2023 Water Conference,
1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)

Opening Headquarters Conference, World Leaders Stress Urgency of International Action to Protect Water as Basic Human Right, Common Dominator for Sustainable Development

Forty-six years since the last United Nations Water Conference was held in Mar de Plata, Argentina, global leaders met today at Headquarters in New York to zero in on the global water crisis and the need to protect this precious resource as a basic human right for the planet’s 8 billion people.

The United Nations Conference on the Midterm Comprehensive Review of the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development”, 2018–2028, kicked off with opening remarks by Water Conference Co-Presidents Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, and Willem-Alexander, King of the Netherlands.

Mr. Rahmon stressed the urgency of international action as 2 billion people lack safe drinking water; 3.6 billion people lack safe sanitation; and almost 0.5 million people die from water-related infectious diseases every year.  Against this backdrop, Tajikistan and the Netherlands have focused on commitments to accelerate action to achieve water-related development goals; presented the Water Action Agenda; and worked to address water and climate issues in an integrated manner, he said.  Tajikistan will host a high-level international conference on glacier preservation in 2025.

King Willem-Alexander stressed that while his country and Tajikistan might seem like an odd couple — opposites, each with a completely different water balance — they represent virtually the whole “world of water”.  With humanity facing too much or too little water and water supplies that are too polluted in the coming years, water security will determine the world’s collective sustainable future.  “We all know it, we all feel it,” he underscored, emphasizing that now is the time to rise above partial and sectional interests, see the big picture and get moving.

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that while water is a human right and a common development denominator, it is in deep trouble.  “We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use and evaporating it through global heating,” he said, adding that humanity has broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater.  Against this backdrop, the Conference must represent a quantum leap in the capacity of Member States and the international community to recognize and act upon the vital importance of water to the world’s sustainability and as a tool to foster peace and international cooperation.  Water must serve as a key driver across economies and policymaking as water and climate policies are integrated.  “Now is the moment for game-changing commitments to bring the Water Action Agenda to life,” he said.

Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, said the international community cannot fulfil the promise of sustainability, economic stability and global well-being by only speeding up conventional solutions.  “We need to make water a global public good,” he emphasized.  “We are water, we do not fully own water, we share it in space and through time.”  Noting that a cooperative water-secure future starts with political will, economic intelligence and cultural tolerance, he said:  “This chance is here and now, we may not have another.”

Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, said while water is the essence of life, the international community is not doing enough to care for this precious resource.  The world faces many more challenges since the first United Nations Conference dedicated to water was held in 1977.  There are now 8 billion people on the planet and demand for water has dramatically increased.  The Conference is an opportunity for the international community to move ahead and develop a bold, clear plan of action that includes disadvantaged groups, she said, adding that women and girls, who spend 2 million hours a day fetching water, should have a say in how water is used.

Li Junhua, Secretary-General of the Conference and United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, stressed that this Conference is long overdue.  “We need to think how we value water — how we must consider both the role and impact of water in driving sustainable, economic and social development, urban development, environmental protection and peace.”  Sound water-related data and information is the key, he added.  “[This Conference’s] impact depends on your willingness to bring forward and follow up on your voluntary commitments to secure a water-sustainable future,” he emphasized.

In the ensuing debate, world leaders laid out their concerns with the global water crisis and noted that water is a basic human right.  Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, President of Bolivia, noted that his Government had helped lead the adoption of General Assembly resolution 64/292, which recognized the right to drinking water and sanitation as an essential human right for the enjoyment of all human rights.

Many leaders advocated for a United Nations Special Envoy for Water.  Nataša Pirc Musar, President of Slovenia, said an appeal for an envoy was signed by over 150 countries as an important step towards better coherence of water efforts.  Such an envoy would help mobilize much needed further action.  She also suggested regular, high-level inter-governmental United Nations meetings on water.   Also speaking for the Transboundary Water Cooperation Coalition, she said transboundary waters account for 60 per cent of the world’s freshwater flows and more than 3 billion people depend on these waters.  Cooperation over transboundary surface and groundwater is essential to promote sustainable economic development, human and environmental health, biodiversity, climate action and resilience, disaster risk reduction and peace.

Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States and aligning himself with the Alliance of Small Island States, said that though the Pacific islands are surrounded by water, nearly half of the people in the region still do not have access to clean and safe water and sanitation facilities.  Not only is the Pacific region lagging, but it ranks poorly in all indicators on Global Goal 6, he said, noting that previously secure and stable water sources are at risk due to climate change.

Speaking in his national capacity, he said that like many other Pacific island countries, Tuvalu faces the pressures of limited water resources and storage capacity, along with poor sanitation infrastructure.  The impacts of climate variability and climate change compound these changes.  “For my country Tuvalu, and I believe for the Pacific as well, climate change is the single greatest existential threat to our survival,” he said.

At the outset, the Assembly elected King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, and President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, as conference presidents; Bangladesh, Belize, Burundi, Colombia, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iceland, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, and Saudi Arabia as Vice-Presidents by acclamation; and Colombia as Rapporteur General.

The Conference also adopted its agenda (document A/CONF.240/2023/1) and approved its organization of work (document A/CONF.240/2023/3/Rev.1).

