Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has underscored the potential of water as a unifying force rather than a catalyst for conflict, stressing that the world's collective future depends on how it manages this precious resource.
“More than ever we need to work together to use it wisely,” Mr. Ban said in a message to mark World Water Day, observed annually on 22 March.
“While the world's growing population is consuming more freshwater, climate change is making less water available in many regions as glaciers recede, rainfall becomes less predictable, and floods and droughts become more extreme. Managing water carefully and balancing the varied needs for it is vital,” he stated.
Much of the planet's water, above or below ground, is shared. Forty per cent of the world's people live in 1 of 263 basins that are shared by two or more countries. Concern over the possibility of violent disputes features regularly in discussions about sharing limited water resources.
“But while the potential exists for water to act as a catalyst for conflict between States and communities, precedent suggests that the opposite is actually what happens,” he noted. “Cooperation, not conflict, is the most common response by people facing competing demands.”
Under the theme “Shared Waters, Shared Opportunities,” this year's Day highlights how transboundary water resources can act as a unifying force.
The Secretary-General noted that worldwide, there are at least 300 international water agreements, often among parties that are otherwise at odds. These agreements demonstrate the potential of shared water resources to foster trust and promote peace.
“I urge Governments, civil society, the private sector and all stakeholders to recognize that our collective future depends on how we manage our precious and finite water resources,” he said.
The head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has used his World Water Day message to stress that investing in the world's freshwaters could be one of the keys to aiding global economic recovery.
“The global water market for supply, sanitation and water efficiency is worth over $250 billion and is likely to grow to nearly $660 billion by 2020,” Executive Director Achim Steiner noted. “This represents new businesses and new employment prospects for developed and developing economies.
“Meanwhile, an investment of $15 billion a year towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving by 2015 the number of people without sustainable access to safe water and basic sanitation could generate global economic benefits worth $38 billion annually,” he added.
Also marking the Day, the Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation voiced her concern about access to water and sanitation during emergencies.
“The chaos and insecurity caused by war and natural disasters frequently block access to water and sanitation, with devastating results,” said Catarina de Albuquerque.
“Economic, social and cultural rights, including those related to water and sanitation, are always applicable, and States may not excuse themselves from respecting them during times of emergency,” she added.
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