Spotlighting the scarcity of Earth’s most precious resource, the United Nations Secretary-General today urged world leaders to invest in water security, amid increasing demand and the burgeoning effects of climate change.
“Without effective management of our water resources, we risk intensified disputes between communities and sectors and even increased tensions among nations,” António Guterres said during a high-level Security Council briefing on the subject.
Water should remain a reason for cooperation not conflict, he stressed. The resource must be shared equitably and used sustainably. Demand for fresh water was projected to spike by more than 40 per cent by the middle of the century. By 2050 at least 1 in 4 people were predicted to live in a country where the lack of fresh water would be chronic or recurrent.
Strains on water access were already rising in all regions, he continued. Three quarters of Member States shared rivers or lake basins with their neighbors. From the Nile to the Indus, river basins continued to provide a lifeline for the economy, trade and livelihoods. There were more than 270 internationally shared river basins that served as primary sources of fresh water for approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population.
The United Nations would continue to promote mediation as a tool for resolving water disputes, Mr. Guterres said, noting that 287 international water agreements had been signed in the second half of the twentieth century.
The planet, the human family and life in general were in the throes of a water crisis that would only get worse in the coming decades, warned Bolivian President Evo Morales, as he presided over the session. Water was a finite, vulnerable and scarce resource, and it was a basic right, he stressed. “If there is no water, there is no life,” he said.
Since 1947, some 37 water-related conflicts related to water had taken place between countries, he said. Bolivia had always viewed water as the source of good and the lifeblood of Mother Earth, which much be respected as such. Instead, profit had been put first. Water was being treated as an asset to make profit. And hence, the cost of water kept increasing.
It was important to set aside funds for water projects and initiatives, he continued, expressing concern that far less was spent on water than on the military. A high percentage of water reserves were shared by two States or more, giving rise to conflict. The traditional approach to water management had exposed the planet to crises at local, national and regional levels. Urging the Council to remain actively engaged in water management, he said overcoming water disputes required dialogue and cooperation.
Speakers in the ensuing debate also stressed the need for cooperation in managing transboundary water resources, with Senegal’s Minister for Fisheries and Maritime Economy underscoring his country’s collaboration with Guinea, Mali and Mauritania in drafting a water charter based on sharing responsibilities, from environmental protection to ensuring access. The Senegal River was seen as a hyphen and not a border between the countries.
Transboundary water disputes required early resolution, said Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister, whose country remained the largest landlocked nation in the world. It had never taken water security for granted, he stressed, underscoring the need for interests of upstream and downstream stakeholders to be harmonized.
Egypt’s delegate pointed out that his country relied solely on the Nile for 90 per cent of its water needs, as it faced myriad water shortages. He urged international donors and banks to respect global standards on construction along transboundary watercourses and called on Member States to share their experiences.
The Russian Federation’s representative said he was perplexed that the mass potential of existing United Nations mechanisms focused on addressing water scarcity was unjustifiably underestimated and underused. Water management was under national jurisdiction. China’s delegate also emphasized the importance to respect national sovereignty.
Council members this afternoon also expressed condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims of the recent terrorist attacks in London and Kabul.
Also participating in this afternoon’s high-level briefing were Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate and Deputy Prime Minister and Italy’s Under Secretary of State for Environment, Land and Sea Protection.
The representatives of Japan, United States, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Ethiopia and France also make statements.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:18 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that water, peace and security were inextricably linked. Noting that water scarcity remained a growing concern for all nations, he said that demand for freshwater was projected to grow by more than 40 per cent by the middle of the century. The challenges in meeting such demands would only be compounded by the growing impact of climate change. By 2050 at least one in four people were predicted to live in a country where the lack of fresh water would be chronic or recurrent. Strains on water access were already rising in all regions. “Without effective management of our water resources, we risk intensified disputes between communities and sectors and even increased tensions among nations,” Mr. Guterres warned.
Three quarters of Member States shared rivers or lake basins with their neighbors, he continued. Important river basins, such as the Nile, the Indus, the Ganges, the Euphrates-Tigris and the Mekong, continued to provide a lifeline for the economy, trade, culture and livelihoods of surrounding communities. As it stood now, there were more than 270 internationally shared river basins, which served as the primary source of fresh water for approximately 40 per cent of the world’s population. It was essential for nations to cooperate to ensure water was shared equitably and used sustainably.
Over the years, water had proven to be a catalyst for cooperation among nations, even those that were not on good terms, he said. In the second half of the twentieth century alone, some 287 international water agreements had been signed. In South America, Lake Titicaca, the largest freshwater lake on the continent, had long been a source of cooperation between Bolivia and Peru. The 1960 Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan had survived three wars between the two countries. The Secretary-General said the Albufeira Convention agreed to during his time as Portugal’s Prime Minister continued to promote good relations on water management between Portugal and Spain.