Also speaking were Heads of State and Government, ministers and other high-level representatives of Iraq, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Libya, Gambia, Namibia, Cuba (for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Viet Nam, Barbados, Fiji (for the Pacific Island Forum), Paraguay (also for Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay), Germany, El Salvador, Luxembourg, United States, Italy, Panama, Philippines, Morocco, Portugal, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Chile, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Tunisia, Egypt, Cambodia, Guyana, Austria, United Republic of Tanzania and Madagascar, along with a representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer.

The Water Conference will resume at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 23 March, to continue its debate.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were unable to provide coverage of the Conference plenary session after 6 p.m.

Opening Remarks

EMOMALI RAHMON, President of Tajikistan, pointed out that water resources are currently affected by various threats and challenges which negatively impact all aspects of public life.  Rapidly melting glaciers are a clear testimony to the phenomenon of climate change and accelerated growth in the world’s population has increased the global demand for water.  As a result of these two factors, water availability per capita has declined by almost 2.5 times globally and by more than four times in some regions — including Central Asia — over the last five decades.  Moreover, climate change has also led to an unprecedented increase in water-borne natural disasters, namely droughts and floods with large-scale and unexpected geographical coverage.  For countries like Tajikistan, this translates into significant financial and human losses each year, hindering efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Two billion people lack safe drinking water; 3.6 billion lack safe sanitation; and almost 0.5 million die from water-related infectious diseases every year, he noted, stressing that the international community’s actions to address these existing issues are not sufficient.  Against this backdrop, Tajikistan and the Netherlands have focused on commitments to accelerate action to achieve water-related development goals; presented the Water Action Agenda; and will further strive to address water and climate issues in an integrated manner.  His Government will host a high-level international conference on glacier preservation in 2025 and will continue its efforts to deepen and expand cross-border water preservation in Central Asia, he announced before spotlighting his country’s national-level efforts on water, which included water reform by 2025, an integrated water resources management system and increased hydropower capacity.

As States must deliver specific results, follow up on their agreements and meet the expectations of the international community, he proposed arranging the next United Nations Water Conference in his country at the end of the Decade for Action in 2028.  They must also develop and implement specific national, regional and international programmes for the preservation and effective use of all water resources.  To that end, there must be fruitful cooperation with all partners and reliable, modern mechanisms for water supply and water management should be developed and implemented. 

WILLEM-ALEXANDER, King of the Netherlands, stressed that while his country and Tajikistan might seem like an odd couple — opposites, each with a completely different water balance — they nevertheless represent virtually the whole “world of water”.  Water is the world’s common denominator, he underscored, urging all to remove the barriers that separate water-related issues.  That driving force is now under threat.  With the world facing a future with too much or too little water and water supplies that are too polluted, water security is the defining concern that will determine the world’s collective sustainable future. 

Research commissioned by the United Nations has shown that almost half of the world's population will suffer severe water stress by 2030 and those who are already vulnerable will be the worst affected.  The Organization’s Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 painted an alarming picture in almost all areas in that interlinked crises are putting the Global Goals and humanity’s survival in grave danger.  “We all know it, we all feel it,” he underscored, emphasizing that now is the time to rise above partial and sectional interests, see the big picture and get moving. 

“We as members of the international water community can be the drivers of change,” he stressed.  States must value water — surface water and ground water — and use it more efficiently and sustainably in every sector, both locally and globally.  The world has a responsibility to do everything it can, he underlined.  His country will not rest until water is given the place it rightly deserves on global agendas and in policy programmes.  “Follow the example of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Kingdom of the Netherlands — seek collaboration in the murky waters of contrast,” he encouraged.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that while water is a human right and a common development denominator to shape a better future, it is in deep trouble.  “We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use and evaporating it through global heating.  Humanity has broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater,” he said.  Nearly three out of four natural disasters are linked to water and one in four people now lives without safely managed water services or clean drinking water.  Over 1.7 billion people lack basic sanitation.  Citing four key areas to expedite results, he said Governments must develop and implement plans that ensure equitable water access for all people while conserving this precious resource.  All countries must work together across borders to jointly manage water and join and implement the United Nations Water Convention.  Massive investment in water and sanitation systems is needed, he stressed, noting that the proposed Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus and reforms to the global financial architecture aim to increase investment in sustainable development.  Moreover, international financial institutions should develop creative ways to extend financing and accelerate the re-allocation of Special Drawing Rights.

He also stressed the importance of resilience and addressing climate change. “Climate action and a sustainable water future are two sides of the same coin,” he said.  “We must spare no effort to limit global warming to 1.5°C and deliver climate justice to developing countries.”  He said he has proposed to the Group of Twenty (G20) a Climate Solidarity Pact, in which all big emitters make extra efforts to cut emissions, and wealthier countries mobilize financial and technical resources to support emerging economies.

The Water Conference being held this week is more than a conference on water.  “It is a conference on today’s world seen from the perspective of its most important resource,” he said, adding “this conference must represent a quantum leap in the capacity of Member States and the international community to recognize and act upon the vital importance of water to our world’s sustainability and as a tool to foster peace and international co-operation.”  He stressed the need for having water serve as a key driver across economies and policy-making; recognizing water and sanitation as a human right; integrating water and climate policies; and adopting a innovative approach in the use of water in food production.  “Now is the moment for game-changing commitments to bring the Water Action Agenda to life.”

