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World Water Day: UN urges greater cooperation on common and fragile resource

Image: UN Water
Image: UN Water

World Water Day: UN urges greater cooperation on common and fragile resource

Greater cooperation is urgently needed for more equitable use and division of water, senior United Nations officials today stressed, marking the twentieth anniversary of World Water Day.

Greater cooperation is urgently needed for more equitable use and division of water, senior United Nations officials today stressed, marking the twentieth anniversary of World Water Day.

“Water is a common resource. Let us use it more intelligently and waste less so all get a fair share,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day.

In separate remarks at the high-level dialogue on water cooperation in New York, Mr. Ban reiterated that “competition is growing among farmers and herders, industry and agriculture, town and country, upstream and downstream, and across borders.”

One out of every three people lives in a country with moderate to high water stress, he said, and by 2030 nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent due in part to climate change and the needs of populations that are growing in size and prosperity.

He noted that agriculture is the largest user of freshwater, and there is a growing urgency to reconcile demands from farming with those of domestic and industrial uses, especially energy production.

Discussions at today’s meeting, he said, will help deliberations on the post-2015 development agenda, as world leaders, experts and civil society representatives seek to set sustainable development goals for after the deadline set to reach the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Mr. Ban noted that the goal related to halving the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water has been reached, but that the goal related to sanitation falls “woefully short.”

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson yesterday launched a call for urgent action to end the crisis of 2.5 billion people without basic sanitation. The call aims to focus on improving hygiene, changing social norms, better managing human waste and waste-water, and the elimination of open defecation, which perpetuates the vicious cycle of disease and entrenched poverty.

Speaking a little more than 1,000 days before the MDG deadline, Mr. Ban urged renewed effort to achieve the goal, but stressed that 2015 “is not a finishing line, merely a milestone.”

Also addressing the event, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic said water is increasingly a precious resource which must be portioned off more equitably.

“More than ever before, water stands at the centre of a complex and interdependent set of challenges, which will stretch the imagination, resourcefulness and fortitude of Member States and the United Nations system for decades to come,” he said.

Mr. Jeremic announced that he will host a number of events related to water in the months ahead, including a thematic debate on the “nexus” between energy and water on 16 March, organized in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates and the newly established UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Also today, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) noted that 90 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries that must share water resources with their neighbours.

Cooperation “is more than a technical or scientific issue,” it is also “about fighting poverty and protecting the environment,” said Director-General Irina Bokova.

“Too often people think water cooperation is only the concern of States. This is not enough. Water cooperation must happen at all levels – from the local to the global,” she added.

The UN has declared 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation, recognizing that cooperation is essential to strike a balance between the different needs and priorities and share this precious resource equitably, using water as an instrument of peace.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) marked the Day by urging governments, civil society and ordinary citizens to remember that behind the statistics are the faces of children. Globally, an estimated 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoeal diseases, and of these some 1,800 deaths are linked to water, sanitation and hygiene.

“The numbers can be numbing, but they represent real lives, of real children,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, global head of UNICEF’s water, sanitation and hygiene programme.

“If 90 school buses filled with kindergartners were to crash every day, with no survivors, the world would take notice. But this is precisely what happens every single day because of poor water, sanitation and hygiene,” added Mr. Wijesekera.

Meanwhile, a group of independent UN experts today stressed that human rights, particularly those of the marginalized and vulnerable, be prioritized when considering the uses of resources.

“It is crucial to ensure cooperation between the competing users of water, to ensure that the human rights of all are realized and also that the most marginalized and vulnerable are not negatively affected by unequal resource allocation at every turn, by every decision on water resource allocation,” they said in a joint statement.

In an interview with the UN News Centre, one of these experts, Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque, discussed the various players vying for the same resources.

“We are using much more water, we have much more people, so we have to work together to make sure that the human right to water and sanitation is a right for all, but also that agriculture gets the water it needs, that industry gets the water it needs, and so on.”

Ms. de Albuquerque added that to be effective, support for water cooperation must start at the highest political level and trickle down.

In Tajikistan, preparations are underway for the High-Level Conference on Water Cooperation to be held in August in the capital, Dushanbe. Mr. Ban discussed the conference with Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov during their meeting today at UN Headquarters. They also discussed the construction of the Roghun hydropower station, which when completed would be the world’s tallest dam at 335 metres, as well as disaster response and risk reduction in Central Asia.