For its part, the United Nations continued to promote mediation and dialogue as effective tools for preventing and resolving disputes over water, he said. The United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia was collaborating with the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea to build capacity in water diplomacy. Noting his upcoming trip to the Aral Sea, he said he looked forward to discussions aimed at supporting mediation to prevent and resolve local and transboundary disputes over water. He also commended the Council for highlighting the fact that water should remain a reason for cooperation not conflict. Council members must commit to investing in water security to ensure durable peace and security for all communities and nations.
EVO MORALES AYMA, President of Bolivia, Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, said the planet, the human family and life in general were in the throes of a water crisis that would only get worse in the coming decades. By 2050, the demand for water would increase 54 per cent. If current consumptions patterns continued unabated, two thirds of the global population would face a water shortage. Since 1947, some 37 conflicts related to water had occurred between States. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development had highlighted the need for States to achieve responsible water management. In 2010 he had called on the General Assembly to declare water a human right and to gradually ensure the universal recognition of the right to water. The General Assembly that year had adopted a resolution recognizing safe drinking water and basic sanitation as a core right. All basic services must be declared a human right. “If there is no water, there is no life,” he warned. “It is a finite, vulnerable and scarce resource.”
Bolivia had always viewed water as the source of good and the lifeblood of Mother Earth, which much be respected as such, he continued. Instead, contempt and disdain had been shown for water and profit had been put first. The cost of water continued to increase. Bolivia’s 2009 Constitution recognized water as a common good that must be distributed among its people. Water was a basic right of life. However, the current water crisis remained complex, with myriad new challenges. Water must be viewed as a human right rather than an asset.
It was important to set aside funds for water projects, he continued, expressing concern that far less was spent on water than on military expenditures. A high percentage of water reserves were shared by two States or more, giving rise to conflict. The traditional approach to water management had exposed the planet to crises at local, national and regional levels. Urging the Council to remain actively engaged in water management, he said overcoming water-related conflict required dialogue and cooperation. Since 1947, there had been some 300 international water conventions. “Water is a matter of peace and security,” he said, calling on countries to come together and share concerns. Government agreements must underscore the need to sustainability manage transboundary water resources.
ISABELLA LÖVIN, Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate and Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, recalled that her Government, along with that of Fiji, was currently hosting the first United Nations Oceans Conference, which could prove to be a “game changer” leading to a reversal in the decline of the world’s seas. The effects of climate change were real and being felt every day, such as in Sweden where some parts of the country were facing unprecedented low groundwater supplies. Noting that the holistic “prevention agenda” being pursued by the Secretary-General and discussed by the Council included a focus on the interlinked drivers of conflict — including the management of transboundary waters — she said it was not surprising that shared waters could become a source of tension which fuelled conflict and threatened peace. “The negative effects of climate change have the potential to increase these tensions,” she warned, emphasizing the need to support countries’ efforts to make informed and efficient decisions when responding to the effects of climate change.
“We simply cannot afford not to responsibly and sustainably manage our waters,” she continued, adding that shared water issues must be turned into opportunities for cooperation. Outlining a number of tools in that regard, she drew particular attention to international law relating to water, including the European Commission’s Århus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental issues. Regional actors had a crucial role to play, she said, citing Europe’s extensive system for transboundary water governance as an example. Noting that Sweden had also undertaken efforts to build experience in the area of water diplomacy, she concluded that cooperation must be extended beyond the management of a shared resource to areas such as improving water quality and protecting the environment.
OUMAR GUÉYE, Minister for Fisheries and Maritime Economy of Senegal, said that, given the Council’s growing interest in transboundary water-related issues, a paradigm shift must support a preventive approach based on cooperation to ensure access to water resources and mediation to resolve differences. Beyond recognizing the link between water, peace and security and the need to prevent related conflicts, the goal should be sharing experiences of cooperation and success stories. Pointing to the Organization for the Development of the Senegal River as an example, he said his country, Guinea, Mali and Mauritania had drafted a water charter based on principles of sharing responsibilities and resources, from environmental protection to ensuring access. President Macky Sall was now working towards modernizing the organization and accelerating efforts on a range of projects that promoted cooperation and inclusivity, with a view that the river was a hyphen and not a border between the countries sharing the river basin.