CSABA KŐRÖSI (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, said the international community is at the watershed moment.  It cannot fulfil the promise of sustainability, economic stability and global well-being by speeding up conventional solutions only.  There is simply not enough fresh water left anymore that flows freely in rivers and across boundaries.  “We need to make water a global public good,” he emphasized, noting that the water that comes in rainfall today will then flow in African rivers.  “We are water, we do not fully own water, we share it in space and through time,” he declared.  At the moment, the world is encountering a global water crisis or — more specifically — three types of water crises have been created and led to man-made disasters, with too much water being taken out of peoples’ lives.  Water scarcity hampers the dignified development of people, dirty water pollutes the environment and “we are part of this”. 

“It is not rocket science,” he said, noting that a cooperative water-secure future starts with political will, economic intelligence and cultural tolerance.  An understanding of the integrated nature of solutions is needed, he underlined, calling for financing that benefits everybody — from the Indigenous and the marginalized to the lucky ones who were born to wealthy parents.  “We urgently need to stop wasting water,” he said, citing “circularity” as a priority.  He stressed the importance of water and climate policies at local, national and global levels that will help make nature and people resilient, feed the ever-growing hunger worldwide and guarantee access to safe drinking water and sanitation to all.  To resolve the dilemma of water availability, demand and storage, “both a change of mind and heart” is necessary, he said, calling for more inclusive gamechangers for a resilient water future for all — a shift from reactive to proactive water solutions.  In this context, science-based, pragmatic solutions are needed.  The expectations are high, the forthcoming three days are crucial and the following months and years of delivery will be determining, he said, stressing:  “This chance is here and now, we may not have another.”

LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, said water is the essence of life and yet the international community is not doing enough to take care of this precious resource.  The world faces many more challenges since the first United Nations Conference dedicated to water was held 46 years ago in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1977.  There are now 8 billion people on the planet and demand for water has dramatically increased.  Yet access to clean water is only an aspiration for many people.  “A bold clear action agenda is necessary,” she said, adding the Conference is an opportunity for the international community to move ahead.  Disadvantaged groups must be included in decisions to access water, as should women and girls, who spend 2 million hours a day fetching water.  “They should have a say in how it is used,” she said.

Attention should be paid to the perspectives of youth and Indigenous people, she stressed.  Water education at all levels is necessary so water knowledge can be embedded at all levels of society, she said, adding that water should be managed more holistically and the water management financing gap should be closed.  Highlighting the Council’s role in the follow-up to the Conference, she said the organ will review the Conference at its high-level forum in July.  She urged the international community to join forces to ensure water is well managed and accessible to all.  “We cannot wait another 46 years,” she stressed.

LI JUNHUA, Secretary-General of 2023 United Nations Water Conference and Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, pointed out that a convening of this type is long overdue, especially since the last Conference was held in 1977 in Argentina.  This Conference will tackle key priority areas for advancing action and progress on global water and sanitation-related goals and targets, he said, noting that its preparations have underscored the irreplaceable role of multilateralism and inclusion in securing human rights to water.  It will also emphasize water’s role and impact in health, development, climate resilience, the environment and cooperation, with attention also being given to the Water Action Decade itself to accelerate the implementation of its objections.  With the world standing at the halfway point to that Decade and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, “we need to think how we value water — how we must consider both the role and impact of water in driving sustainable, economic and social development, urban development, environmental protection and peace,” he underscored.

A closer look at the water-energy-food nexus in that regard is critical, he noted.  Sustainable water management is notably one of the best responses to climate change adaptation and mitigation which builds resilience while protecting and restoring ecosystems.  Sound water-related data and information is the key, he added.  “This UN 2023 Water Conference will only be as successful as your willingness to engage in candid dialogues and its impact depends on your willingness to bring forward and follow up on your voluntary commitments to secure a water-sustainable future,” he emphasized.

General Debate

LUIS ALBERTO ARCE CATACORA, President of Bolivia, said that his country’s Constitution recognizes water as the most fundamental right to life, on the basis of the principles of living well and in harmony with Mother Earth.  This constitutional recognition is the fruit of the labour of the Bolivian people, he added, highlighting the victory in broadening human rights beyond the so-called “first generation rights”.  It was introduced in the United Nations when Bolivia led the adoption of General Assembly resolution 64/292, which recognized the right to drinking water and sanitation as an essential human right for the enjoyment of all human rights.  If the international community does not change course, humanity and the planet are in grave danger, he cautioned, pointing to the multidimensional crisis of capitalism.  According to scientific data, by 2050, the planet will have some 10 billion inhabitants, leading to a 50 per cent increase in food demand.  More than half of the global population will be in danger due to hydro stresses.  As a result, hundreds of millions of people will suffer the tragedy of being displaced.

Despite the international community’s great efforts, 800 million people lack access to drinking water and more than 2.5 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation, he noted.  As a result, thousands of boys and girls die every day of diseases linked to a lack of access to drinking water.  The climate crisis is affecting the availability of and demand for water, he said, pointing out that the pollution crisis has clear repercussions on health and socioeconomic activities.  These crises are not “mere accidents of history” but a product of irrational patterns of consumption, he asserted, describing the water crisis as not only an environmental problem but also an economic and social one.

