Press Conference by General Assembly President on World Water Day

22 March 2010

Press Conference by General Assembly President on World Water Day

22 March 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by General Assembly President on World Water Day

Describing the lack of water and sanitation for billions of people around the world as a humanitarian tragedy and an affront to human dignity, a former President of the General Assembly urged donor countries this afternoon to scale up investment in both.

“It’s in fact a human right to have water,” Jan Eliasson, President of the Assembly’s sixtieth session, said at a Headquarters press conference to celebrate World Water Day.  “Water is the key to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and it’s about time that we realized that,” he added, citing the 885 million people worldwide who lacked safe drinking water and the 2.6 billion without toilets.

Women in places like Darfur chanted over water and walked for hours to fetch it, while their children died daily of water-related diseases such as dysentery and diarrhoea, continued Mr. Eliasson, who was Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the strife-torn Sudanese region from December 2006 to June 2008.  A full 40 per cent of humanity lived in conditions conducive to disease and death caused by the lack of access to water, he added.

Mr. Eliasson went on to say that the sense of hopelessness spurred by the global financial crisis was no excuse for inaction on the issue.  Donor countries currently earmarking between 1 per cent and 15 per cent of all aid to water and sanitation activities must allocate a higher percentage, he emphasized, adding that Governments in general must show a bond of solidarity and give a higher priority to water concerns.

“It has such a tremendous bonus affect,” he said.  “If you invest $1 in water or sanitation, you get $8 or $9 back in higher productivity and a different type of life, also for women.”  Safe and affordable water could help combat extreme poverty, achieve gender equality, improve maternal health care and reduce child mortality, he added.

Reinforcing those points, Ali Abdussalam Treki, the current Assembly President, said:  “The challenges pertaining to water are serious, but the opportunity and the potential to work together to overcome them is no less significant.”  Midway through the International Decade for Action, “Water for Life, 2005-2015”, it was important to take stock of progress in implementing its objectives, he said, expressing disappointment that the international community was lagging behind in most areas.

Hopefully, today’s High-level Interactive Dialogue on Water would contribute to global solutions to those challenges, he said.  Expressing support for a proposal by Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov of Tajikistan to designate 2012 as the International Year for Water, he added that he might submit a resolution to the Assembly “in the next couple of months” on that subject.

For his part, Prime Minister Oqilov stressed the need to bolster and expedite practical steps -- nationally, regionally and internationally -- to use water resources more fairly in favour of economic development and environmental protection everywhere.  That was a particular concern in Central Asia, where irrational use of the Aral Sea was depleting its rich natural resources, with devastating effects on downstream countries.  He invited all stakeholders to participate in the June 2010 high-level international conference in Dushanbe to assess progress in achieving the International Decade’s objectives and discuss new ways to implement them.

Answering a question, the Prime Minister said 40 per cent of Tajikistan’s terrain suffered from desalination, and his Government had spent $30 million annually to rehabilitate the shorelines of lakes surrounding the Aral Basin, which flooded in the spring.  A full $5 billion was needed to develop modern, efficient river and water use systems.

Without a coordinated Central Asian approach to properly mitigate the problem, mountains and glaciers were at risk of shrinking significantly and subsequently reducing Tajikistan’s water resources by 30 per cent, he warned, while calling on all Central Asian countries to take practical steps in that regard.

Regarding the impact of water scarcity in Darfur, Mr. Eliasson said it fuelled poverty and conflict, emphasizing that sharing water resources fairly among different groups in that region, and in other conflict areas such as the West Bank, could help alleviate many problems.  “Water should not be a source of conflict, but a source of cooperation,” he stressed.

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