

And this mismatch between supply and demand is set to get worse unless we take urgent action:  water demand is growing at twice the rate of the global population.

In establishing the Millennium Development Goal of reducing by one half, by 2015, the number of people without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation, the United Nations has challenged the international community to work together to improve such conditions.

We have used the “International Decade for Action, 2005-2015”, to promote the central importance of freshwater to quality of life, and the need to manage it sustainably.

The Secretary‑General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, chaired by the Prince of Orange, continues its efforts to galvanize action on water and sanitation issues.

Achieving water security means more effective water management.  It means enhancing food security through more equitable allocation of water for agriculture and food production.  It means ensuring the integrity of ecosystems.  And it means promoting peaceful collaboration in the sharing of water resources, particularly in the case of boundary and transboundary water resources.

The impact of climate change will likely exacerbate such tensions, as rainfall levels fall in regions already facing water stress.  The quantity and quality of surface- and groundwater resources are also being jeopardized by the impact of population growth, rural to urban migration, and rising wealth and resource consumption.  If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with water scarcity by 2025, and two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress.

Agriculture consumes the largest proportion of freshwater, accounting for roughly three quarters of total usage.  In Africa, however, this fraction is closer to 90 per cent.  More than 1.4 billion people live in river basins where their use of water exceeds minimum recharge levels, leading to desiccation of rivers and the depletion of groundwater.

The unreliability of water delivery for agriculture in many countries has also pushed farmers to draw heavily on groundwater, leading to overuse.  Groundwater depletion has thus become a serious threat to agricultural systems, food security and livelihoods, particularly across Asia and the Middle East.

Your focus this week on emergency planning, crisis management and post-disaster recovery gives much‑needed attention to one particular dimension of the water security challenge.  Your agenda is acknowledgement that there is a need to strengthen water governance.  Indeed, water infrastructure is a tempting symbolic and political target for terrorism and sabotage.  Your talks on the possible establishment of a Global Water Security Alliance to support countries facing a water crisis, whether natural or man‑made, is thus a most commendable initiative.

Water and sanitation have assumed a central place in the global development agenda.  The international community has been mobilized and energized, and is contributing greater knowledge, expertise, resources and innovative technology in the search of solutions.  We are better positioned today than we were a decade ago to translate vision into action.

The United Nations welcomes the active involvement of civil society in meeting the water challenge.  Community groups, the private sector, academia and others bring different, valuable perspectives to our efforts, and significantly enrich the development process.

We have our work cut out for us.  We need more investment in infrastructure, and strengthened national legislation.  We need to build institutional capacity from the local level upwards, and increase popular participation, particularly of women, in designing water and sanitation systems.

Most of all, we need concerted global action.  Each of you has a role to play.  I thank you for your engagement and commitment.  I urge you to make the most of this symposium, which is a timely opportunity to exchange ideas and forge the new partnerships we will need to meet the water challenge.

I wish you success in your discussions this week.  Thank you very much for your kind attention.

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