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press conference by president of green cross international


Noting the strong link between a society’s access to freshwater and its ability to eradicate poverty, Mikhail Gorbachev, Founder and Chairman of Green Cross International, said today that the international community must create a global convention governing the right of all human beings to clean water, as well as mechanisms to ensure its implementation.

He said that for four years the Geneva-based Green Cross International, an independent sustainable development organization, had been collaborating with like-minded groups to conceptualize a convention that would require nations to ensure affordable access to potable water and sanitation services.  Last June, civil society representatives from more than 100 countries had met at the World Forum of Cultures in Barcelona and supported the proposed convention.

“We cannot accept the current situation”, he said, pointing out that more than 2 billion people worldwide lacked access to potable water.  “We must give life to the important aims set forth in statements and various international declarations”, the former President of the Soviet Union said, stressing the important role of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations in that process, as well as the need to support reform of the Organization.  Earlier, he had addressed the ministerial session on water, sanitation and human settlements policy in the Commission on Sustainable Development.

Asked about the connection between clean water delivery and poverty eradication, he said poverty could not be eliminated without first resolving the water crisis through mechanisms to guarantee sustainable and just water distribution.  Billions of people were malnourished, due to poor or no access to water, which was essential for food production, while unsafe water was to blame for a good percentage of the diseases afflicting humanity.  Water levels in India and China had fallen by metres, exacerbating an already acute water shortage and threatening crop production.

While the private-sector could play a role in integrated water management, water distribution must be regulated by governments, he said, emphasizing that it was unacceptable to view the distribution of water, a basic human right, from a profit-seeking perspective.  As for ensuring that the sustainable development goals outlined in 1987 and 1992 were not forgotten, there must be strong and constructive cooperation between national governments and civil society.  The latter must put political pressure on public policymakers to institute change.

Warning that the current political process contained remnants of the cold war, he said it presented globalization as the best way to fight poverty.  Some scientists and journalists believed there had been an attempt to replace sustainable development with free trade, and to make investment, economic development and the elimination of obstacles to the trading activities of major corporations the main priority.  Free trade could not replace sustainable development and the current advocacy work of United Nations leaders and many others who had illustrated their deep concern with sustainable development issues could mobilize efforts to create more constructive strategies.  Much would depend on the policies and actions of the United States.

As for the merits of shipping desalinized water from developed countries to the developing world, he said that strategy was not an effective short-term solution to the crisis.

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For information media. Not an official record.