Amid Growing Water Scarcity, Transboundary Disputes, Investment in Reliable Access Crucial for Sustainable Peace, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

SG/SM/18555-SC/12857-ENV/DEV/1791
6 June 2017

Amid Growing Water Scarcity, Transboundary Disputes, Investment in Reliable Access Crucial for Sustainable Peace, Secretary-General Tells Security Council

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council meeting on preventive diplomacy and transboundary water, in New York today:

El agua, la paz y la seguridad están vinculadas de forma inextricable.  Está previsto que la demanda de agua dulce aumente más de un 40 por ciento de aquí a mediados de siglo.  Dado que el cambio climático tendrá consecuencias cada vez mayores, es natural que crezca la preocupación por la escasez de agua.

Para el año 2050, al menos una de cada cuatro personas vivirá en un país en el que habrá escasez crónica o recurrente de agua dulce.  Las tensiones relacionadas con el acceso al agua están aumentando ya en todas las regiones.

A falta de una gestión eficiente de nuestros recursos hídricos, corremos el riesgo de que se intensifiquen los conflictos entre comunidades y sectores, e incluso de que aumenten las tensiones entre países.

Tres cuartas partes de los Estados Miembros de las Naciones Unidas comparten cuencas fluviales o lagos con sus vecinos.

Ciertas cuencas fluviales importantes, como las de los ríos Nilo, Indo, Ganges, Éufrates y Tigris y Mekong, constituyen arterias vitales para la economía, el comercio, la cultura y los medios de subsistencia de las comunidades que albergan.  En conjunto, hay más de 270 cuencas fluviales divididas por fronteras internacionales, que constituyen la fuente primaria de agua dulce de alrededor del 40 por ciento de la población mundial.

Por eso es esencial que las Naciones Unidas cooperen para asegurar que el agua se comparta con equidad y se utilice de manera sostenible.  De hecho, hemos podido ver cómo el agua puede convertirse en catalizador de la cooperación entre países, incluso entre aquellos que no mantienen relaciones cordiales.

Solo en la segunda mitad del siglo veinte se firmaron 287 acuerdos internacionales sobre recursos hídricos.  Por ejemplo, en América del Sur, el lago Titicaca, que es la mayor extensión de agua dulce del continente, ha sido durante mucho tiempo una fuente de cooperación entre Bolivia y el Perú.  El Tratado sobre las Aguas del Indo de 1960 entre el Gobierno de la India y el Gobierno del Pakistán ha sobrevivido a tres guerras entre esos dos países.

Y en mi propia experiencia, el Convenio de Albufeira, que se acordó durante mi mandato como Primer Ministro de Portugal, sigue promoviendo las buenas relaciones en la ordenación de los recursos hídricos entre Portugal y España.

And I would like you to allow me to make a brief comment on this agreement.  During the time of my predecessor, the discussions between the Governments of Portugal and Spain were extremely difficult.  And whenever there was the perception that an agreement might be possible, there was in the press of those countries an uproar, with the question of whether governments were betraying or not vital interests of the country.

When I became Prime Minister and President Aznar became President of the Spanish Government, we decided that our common interests were far more important than the difficulties in the elaboration of the treaty, and so, with two small teams on both sides, it was possible quickly to come to something that we both considered to be reasonable compromise.  Not a perfect solution, for any of the countries, but a reasonable compromise.  And until the last moment, the uproar went on and the discussions in the media were furious about this issue, but the proof that political will is decisive is that the agreement was signed and from that moment onwards the discussion completely stopped; things were working perfectly between the two countries and enormous benefits, namely in the common management of the rivers, allowing, for instance, for floods to have a much less devastating impact that in the past.  Something that looked almost impossible became easy when there was political will to do it and once there was political will to do it, nobody paid the price; on the contrary, everybody benefitted.

I think this is a lesson that can be used in many parts of the world, where people are afraid to go the extra mile to reach an agreement with a neighbour or with a partner.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes has fostered collaboration and conflict resolution since 1992.  As of March last year, the Convention became open for all United Nations Member States, offering the opportunity to create a global framework for preventive diplomacy for dealing with transboundary water issues.

The United Nations actively promotes mediation and dialogue as effective tools for preventing and resolving disputes over water and other natural resources.  For example, the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia is collaborating closely with the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea and other partners to build capacity in water diplomacy and to modernize the regional legal framework on the management of transboundary water resources.

I look forward to visiting the Aral Sea in the coming days.  While there, I will discuss how the United Nations is supporting mediation to prevent and resolve local and transboundary disputes over water in Central Asia and elsewhere.  We stand ready to engage in preventative diplomacy and promote dialogue and mediation on natural resources and other issues wherever and whenever necessary.

Last year, the High-Level Panel on Water, convened by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the World Bank, produced an action plan that champions a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water- and sanitation-related services.  The United Nations has also published a guide containing practical strategies and best practices in the area of water diplomacy.  As we work to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, we will expand on these initiatives.

I commend this Security Council meeting for highlighting how water is and should remain a reason for cooperation not conflict.  Let us commit to investing in water security to ensure durable peace and security for all communities and nations.

For information media. Not an official record.