Rivers had historically shaped the cradle of great civilizations, he said, emphasizing that the Council must play its role in preventing future water-related conflicts. Emphasizing the important of cooperation in managing transboundary water resources in ways that guaranteed peace and respect of each party’s interests, he said the international community must demonstrate the required political will to bolster new and existing mediation efforts, including the work of the United Nations Department of Political Affairs. Inviting the Council to remain apprised of the issues with a view to its conflict-prevention efforts, he said the future of preventive diplomacy lay in cooperation. Senegal would continue to implement its water, peace and security initiative to demonstrate that with the international community’s support, it was possible to substitute competition for resources into cooperation.
YERZHAN ASKIKBAYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, stressed that water-related conflicts needed early action and negotiation, highlighting that water was vital to peace and progress in Central Asia. Kazakhstan, the world’s largest landlocked country, had never taken water security for granted, he said, noting that water resource management was high on the country’s agenda. Kazakhstan could experience serious water scarcity in the mid- to long-term, which could significantly impact socioeconomic development, with a projected water shortage of 50 per cent by 2040. The country was working on water-related regional arrangements and transboundary water resource management and believed that immediate action must be taken to ensure that freshwater resources were not negatively affected by climate change, urbanization, population growth or pollution.
Kazakhstan had initiated the creation of the Central Asian Investment Fund to co-finance the construction and renovation of water facilities and had proposed the establishment of a Regional Centre for Water Security, in addition to developing and signing a pact on water and environmental security in Central Asia, he said. Water disputes required early resolution, he underscored, adding that the interests of upstream and downstream stakeholders should be harmonized. Greater emphasis must be placed on water data and policy innovations regarding access to clean water and sanitation. Water negotiations must focus on substance with a view towards mutually beneficial, low-cost and timely agreements.
SILVIA VELO, Secretary of State for Environment, Land and Sea Protection of Italy, underscored the importance of establishing a global multilateral framework for promoting water cooperation and ensuring the protection and preservation of international water resources, adding: “We have the tools to achieve it.” The 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses enshrined prevention at its core, codifying customary international principles, such as the equitable and reasonable use of water resources, the prevention of significant harm and prior notification of unilateral measures. Drawing attention to Europe’s long-standing experience in the field of water diplomacy, he also underlined Italy’s own engagement in addressing water challenges at both the multilateral and bilateral levels, including through its 2016 adoption of the Rome Statute on Water Scarcity in Agriculture.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said sharing water resources had both triggered conflict and brought adversaries together. Cooperation in water resource management could produce confidence-building measures and prevent conflict, with the international community providing assistance. For its part, Japan had supported efforts to promote regional cooperation, including with regard to water, and had contributed to projects in a range of countries, including on the energy efficiency, irrigation systems and management. Adopting a multisectoral approach to water management in areas such as agriculture, he said cooperation was an important tool that could be promoted with confidence-building measures. Water management could also serve as a building block for sustainable development, peace and security.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said his country had long faced water shortages, relying solely on the Nile for 90 per cent of its needs. Water should be a tool for cooperation, development and security. With that in mind, in 1999 Egypt and its neighbours had established the Nile Basin Initiative. Such an initiative should be in line with relevant principles and must include all countries, he said, noting that Egypt had subsequently removed itself from the organization and hoped the impasse would be overcome. Preventive diplomacy played a key role and should be used as a constructive tool, he said, noting a range of concerns, including that consultations must be undertaken before the start of projects involving shared watercourses to ensure that riparian countries were not negatively affected. International donors and banks should respect global standards on construction along transboundary watercourses, he said, encouraging countries to share success stories and the United Nations to play a clearer role to help to optimize the use of water and prevent water-related conflicts. The Council must take action, he said, calling for prevention efforts.
PETR ILIICHEV (Russian Federation) underscored the importance of water access, recovery and preservation. The time had come to move from words to action, he said, noting that various United Nations bodies were focused precisely on finding solutions in the area of water management. Many solutions to water scarcity lay at the surface. Many of them were listed as targets in the 2030 Agenda. The mass potential of existing mechanisms that addressed water scarcity was unjustifiably underestimated and underused. He noted the increasingly frequent trend of placing transboundary water management discussions in the context of international peace and security. Water management was under national jurisdiction, he stressed. The main characteristic of preventive diplomacy was that it could be used exclusively upon the request of a country and with the guarantee that the sovereignty of that country was respected.
CHRISTOPHER KLEIN (United States) said water was becoming an increasing factor in migration, civil unrest and failed States. For more than 100 years, the United States had cultivated close relationships with its neighbours, Canada and Mexico, in managing water resources. Partnerships aimed to bridge political will and support Government efforts to solve transboundary challenges. While there was no standard approach to resolving water disputes, increasing the capacity of Member States would help them engage better in the transboundary management of the resource. Sound data helped establish a better understanding of the costs and benefits and what was at stake. Political leaders must make cooperation a priority and empower technical experts. Progress must never be episodic. “We must build on our experience,” he added.
