Dushanbe, Tajikistan

09 June 2015

Secretary-General's remarks to opening ceremony of High-Level International Conference on Implementation of International Decade for Action "Water for Life"

I thank the Government of Tajikistan for hosting this important conference, and His Excellency President [Emomali] Rahmon for his important initiative.

We are here because we know that water is not only for life … water is life.

Water is health.  Water is dignity. Water is a human right.

There is nothing more fundamental to our very existence.

And there is no more crucial year for action.

In this year - 2015 – the international community will transition to a sustainable development agenda that will guide policy for the next generation.

So it is timely for us to renew our strong commitment to water and sanitation – and it is fitting to do so here in Tajikistan.

Tajikistan initiated the International Decade of Water For Life to raise awareness and galvanize action. 

Over the past ten years, that is precisely what all of you have done. 

The world achieved the Millennium Development Goal target for safe and sustainable drinking water five years ahead of schedule.

In the course of one generation, 2.3 billion people – one-third of humanity – have gained access to an improved drinking water source.

The United Nations General Assembly declared access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation to be a human right.

We marked the first-ever International Year of Water Cooperation – and every year   World Water Day -- March 22nd -- and World Toilet Day -- November 19th -- are further examples of the Decade’s goal to focus attention on water-related issues worldwide.

Sanitation has also made progress during the Decade. 

More than 1.9 billion people gained access to improved sanitation. 

That is all good news. 

Yet we also know that even today, in the 21st century, some 2.5 billion people still lack access to adequate sanitation.

Even today, in the 21st century, some 1 billion people still practice open defecation.

Even today, in the 21st century, nearly 1,000 children under the age of five are killed each day by a toxic mix of unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and hygiene. 

Inadequate water supply and sanitation cost economies $260 billion worldwide every year.

And just ten years from now, 1.8 billion people will live in areas with absolute water scarcity, and two out of three people around the world could live under water stress conditions.

It is little wonder that many global experts have called the “water crisis” one of the greatest global risks that we face.

Here in Central Asia, and far beyond, pressures on water resources are building.

Yet water also has the power to connect.  It can be a source of cooperation – and from that cooperation even greater good can flow. 

Bringing people together around how they might share a scarce and precious resource opens the door to bringing them together around wider issues of peace and security. 

I think here we can prove this.

The countries of this region are interconnected by shared water resources.

Yet these resources are limited.  Strains will only increase as populations grow, standards of living rise, and climate change accelerates.

I will never forget my visit five years ago to the Aral Sea.  It is one of the worst manmade environmental disasters on earth.  I saw similar devastation when I visited Lake Chad in Africa.

It is crucial to reach consensus over the management of trans-boundary water resources in Central Asia.  Further ratification by countries of Central Asia of the water conventions will create a solid framework for this.

The United Nations – led by our Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy -- is committed to supporting Central Asian countries find durable and sustainable solutions, in close cooperation with the rest of the UN family, including through the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia, supported by UNECE [UN Economic Commission for Europe] and UNESCAP [UN Economic And Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific].  

Climate change is intensifying the need for us to act.

It will continue to do so unless the world takes serious steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Once again, we have our chance this year.  The international community has agreed to adopt a universal, meaningful climate change in Paris this December.

I salute President Rahmon’s orientation towards green growth. 

I am following with interest his proposal which was made just now to launch a new International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development,” which would complement and support the achievement of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs - for water.

Water’s place in the Sustainable Development Goals go well beyond access -- taking into account critical issues such as integrated water resources management, efficiency of use, water quality, transboundary cooperation, water-related ecosystems, and water-related disasters.

Water, like other areas of the post-2015 development agenda, is intricately interconnected with other challenges.

One vital connection is women’s empowerment.  Around the world, when it comes to water, women and girls do most of the “heavy lifting”.  The burden of gathering drinking water falls largely on women and girls.  They spend 200 million hours every day collecting it.

Inadequate sanitation facilities also affect the education and economic productivity of women and girls, not to mention their dignity and personal safety. 

As we forge ahead with the post-2015 development agenda, it is crucial to involve women in decision making at all levels to ensure access and sustainable management of water and sanitation.

I also want to recognize all of the young people taking part in the Children Water Forum. This is your future, and thank you for bringing your passion and compassion to build a better, more sustainable world for all. 
The water challenge garners most attention at the extremes – in times of drought or flood.  But water is essential every day and in almost every way for basic development activities.

Access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene represent some of the highest development priorities of countries worldwide.  These are also important human rights issues.

Our challenge is to ensure the access while safeguarding the rights of affected communities and meeting all of our competing needs in a sustainable manner. 

Engaging with the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to drinking water and sanitation later this year could provide valuable assistance.

I count on your strong commitment and leadership.  You can count on the full support of the United Nations system. 

Let us resolve together to build upon the successes of the “Water for Life” Decade and keep up the momentum for this crucial year of 2015 and far beyond.

I thank you for your leadership and commitment. Thank you.