ABDUL LATIF RASHID, President of Iraq, said water is the country’s lifeline and well-being and essential to its social and economic development.  As Iraq emerges from the ashes of war, it is facing an unprecedented water crisis that is worsened by the compounded effects of climate change and neighbouring countries’ water policies.  The crisis is already affecting livelihoods, eliminating jobs, causing displacements at an alarming rate and posing significant threats to food security and biodiversity.  Without immediate intervention, he warned, water shortages pose significant risks to the agri-food system, ecosystem and the country’s social stability.  To address this, sustainable and innovative solutions are urgently needed at the local, national and international levels.  Iraq is bearing the brunt of climate change and extreme weather conditions, including regular floods, droughts, dust storms and rising temperatures which are beyond its control.  The decreased transboundary water flows in the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, due to neighbouring countries’ water policies, have created the worst water crisis in Iraq’s modern history.  Iraq is primarily reliant on these rivers, and the neighbouring countries' water policies are directly impacting the livelihoods of millions of Iraqis, causing mass migration and social and economic instability in the country, he stressed.

Looking ahead, he said wider cooperation is urgently needed with the water and political authorities of neighbouring countries, particularly Turkey.  He urged the creation of a permanent committee, including technical and legal experts, to establish regional basin-wide agreements, ensure a practical enforcement mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations, and include operating procedures on time and quantity to ensure adequate and fair water rations for everybody.  His Government will invest in and improve water filtering and treatment systems and is working to establish effective and implementable water resources management plans and service delivery through appropriate funding and greater private sector participation.  “Arrangements must be made with our neighbouring countries through agreements and commitments to ensure a fair share of water for all, especially during the agricultural seasons,” he added.

ŽELJKA CVIJANOVIĆ, Chair of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, pointed out that if the world’s entire water supply were placed in a four-litre jug, the drinking water available to the international community would fit in one spoon.  In a world inhabited by more than 8 billion people, the question of resources, their efficient use and equal distribution require quick responses and sustainable solutions from States, international organizations and others.  All of have an obligation to responsibly and rationally use water, even those that do not face water shortages, she underscored.  For her country, the modernization of its water services sector is a strategic priority that is essential for both its integration with the European Union and its implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  However, as is the case with other countries, such modernization requires heavy investment and substantive international funding from richer countries.  She spotlighted the commitments of international development partners in that regard before showcasing her country’s hydropower sector.  Short-sighted political interests, pointless obstructions and blockades will not impede her Government’s determination to utilize that sector to the maximum extent possible for both a competitive advantage and the common good, she asserted.

“We are obliged to strive to preserve natural resources because if we endanger our planet, damage the climate and ecosystems, pollute our seas, rivers and lakes, we will endanger our own existence,” she said.  As the international community cannot ignore the horrible tragedies that happen throughout the world every day due to the lack of access to water and sanitation, all must undertake additional efforts.  This is not a challenge that individual countries can overcome independently, she noted, emphasizing that “if there is a goal that should unite us — regardless of all other global challenges, differences and rivalries — it is the provision of a sufficient amount of water as well as adequate sanitary conditions for all people in the world.”

MOKGWEETSI MASISI, President of Botswana, shared progress made by his country in implementing Sustainable Development Goal 6.  He noted the uneven distribution of ground water resources, which has caused water shortages to persist amid the growing demand for water for domestic, commercial and industrial use.  The water supply challenge is worsened by the effects of climate change and droughts which are occurring with increased frequency.  In terms of water quality, the Government’s priority is to ensure that every citizen has access to safe drinking water.  To this end, the Government has prioritized the development of water resources and infrastructure through increasing the budget for water and sanitation projects. 

He went on to underscore that with regard to progress made towards obtainment of targets under Sustainable Development Goal 6, 98 per cent of the country’s population has access to potable water, while approximately 80 per cent has access to basic sanitation services.  Furthermore, he highlighted efforts to improve water use and its fusion with non-conventional water resources to partially alleviate water scarcity in the country.  To ensure water security, the Government adopted a smart water management approach and introduced technologies to promote water recycling as well as to augment the country’s limited water resources.

NATAŠA PIRC MUSAR, President of Slovenia, said her country is one of the most water-rich rich nations in Europe.  “We may be fortunate, but we are not complacent,” she said, adding the Government protects its water by law.  The Constitution enshrines water as a fundamental human right and protects Slovenia’s abundant water supply as a public good and not a market commodity.  Yet much work needs to be done nationally and internationally.  “Water is life.  Water is existence.  Water is peace,” she said.  She urged the international community to take decisive action and show global solidarity.  Advocating for a United Nations Special Envoy for Water, she said an appeal to that effect was signed by over 150 countries as an important step towards better coherence of water efforts.  Such an envoy would help mobilize much needed further action.  She also suggested regular, high-level inter-governmental United Nations meetings on water.  This global stock-taking, every two or three years, would maintain the momentum of the Conference and drive its follow-up process.  Putting national commitments forward is another way to take decisive action. Slovenia is an active party to the 1992 Water Convention.  She asked Member States to attend the tenth meeting of the parties to the Convention, which Slovenia will host in October 2024.

Speaking on behalf of the Transboundary Water Cooperation Coalition, she said transboundary waters account for 60 per cent of the world’s freshwater flows. More than 3 billion people depend on these waters.  Cooperation over transboundary surface and groundwater is essential to promote sustainable economic development, human and environmental health, biodiversity, climate action and resilience, disaster risk reduction and peace.  The existence of effective and sustainable transboundary water cooperation can catalyse regional integration, drive cooperation in other areas or build sustainable peace.  “The absence of such cooperation is at best a waste of resources and, in the worst cases, can multiply risks that can contribute to the destabilization of societies and threaten security,” she added.  For this reason, over 40 countries, regional integration and international organizations, international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, academic and research centres have joined forces under the Coalition, which calls for greater ambition to sustain and advance transboundary water cooperation.

