Global perspective Human stories

Ban Ki-moon warns that water shortages are increasingly driving conflicts

Ban Ki-moon warns that water shortages are increasingly driving conflicts

Many of today’s conflicts around the world are being fuelled or exacerbated by water shortages and climate change is only making the situation worse, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the General Assembly today.

Briefing an informal Assembly session on the crises in Kenya, Darfur and Chad, as well as his recent trip to Europe and Africa, Mr. Ban noted that he told the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month that “increasingly, fights are erupting over such basic human needs as water or arable land.

“I find this trend deeply worrying, especially because such shortages are only projected to grow in coming years,” he said, adding that water also underpins many of the world’s key development challenges – food, the environment, health and economic well-being.

“Water shortages are at the core of many of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), one of which is to reduce by half the number of people without safe access to water by 2015. When you consider the health and development challenges facing the poorest of the world’s population – diseases like malaria or TB [tuberculosis], rising food prices, environmental degradation – the common denominator often seems to be water.”

International cooperation is crucial to overcoming the problem, the Secretary-General said, calling for governments, business and civil society to form new and innovative partnerships. He also pointed out that the UN has declared 2008 to be the International Year of Sanitation and the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate is also coordinating work on the issue.

“Water is a classic common property resource. No one really owns the problem. Therefore, no one really owns the solution.”

Turning to the latest crises in Africa, Mr. Ban said he has dispatched Under-Secretary-General John Holmes to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to assess how best to help the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled deadly ethnic violence across that country since disputed elections in December.

“I also met former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and reiterated my support for the mediation efforts of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities that he leads. Several UN staff members have been deployed to assist the Panel’s work, while UNDP [the UN Development Programme] has established a Trust Fund to support the Panel. I appeal to all Member States and partners to contribute urgently to this Fund.”

Voicing alarm at the past week’s events in Chad, Mr. Ban welcomed the initiative of the African Union (AU) to use the heads of State of Libya and the Republic of Congo to try to mediate a solution to the conflict between the Government and armed rebels.

“Unfortunately, the situation has severely affected the work of MINURCAT [the new UN mission to Chad and the Central African Republic], as well as that of the United Nations agencies in Chad.”

The situation across the border in the Sudanese region of Darfur remains troubling, he noted, urging Member States to speed up their deployments of troops to the hybrid UN-AU peacekeeping force to the region (known as UNAMID).

“There is a window of opportunity right now to really move forward in Darfur. We cannot afford to squander it through delay and dithering.”

The Secretary-General added that he is in the process of setting up an independent panel to examine strategic issues relating to the delivery and enhancement of staff security for the UN around the world. The veteran diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi will chair the panel.

“The safety and security of UN staff is a paramount concern to UN operations. The dedicated men and women who carry out the Organization’s work around the world deserve the best possible safety and security.”