Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by thanking you all for your focus on this critical issue.
The sustainable management of water and sanitation is central to so many of today’s challenges.
It is also central to implementing the agreements reached to safeguard our future over the last few years: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
In my former life, I was Minister of Environment of Nigeria and Chair of Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council. I saw first-hand the disastrous human consequences of badly-managed water resources and ecosystems. I know as well as any of you how important it is to protect our environment and conserve resources for sustainable development.
I was raised in north-eastern Nigeria, where lack of access to clean water and sanitation is a major challenge.
Lake Chad was once the chief source of economic activity for this region, providing food and economic opportunities to nearly 30 million people. Today, the lake has shrunk by 90 per cent. Some predict it could disappear entirely by the end of this century.
This drying of the lake and the advance of desertification in the north has disrupted everything, from trade routes to agriculture and fishing. It has impacted food security and health, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases. It is causing poverty by taking away farmers’ livelihoods. And it has a gender dimension, contributing to low levels of school enrolment among girls.
Taken together, all these factors have contributed to increased insecurity in a region already affected by violent extremism. I believe the rise of Boko Haram is inextricably linked with poor water management. And the solution to conflict in the region must include equitable ways of using water resources.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Lake Chad is just one example of the vital links between water management and all the Sustainable Development Goals.
Around the world, growing demands for water, coupled with poor water governance, have increased water stress and are having a broad and negative impact on economies and societies.
More than 340 000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water. That is almost 1000 children per day.
Forty percent of people around the world are affected by water scarcity. Some 844 million people lack basic water services; over 2 billion people are forced to drink unsafe water.
Women and girls suffer disproportionately when water and sanitation are lacking. Their health is affected, and they may be unable to work or to attend school when they are menstruating.
All these problems are exacerbated by climate change. Indeed, water is the primary medium through which climate change impacts people, ecosystems and economies.
There is good news. There is sufficient fresh water in the planet to secure clean and accessible water for all. The current challenges have to do more with our failure to deliver the right policies and incentives.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is clear that we need to do things differently.
A key question we have for World Water Week is: how?
I believe the starting point should be managing existing water resources better and more efficiently. Water efficiency programmes and policies have been successful in many countries, using technologies that manage water pressure. I urge others to take up these programmes.
We also need better policies and planning to allocate water resources and to distribute the risks arising from water-related disasters in a more equitable way.
One successful example is the African Risk Capacity, which has created a risk pooling facility to meet the needs of communities hit by severe drought. Insurance is paid out quickly according to a country-specific, pre-determined index. Mauritania, Senegal and Niger have already benefited.
Businesses also need to be brought in and understand how addressing water risks can have a positive impact. More than 2000 companies are already disclosing water risk information, but we need strong standardization to change mindsets and move on from business as usual.
Investments need to shift towards sustainable water and sanitation infrastructure.
When climate-risks and health benefits are taken into account in investment decisions, these infrastructure projects become far more cost-effective.
Green bonds are one way of financing water and sanitation infrastructure. The Climate Bonds Initiative, which promotes investment in low-carbon and climate-resilient solutions, now includes a new standard on water. Cape Town, which is recovering from its worst drought in 100 years, has invested in the bonds.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Finding our common ground is essential. Looking forward, I have some broader suggestions to address the world’s water crisis.
First, we need to mobilize every sector of society, and empower women, girls and all young people to take the lead.
Many young people around the world are gravely concerned about environmental issues and climate change. It is critical that we listen to our youth. Not for the future, tomorrow – but today. We need to tap into their potential to mobilize public opinion and action on all climate-related issues, including the sustainable management of water resources.
Second, we need stronger and new partnerships to scale up action. That means intergovernmental partnerships as well as those involving civil society and the private sector.
Third, we need an approach that encompasses water management, ecosystems and human development. Prioritizing one above the others is not sustainable. Ecosystems are at the heart of climate resilience and of clean water, farming, fishing and more.
Fourth, we must focus on water and sanitation for all, if we are to have an impact on people’s lives. I urge you to join the Secretary-General’s Global Call to Action to ensure all health care facilities at a minimum have water, sanitation and hygiene services and practices.
It is outrageous that today, in too many places, we continue to design schools and hospitals without adequate sanitation, putting our girls and boys at risk.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
World Water Week is an important opportunity to address these four areas and to build momentum, by bringing together technical experts, practitioners and policy-makers from all over the world.
I urge you to come up with creative solutions – not just for the “pilots”, but for action at scale.
We must work together to bring forward significant shifts in funding to implement the changes we need.
There are many commitments, the will is there, the rhetoric is right, but we need resources and a greater sense of urgency.
We must work with governments, civil society and the private sector to identify ideas, innovations and investments.
It is time to bring together fragmented policies, coordinating our efforts and collaborating to meet the central pledge of the 2030 Agenda: to leave no one behind.
The 17 SDGs are not a mere extension from the eight millennium development goals. They represent a paradigm shift for development, cutting across all dimensions of sustainable development.
In the United Nations, we are also taking steps to ensure we are up to the task. The reforms launched by the Secretary-General upon taking office last year are now well advanced.
Our goal is to ensure that the organization is more effective, cohesive, transparent and accountable as we support humanity in implementing its boldest agenda to date: achieving the SDGs for everyone, everywhere.
In doing so, the UN development system must be able to pull together resources and expertise currently scattered across different agencies to scale up action across all SDGs – including the critical Water Goal.
Water is life. Water is livelihood. Water is the bloodline of the ecosystem and water is the future. Let us value and treasure it, as we value and treasure life itself.
I look forward to our fruitful deliberations this week.