MUSA AL-KONI, Vice President of the Presidential Council of Libya, noting that his country suffers greatly not from water scarcity but rather the lack of water, said “I am the most thirsty among you in this Hall.”  Under the former regime, Libya had tried to find solutions by digging in the desert in an attempt to transfer underground water to the country’s northern part.  While the Government built a network to provide water that stretched over thousands of kilometres, this did not solve Libya’s problems.  This artificial river should rely on sea water instead of aquifer water, he explained, highlighting desalination as the solution for his country, the region and the world.  “I don’t know why we should be looking for water on Mars or opt for more costly and more difficult solutions when we can easily desalinate sea water,” he observed.  There is only one solution to this water crisis:  establishing international research centres that specialize in water desalination and energy generation from that process.

With the risks of conflict increasing every day, he urged the international community to address root causes.  For his country and others in the region, the total absence of water has caused immense suffering and posed an extremely serious threat.  “This is a tragedy that we have been living daily — people are dying of thirst,” he underscored, emphasizing that short-term economic or technical solutions will not solve the problem.  Developed countries must seriously consider using their know-how and technologies capacities in desalination to provide assistance, especially since the planet contains enough water for all.  He then shared that his country is establishing joint committees with its neighbouring countries on the optimal use of shared lakes while warning that these water resources will be depleted soon.

MOHAMMED B.S. JALLOW, Vice President of Gambia, said that his country is located on the downstream of the Gambia River Basin, covering a great majority of the total area of the country.  The Gambia depends on the river for rice irrigation, ecosystem services, transportation, fisheries, sand mining, salt production and biodiversity.  In view of the river’s regional importance, the Gambia and Senegal formed The River Gambia Basin Organization in 1978, he recalled, noting that his country relies on groundwater and tapping from the upper aquifer for over 90 per cent of its domestic water needs.  However, the country faces challenges in terms of excessive and concentrated groundwater abstraction, especially in urban areas where the water demand is the highest, with potential risks of overexploitation.  

He drew attention to the Water Sector Reform Programme which recommended institutional restructuring, highlighting his Government’s commitment to water sector reform.  Furthermore, for the first time in its history — in February 2020 — the Gambia established the National Committee for the Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme.  He also detailed his Government’s significant achievement in the area of water supply and sanitation, with 95 per cent of households gaining access to improved drinking water sources.  Highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, Gambia is implementing the Integrated Flood Management System and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which aim to strengthen the country’s adaptation to future climatic shocks.

KAUSEA NATANO, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States and aligning himself with Samoa, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said the Pacific islands are home to diverse and dynamic cultures and ethnicities spread across the Blue Pacific continent, which is equivalent to 15 per cent of the Earth’s surface.  Though surrounded by water, nearly half of the people in the region still do not have access to clean and safe water and sanitation facilities.  Not only is the Pacific region lagging, but it ranks poorly in all indicators on Global Goal 6, he said, noting that previously secure and stable water sources are at risk due to climate change. 

The Pacific Islands need support, through partnerships, international cooperation, financing and technology transfer, including in the digital space, to build resilience and ensure water security.  “We must build water infrastructure fit for a new world in which storms are more frequent and stronger,” he said, adding that investment is needed in water infrastructure, including water storage, treatment and distribution systems.  Water management systems need to be built, based on the region’s needs, appropriate for its small-scale and low population and avoiding damage to the ocean ecosystems.  Sharing best practices, innovations and lessons learnt from development partners like Israel, who have responded to water insecurity with technological innovation, is key.  Remote sensors, smart pipes, machines that extract water vapor from the air, and desalination plants are part of the solution that needs to be explored.  Technology must be paired with the requisite capacity-building and training to operate and maintain new technologies.

Speaking in his national capacity, he said that like many other Pacific island countries, Tuvalu faces the pressures of limited water resources and storage capacity, along with poor sanitation infrastructure.  Limited institutional capacity, thinly spread human resources and irregular funding sources also challenge the Government’s ability to effectively respond to water and sanitation issues.  The impacts of climate variability and climate change compound these changes.  “For my country Tuvalu, and I believe for the Pacific as well, climate change is the single greatest existential threat to our survival,” he said.  Tuvalu’s vulnerability was dramatically illustrated in 2011 and 2022 when it entered a prolonged period of drought and a state of emergency was declared as drinking water supplies in some communities were exhausted.  To achieve tangible results, the Government has developed plans, such as the Te Kete (Tuvalu National Strategy for Sustainable Development 2021-2030) and the Tuvalu Infrastructure Strategy and Investment Plan 2020-2025.  They include some direction on investment needs in water and sanitation through infrastructure development.  However, there are still competing priorities that hinder the fulfilment of the country’s aspirations.  He said he hoped that Member States will use the Conference to develop a meaningful outcome document, a strong message and identify actions that will truly accelerate progress towards water-related goals and targets and the 2030 Agenda.