LIU JIEYI (China) said enhanced transboundary water resource cooperation was conducive to sustainable development. Countries had a responsibility to conserve and ensure water security. Enhanced dialogue among countries remained critical. Governments must work to build and improve communication mechanisms and properly do away with disputes. Meanwhile, the United Nations and international community must continue to respect national sovereignty. It was important to deepen international cooperation and build the capacity of developing countries. It was also essential to support the United Nations, the Global High-level Panel on Water and Peace. and other mechanisms that provided technical assistance. African countries, in particular, required support in transboundary water resource management. Water resource protection also must be incorporated into peacebuilding operations to ensure access in post-conflict nations.
EDUARD FESKO (Ukraine) said current trends required cooperation among Governments, the United Nations system, civil society, the private sector and local authorities to address challenges holistically and comprehensively. He called for strengthening river basin cooperation and international partnerships for sustainable management, environmental protection and the transfer of affordable water and energy technologies. A developmental approach involving education and research activities should be used to acquire technical knowledge and capacities. Progress in upholding peace and stability depended on adequately managing the growing demand for resources amid lower supply and population growth. To reduce the supply-demand gap in access to fresh water, the international community needed effective security and development strategies for management and conservation. Creating legal and political frameworks were crucial for conflict prevention and fostering cooperation, he said, noting that Ukraine, along with 13 other countries and the European Union, was working to sustainably manage the Danube River.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the stakes were high, as most countries shared watercourses at a time when drought was causing illness and displacement in many States. Through the global Goals, the world had committed itself to take collective action, yet achievements were not on track. Predictions for rising water scarcity jeopardized the current situation and would possibly trigger future conflicts. With that in mind, preventive diplomacy was more important than ever before. In that regard, the United Kingdom supported regional efforts, including those led by the World Bank in Asia. On a global scale, the international community must work together. Water governance and infrastructure must be supported to ensure water security, he said, emphasizing the need to harness the potential of the private sector. Climate change was also undermining water security and steps must be taken, he said, highlighting that the Paris Agreement on climate change provided the right framework.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said watercourses had served as development tools over the millennia. Today, water was not defined as a global resource, but as one that faced shortages. River basins and aquifers could thus be a source of conflict unless measures were taken to ensure peace. The peaceful use of water was indeed essential. Sharing a success story, he said the border treaty between Uruguay and Brazil had enshrined respect for shared rivers and resources for decades while a similar recent agreement had included innovative solutions. Such treaties had led to the creation of administrative commissions of those watercourses, which had worked towards their conservation. Repeating the border treaty approach had resulted in agreement over disputes. In 2010, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay had signed an agreement on their shared watercourses, he said, noting that the signing of such treaties depended on dialogue and cooperation among the parties.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) said that his country strongly believed in using transboundary waters, including the Nile River, as a source of regional cooperation for shared development. For Ethiopia, the Nile Basin was a natural endowment that belonged to all States, which should lead to strengthened friendship and greater understanding. The Nile Basin Initiative was an example of cooperation and partnership with the ultimate objective of achieving harmonious utilization of the river. Riparian States had negotiated the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement for almost 13 years, and it was now signed by six States and ratified by three others. Although there were clear differences between upstream and downstream States, it was of utmost importance that a mechanism was in place for dialogue, anchored in the principle of mutual understanding and respect. Such bilateral and regional governance mechanisms should be allowed to develop and consolidate. Internationalizing such issues would not be helpful, and would instead complicate matters, he warned.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the United Nations had recognized access to water and sanitation as a human right in 2010, yet demands had increased alongside pressures on resources, which could have major security consequences. While environmental factors were rarely the sole cause of conflict, access to and the use of natural resources could trigger violence. Tools existed to prevent such conflict, including the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes and the Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. Both conventions had proposed a tool-kit, recommendations and good practices, as well as key principles. As conflicts were best resolved locally or regionally, river basin governance efforts should be supported. Climate change was only exacerbating environmental problems and development challenges, including water-related concerns. Given population growth, global warming and greater demands, the cost of access to water was rising and tensions were intensifying. To prevent water-related conflict, it was necessary to rise to the climate change challenge and implement the Paris Agreement.
Mr. MORALES, President of Bolivia, said that listening to all that had been said during the meeting about cooperation and collaboration had made it clear that the Council was committed to turning its attention to water-related issues. If suggestions, including those on investments, were followed up on, success would be inevitable. The diversity of Council members was evident, and all States must come together to address issues such as water. Indeed, there was a need for plurinational States and a plurinational world to address such common challenges.