New York

30 March 2015

Deputy Secretary-General's Remarks at the High-Level Interactive Dialogue on the International Decade for Action "Water for Life" [as prepared for delivery]

I sincerely thank the President of the General Assembly for convening this dialogue on a crucial issue that I care deeply about.

I am glad to welcome to the United Nations so many government officials as well as representatives from civil society and the world of business.

You are here because you understand that water is one of the highest priorities for development and lives in dignity, as well as a serious factor in maintaining peace and security.

We meet at a time of  intensifying disasters, both man-made and natural.

Droughts, floods and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and extreme because of climate change.

Trends for the future show that the resulting pressures will only rise – at the same time as populations grow, more people move to cities and pollution continues.

By 2025, two thirds of the world’s population could live in water-stressed conditions.  By 2050, global demand for water will jump by 40 percent.

Right now, sanitation is a matter of life-and-death for millions of people.

One billion people are still forced to defecate in the open.  Two and a half billion lack proper sanitation.  Their health and dignity are at stake.

I have continuously sounded the alarm about the dangers caused by unsafe drinking-water, poor sanitation and a lack of hygiene.  These conditions are a leading reason for child mortality in the world.

The lack of water causes individual tragedies.  And it also, growingly, constitutes a threat to international peace and security.  There is a need for ‘hydro-diplomacy”– making scarce water a reason for cooperation, rather than a reason for conflict.

The situation is dire – but we know it can change.

Our umbrella organisation UN-Water has helped push the water challenge higher up the global agenda.

Our Call to Action on Sanitation has mobilized all partners to break the silence on open defecation.  World Toilet Day, November 19, has drawn attention to this urgent issue.

The UN’s Global Compact has an effective CEO Water Mandate with more than 125 companies committed to advancing corporate water stewardship and better sanitation practices.

We have reached the target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved drinking water sources.

Now we have to speed up actions on the MDG goal on sanitation, making real progress by the end of this year and beyond.

We also now have major opportunities as we shape the sustainable development goals and a new universal climate agreement.

I commend Member States for including the goal of ensuring the “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” in the proposed SDGs.  This goal underpins progress in many areas – and it can drive advances on sustainable water management.

Success at the December Climate Change meeting in Paris can have a strong impact on the management of water resources.  By reducing emissions, we reduce the threat of extreme weather events.  And through adaptation and resilience building, we reduce our vulnerability to droughts and floods.

When communities lack access to water, tensions rise. It is all the more disturbing when parties deliberately withhold water as a weapon of war.

As we speak, ISIL or Daesh in Iraq is exploiting water access to control territory and dominate people.  It has cut off water to some villages and flooded others.

We must all strongly condemn such practices.

This leads me to reiterate the importance of making water a basis for cooperation.  Shared water sources have historically brought countries closer together.  Instead of seeing water-sharing as a problem, we have to treat it as a potential solution, with the help of innovative and dynamic hydro-diplomacy.

I am confident that we can use this moment in history to optimize the benefits of water for all people.

This gathering is part of a global push for progress.

We are fortunate to host a Water for Life exhibition here at Headquarters.

The voices of people in this exhibition tell a story of human progress.

Teachers make the case that school attendance goes up, particularly for girls, when you add proper toilets.

Communities are naming ‘water messengers’ to raise awareness.

Village elders are passing on their water wisdom to new generations.

One voice from Tanzania said: "We must continue working in the same direction: improving access, empowering local communities and promoting good hygiene."

These voices are part of a rising global chorus affirming water for life, water as a human right, and water as a driver for development, peace and security.

Let us amplify – and heed – this message – and let’s go to work!

Thank you.