SAARA KUUGONGELWA-AMADHILA, Prime Minister of Namibia, pointed out that her country — as one of the driest in sub-Saharan Africa with a semi-arid climate — is compounded by water scarcity and high evaporation rates.  The lack of perennial rivers in the country’s interior has notably been a limiting factor for its development, she added.  In light of this, Namibia strives to ensure equity in access to water as well as safely managed sanitation, especially for rural agrarian communities.  By prioritizing and enshrining water and sanitation into key strategic areas of policy planning, the Government has been able to achieve progress in providing safe water to the majority of its citizens — 97 per cent of those in urban areas and 87 per cent in rural regions now have access to potable water. 

However, ensuring access to water for all requires more investment and coordination among sectors and development partners, she underscored.  The global water community must engage and share its technological expertise to accelerate efforts towards meeting water-related Global Goals, beyond the Conference.  To ensure that water stays high on the political agenda permanently, Member States must appoint a United Nations Special Envoy for Water and adapt the Organization’s water structure so that it can become more responsive to present-day realities.  Such an appointment would go a long way towards improving coordination among various agencies and bodies currently dealing with water issues and help turn it from an internal body to a membership-based body, she explained, stressing that water needs a dedicated champion to put its cardinal relevance to the preservation of life, development, peace and security centre stage.  She then spotlighted several of her Government’s efforts on water, which included increased funding to address water infrastructure development and the rehabilitation of pipelines in coastal areas; its support to the continent’s water investment programme; and its recent adoption of a revised national strategy on sanitation and hygiene.

INÉS MARÍA CHAPMAN WAUGH, Deputy Prime Minister of Cuba, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, voiced concern over the multidimensional systemic crisis in health, energy, food, climate and environmental fields, with exacerbated effects on developing countries.  Water is critical for the eradication of poverty and hunger and is indispensable for human development, health and well-being.  Therefore, she added, it is a vital element in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the social, environmental and economic fields.  The lack of access to a safe drinking water source, basic sanitation and sound hygiene, water-related disasters, water scarcity and water pollution will be further exacerbated by urbanization, population growth, desertification, drought and other extreme weather events and climate change, she cautioned.  Against this backdrop, she stressed that developing countries need enhanced international finance, capacity-building and environmentally sound technologies to achieve efficiency in water management.  To this end, she called for improved cooperation across borders and enhanced efforts to tackle desertification, land degradation, drought, biodiversity loss and water scarcity.

Speaking in her national capacity, she recalled that in Cuba water storage grew from a little less than 50 hm3 in 1959 to more than 14,115 hm3, thanks to the “Hydraulic Will” programme led by her country’s former President Fidel Castro.  Highlighting further developments, she noted that the country’s water management is strengthened with the implementation of an action system based on science and innovation.  Despite these achievements, she underscored that Cuba faces challenges derived from its condition as a small island developing State and the criminal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the Government of the United States, which constitutes the main obstacle to accessing external financing and new technologies.

TRAN HONG HA, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Natural Resources and Environment of Viet Nam, stressed that the international community can only protect its people, socioeconomic achievements, values and planet when it conserves water resources.  Since these resources are coming under unprecedented pressures due to increasingly extreme impacts of climate change, natural disasters, pollution and depletion, humanity must act before it is too late.  States must attach due importance to water-related agendas and ensure that water resources restoration is conducted in tandem with global efforts to restore natural ecosystems, preserve biodiversity and adapt to climate change.  To that end, there must be a global legal framework based on science which can guide and coordinate the sustainable exploitation, use and restoration of water resources.  Governments must promptly establish scientific and technological hubs on water issues and create a network of water monitoring systems and databases.  They must also plan sufficiently and improve the quality of water resources in cross-border rivers, he added. 

He then called for the establishment of organizations and agencies under the auspices of the United Nations which included a scientific committee on transboundary water and an international river council.  Creating a financial fund for transboundary river basins or expanding the financing function of the Global Environment Fund for such basins is also necessary, he continued.  There must be social moral standards for relations and behaviours concerning water resources — particularly transboundary water — in a just, fair and reasonable manner which accounts for the rights and interests of concerned countries.  For its part, Viet Nam remains committed to maximizing water’s interests while minimizing water-related detriments; pledges that all of its major river basins will enjoy a harmonious management and distribution of water resources by 2025 to address water scarcity; and will implement policies while mobilizing resources in that regard.  It will also share its experience and expertise with other countries on water resource management, exploitation and use; participate actively in water cooperation and water security action plans; and strengthen collaboration on cross-border information and data sharing.

SANTIA J. O. BRADSHAW, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transport, Works and Water Resources of Barbados, noting that her State is classified as a water-scarce country with a per capita water availability of 306 cubic metres per year, said that it has started to experience water supply issues in its high-elevation areas as well as a rise in the salinity levels of its coastal aquifers.  The projected impacts of climate change — of reduced rainfall, frequent droughts, rising sea-level and increasing temperatures — are notably major threats to Barbados’ well-being.  Against this backdrop, her Government has undertaken a number of actions to mitigate, adapt and strengthen the resilience of its water and wastewater systems.  Among other things, it has augmented its water supply through brackish and seawater desalination; implemented a strategic mains replacement programme to repair and rehabilitate ageing infrastructure; planned updates of two municipal wastewater treatment plans; and rehabilitated water supply reservoirs and pumping station buildings to withstand at least category 3 hurricanes. 

