Press Conference by United Nations University, UN-Water in Observance of World Water Day

22 March 2013

Press Conference by United Nations University, UN-Water in Observance of World Water Day

22 March 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by United Nations University, UN-Water

in Observance of World Water Day


Universal water security should be one of the post-2015 international development targets, experts said at a Headquarters press conference held today in observance of World Water Day.

“A proposal is made that water security provided universally to all can in fact be a sustainable development goal as we move forward,” said Zafar Adeel, Director of the United Nations University’s Canada-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

He said he had served as co-chair of a task force on water security, which had been working for the last three years to examine that emerging issue.  The work of the task force had been compiled into an analytical brief titled “Water Security & the Global Water Agenda”, launched today by UN-Water, he said.

According to the brief, water security is defined as:  “The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability.”

That comprehensive and holistic working definition included such parameters as access to water, hygiene and sanitation, as well as cross-border issues, Mr. Adeel said, adding that the analytical brief also “offers some interesting entry points into the dialogue that is taking place these days in determining the development agenda in the post-2015 time frame”.  It also identified areas in which the United Nations system could play a significant role in ensuring water security, he said.

First, there was a need to develop the capacity of developing countries to that end, he continued, noting that the world body could contribute to the building of both human and institutional capacities.  Second, the Organization could provide policy guidance to help Member States develop policies.  Third, it could also help with monitoring and reporting of various indicators and targets that might emerge from the post-2015 dialogue.  The notion of water security would be useful for measuring those goals, in addition to existing mechanisms offered by UN-Water, he added.

Accompanying Mr. Adeel at the press conference were Jeremy Bird, Director-General of the International Water Management Institute at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and Kusum Athukorala, Researcher and Advocacy Specialist, as well as Chair of NetWater and the Sri Lanka Water Partnership.

Mr. Bird highlighted the quality aspect of water security, saying that if it was not sufficiently high, providing enough drinking water would not be of much use to communities.  Although agriculture took up about 70 to 80 per cent of all water extracted in the world, the use of pesticides and fertilizers could contaminate groundwater, leading to health problems, which could in turn undermine the attainment of some of the Millennium Development Goals.  Poor water quality could also compromise ecosystem-dependent livelihoods, he cautioned.  That was why “having a water quality dimension in the notion of water security is really important”.

Ms. Athukorala said she worked mostly at the local level and the most important thing was to ensure that decisions and policies formulated at Headquarters would have a positive impact on the ground.  Referring to a Dublin-Rio principle adopted at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, or “Earth Summit”) to the effect that women should have a major role in managing and conserving water, she said the gender perspective had been “an issue that keeps falling in the cracks” throughout the past 20 years.  At high-level conferences, gender issues were generally presented at the last minute, she said, suggesting that the analytical brief could emphasize the need to develop a gender-disaggregated database.  She also expressed hope that discussions on water security would address a culture of not using toilets.

Asked whether water could be a source of a third world war, a notion discussed in 1992 and since, Mr. Adeel said history had proven that view wrong.  Wars that had broken out between 1992 and the present had not been related to water, he said, emphasizing that, rather, water was “a massive opportunity for cooperation”.  An agreement between India and Pakistan to share water resources flew in the face of several conflicts between the two nations.  Still, measures were needed to avoid future conflicts around the world, he acknowledged, noting that the analytical brief recommended that the Security Council take up the issue of water security as it had done with the question of climate change.

Mr. Bird added that, in order to avoid water-related skirmishes, forming a common understanding was a first step towards cooperation.

Asked why many poor people had access to cell phones but not toilets, Mr. Adeel cited a study showing that in 2010, there had actually been more cell phones than toilets in India.  The cell phone industry had found a business model to reach “the base of the pyramid” by selling inexpensive handsets and still turning a profit.  The sanitation industry had yet to find an innovative business model, he said, adding that the problem in many developing countries was that mothers did not have the sense that their children were dying due to poor hygiene.  He emphasized, however, that sanitation projects in places like Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania had proven effective.  That attested to the necessity of supporting such a business model.

Ms. Athukorala said that, while cell phones showed an instant return on investment, such as the ability to find employment, returns on investments in toilets were not immediately visible.  It was difficult to make a connection between the benefit and the investment, she said, adding that communications on sanitation required different packaging.

* *** *

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