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Friday, 23 March 2012

Press Conference on Occasion of World Water Day

Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Occasion of World Water Day

An integrated approach to water management was crucial in putting the world on the path to a sustainable future, experts said today at a Headquarters press conference to mark the occasion of World Water Day.

The fact that the Millennium Development Goals on drinking water had been met was evidence that other related targets could also be met if the international community pulled together, said Rolf Luyendijk, Senior Statistics and Monitoring Specialist with the Statistics and Monitoring Section of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

He said UNICEF was currently working to mitigate the food and water crisis in Africa’s Sahel region, recalling that a similar crisis that had started in the Horn of Africa in 2001 was continuing, with millions of people in Somalia at risk of starvation.  As for the Sahel, the Fund estimated that 5.4 million people were at risk in Niger, where about a million children suffered from under-nutrition.  People were streaming into feeding centres because the rains had not fallen, crops had not been planted and food prices had soared.

Water, sanitation, food and hygiene were inextricably linked, he noted, adding that the next billion of the world’s population were all children under the age of 10 years.  They needed access to water in order to lead “a dignified and healthy life”, said Mr. Luyendijk, who was accompanied by Ania Grobicki, Executive Secretary of the Global Water Partnership, Ana Persic, Science Programme Specialist at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and Csaba Körösi, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations.

Dr. Grobicki described water as “a global issue and a global risk”, pointing out that in addition to its domestic uses, it was essential for agriculture and industry.  Water was the “engine of the economy” and also critically important in supporting biodiversity.  Noting that the Millennium Development Goal on food security would not be met this year, she said agriculture took the lion’s share of water in most countries around the world, from 70 to 90 per cent.  There was also the question of cross-border food trading, she said.

Wastewater management was a tremendous opportunity and challenge in agriculture, she continued, recalling that the United Nations Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation had called for “a global vision for waste water management”.  It was also important to increase water productivity — producing more crops for every drop of water used — she said, calling upon Governments to recommit themselves to an integrated approach to solving the world’s water problems while coming up with financial strategies to implement that approach.

Ms. Persic, highlighting key findings and messages from the World Water Development Report, said it was crucial to see water as the link between the agriculture sector, energy production and human consumption.  The world’s fast-growing urban population was responsible for increasing human consumption of water, she said, adding that 1 billion households relied on groundwater, an “over-used and non-renewable” resource, and that climate change exerted an important additional pressure.  Beyond access, there was also the question of water quality in a time of pollution, she said.

Mr. Körösi, who was helping to facilitate water-related negotiations as Member States prepared for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), said that if there was a decision to create sustainable development goals at that event, water would be high on the list.  He stresesed the importance of bringing the debate on water down “from the high-flown to the down-to-earth”.

He said that a series of workshops on water-related issues had focused on issues including risk management and the impact of human activities.  Strong cooperation would be needed at the local, regional, and national levels.  He hoped that the negotiations between Member States could be “boiled down to very simple solutions”.

In response to a question about the “worst-case” water scenarios, Dr. Grobicki emphasized that there were far more instances of water cooperation than otherwise.  The more water scarcity hit, the greater incentive there was to invest in water security.

Mr. Körösi added that agreements on access to water would be necessary, but agreements on the quality of water that was returned to nature would be equally crucial.  “Imagine a river that flows through 20 countries,” he said.  If one country polluted it, all the downstream countries would be affected in terms of food, health and social structure.  That was all the more reason for “a good understanding of the integrated approach”, he added.

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