While a lot has been done, there remains more to do, she stressed, noting the exacerbating challenges of climate change, the international economic environment and lack of access to adequate financing.  Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley introduced wide-ranging proposals — the Bridgetown Initiative — to reform the international financial system and ensure that developing countries are able to obtain the right quantity and type of financing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  That initiative changes the terms of how funding is made available so that developing nations are stopped from spiralling into a debt crisis when their borrowing is forced up by successive disasters such as floods, droughts and storms, she explained.  It also entails an additional $1 trillion for developing countries for climate resilience through multilateral financial institutions and development banks and establishes new mechanisms — with private-sector backing — to fund climate mitigation and construction after climate disasters.  She then supported the call for a collective mechanism through which developing countries can finance the procurement of much needed pipes and fittings to replace their old infrastructure.  “The time has come for us to accept that while the title small island developing States has come to define us, we cannot be developing forever,” she said.

DUBRAVKA SUICA, Vice President of the European Commission, said since the last United Nations water conference in 1977 the world has changed immensely.  There are 3.5 billion more people on the planet, biodiversity continues to decline and global temperatures continue to rise.  Climate change, deforestation and the overuse of water have impacted global water cycles.  Water stress is truly a global problem, he stressed, pointing out that there are droughts in regions around the globe and fetching water is a daily burden on many women.  The European Union wants to attain global water security and resiliency by 2050.  “We need to change the way we think,” she said, adding that water is a common good that requires regional and international integration.  Access to clean and safe water is a human right.  Building on the framework set out in Global Goal 6 and mobilizing global financial resources is the best economic move to avoid water scarcity in the future, she said.  All stakeholders must be brought together and data, innovative techniques and best practices should be shared.  

Stressing the importance of strong governance of water issues, she expressed hope that the loud call for a United Nations Water Envoy will be heard and water will have a more prominent voice in global discussions, which should be open and diverse with the participation of Governments, civil society, the private sector, scientists, women and youth.  “It is time to listen and learn from each other and put our commitments and brains together,” she said.  The European Union has put forth a wide range of commitments to strengthen water management.  On the European continent, one in five children do not have access to safe water; many people only have access to poor quality water or cannot afford water.  “After the end of the conference, it cannot be business as usual,” she said, adding that water should feature on the agenda of all United Nations institutions.  The global community should think of water when discussing peace, food, energy and other issues.  The European Union is ready to engage with all stakeholders in that regard.

EVELYN WEVER-CROES, Prime Minister of Aruba of the Netherlands, stressed that water is and will always be a priority issue for the Netherlands, especially since that State — with its low-lying delta of rivers flowing into the North Sea and the island countries of Aruba, Curacao and Saint Maarten — were literally shaped by water.  It is clear that the world is facing an unprecedented water challenge, he noted.  Science has told States that the international community has pushed the global water cycle out of its natural balance for the first time in human history.  People all over the world are facing the reality of too much water, too little water or water that is too polluted. 

Since the world’s consumption and production patterns are the root causes of water scarcity, she urged all to take guidance from the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, prioritize water in decision-making in both politics and economics and put water at the heart of policymaking.  For its part, the Netherlands will do all that it can to foster that change, especially on finance, capacity-building, governance, data, innovation and collaboration.  As this Conference is but only the beginning, she called on States to ensure that the Water Action Agenda receives the follow-up that it needs at the Sustainable Development Goal Summit in 2023, the Summit of the Future in 2024, the World Social Summit in 2025, the Dushanbe Water Process and the next conference of parties sessions on climate and biodiversity.  “A water-secure world is not just our concern — the voices of future generations need to be heard as well,” she underscored.

SARAH OEY, a youth representative of the Netherlands, pointed out that the recent agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction has shown that real action is possible.  Acting on water means getting results on all the Global Goals and safeguarding the planet for future generations, she emphasized, spotlighting the Dutch youth climate movement’s water proposal which called for system change.  As millions of children are currently in danger because of water threats, the world must not only protect them but also listen to their ideas and needs.  In that vein, the Conference must be the starting point for Governments to engage with youth at home and allow their ideas to help put Water Action Agenda commitments into practice.  “Don’t wait to act — don’t wait another 50 years to meet again to talk about water,” she insisted, echoing the philosopher Roman Krzanic, who said: “By making wise and long choices as we emerge from this crisis, we could well become the good ancestors that future generations deserve.”

RO FILIPE TUISAWAU, Minister for Public Works, Transport and Meteorological Services of Fiji, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, said its members refer to the beautiful Pacific region as the “Blue Pacific Continent”, adding that their cultures, economies and development aspirations are fundamentally intertwined with the water that sustains them.  However, their isolated communities are at risk of drought and flood, and their coastal peoples face king tides, tsunamis and storm surges, feeling the impacts on their water sanitation and economies when extreme weather events strike.  Pointing to their leaders’ declaration of a climate emergency in the region, he stressed that the world must act now to secure the 1.5°C target by drastically cutting carbon emissions and by greatly accelerating the path to a global economy that is not reliant on fossil fuels.

“The health of our peoples is being severely compromised by a lack of access to clean water,” he continued, noting that among the Pacific island country peoples 43 per cent lack access to basic drinking water facilities and 65 per cent lack access to basic sanitation facilities.   Over 2 million people in the Pacific islands lack access to safe drinking water, he added, highlighting that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected a 50 per cent reduction in water availability in some Pacific island countries by the year 2100 due to climate change.  Detailing the efforts of their Governments and development partners to improve water security, he said that according to the Pacific Water and Wastewater Association, the water sector in the Pacific islands requires an estimated $1.2 billion in investment to meet the water-related Sustainable Development Goals.

JULIO CESAR ARRIOLA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, speaking on behalf of member States of the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee of the Countries of the La Plata Basin, said the basin is the second-largest basin in South America and the fifth largest in the world.  More than 50 years ago, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay signed a treaty to advance the harmonious and balanced development of this water system, ensure its rational use and guarantee its preservation for future generations.  Under this framework, an intergovernmental coordinating committee was established to conduct studies and carry out programmes in hydrology, natural resources, transport and navigation, soil and energy.  Solidarity and cooperation between these countries as well as the legal and institutional framework they have created have notably enabled them to deal with one of the most serious droughts since 2019.  Cooperative resources management, he underscored, is a vital tool to mitigate the exacerbating effects of climate change on communities, ensure the protection of cross-border ecosystems and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  In that vein, the 2018 Ministerial Declaration of Brasilia should continue to guide both international cooperation and the strengthening of transboundary water resources management mechanisms.  It is possible to find solutions that benefit all by respecting States’ sovereignty, he emphasized, offering his country’s extensive experience with La Planta Basin as an example of good practice.

He then called on the international community to support joint action on fulfilling water-related goals; increase its cooperation by financing water-related programmes and projects; consolidate regional bodies to promote cooperation on transboundary basins; strengthen local actors and national capacities to ensure the sustainability of initiatives undertaken with international bodies; and avoid any duplication of efforts.  The intergovernmental coordinating committee in that regard can help facilitate access to knowledge and the exchange of good practices while creating water-related networks and goals, he pointed out.  For its part, the United Nations system should fulfil its fundamental role to make these proposals a reality.  “Let us all continue to work together to deal with the challenge of sustainable water use — all actions, however small they may seem, are a great contribution towards finding a solution,” he said.

STEFFI LEMKE, Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection of Germany, said her country recently adopted a national water strategy to support its national implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 6.  It is crucial to foster intergovernmental agreements on transboundary water management, she stressed, calling on countries to join and implement the two United Nations water conventions.  As one of the biggest donors in the water sector, Germany, together with its partners, is helping to leverage public and private funding, she added, noting that its International Climate Initiative especially supports integrated water management as one of the key measures for climate change mitigation, adaptation and biodiversity conservation.  She called for regular United Nations conferences on water at the highest level to drive joint solutions forward, as well as a more efficient and coherent system-wide approach on water to ensure the best possible support to Member States.  Recalling the Bonn Water Dialogues recommendation to establish a stronger voice for water in the Organization, she called for a United Nations Special Envoy for Water, noting that the initiative already has the support of 150 delegations.  Her country is willing to contribute financially to this as well, she added, emphasizing that only a Special Envoy can ensure that water continues to be prioritized in multilateral cooperation in the future.

FERNANDO ANDRÉS LÓPEZ LARREYNAGA, Minister for Environment of El Salvador, said his country is deeply committed to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals in a cross-cutting and comprehensive manner.  El Salvador recognizes access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation as fundamental rights of all citizens, including those in rural areas and those with specific vulnerabilities.  Outlining some national actions, he said a draft General Law on Water Resources has been presented, and new strategies are under way in river water management.  Calling for solidarity and good practice among States in the sustainable use of all natural resources — including waterways — he also cited a range of initiatives under way in El Salvador in the field of reforestation, as well as awareness-raising programmes.

JOËLLE WELFRING, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development of Luxembourg, emphasizing the need to discuss this subject more often, welcomed calls for regular intergovernmental meetings on water.  Water is one of the most important resources for all life on the planet and, in Luxembourg, legislation stipulates that it must be managed publicly.  Further, the Government promotes inclusive, equitable policies for water access and use across all sectors, taking into account the “polluter pays” and “user pays” principles.  It has also developed a tool that enables each drinking-water provider to establish an approach to manage associated risks that is preventative and based on the water-safety plan promulgated by the World Health Organization (WHO).  Stressing that a risk-based approach is important because quality water is increasingly rare and precious due to climate change, she reported that her country experienced serious floods and record rainfall in 2021 and that 2022 was one of the hottest and driest years on record.  These challenges must be managed in the future, she added, calling for adaptation measures to increase climate resilience in the areas of water and sanitation.

DEB HAALAND, Secretary of the Interior of the United States, said the world is confronting a pivotal moment in its work to address the climate and water crises.  In the 4.6 billion years that the planet has endured, water has neither come in nor left the planet.  It is up to the international community to ensure the proper stewardship of this profound gift.  The United States is dedicated to a peaceful, prosperous and secure international system, she affirmed.  Global Goal 6 is central to meeting all the Global Goals, yet more than 2 million Americans lack access to clean water drinking water at home.  Indigenous people are 19 times more likely to lack access to indoor plumbing than non-native households.  As a thirty-fifth generation New Mexican and Pueblo women, she said she has seen first-hand how climate is putting pressure on indigenous communities and people with less resources.  Drought knows no boundaries, she said, stressing the importance of collective efforts.

In her Pueblo community “we sing, dance and pray for rain”, she said, adding that prayers alone cannot do enough to navigate the crisis.  The international community needs to act together to define long-term goals and solutions.  President Joseph Biden’s Administration has an all-of-government approach to secure essential water resources for present and future generations.  For example, as part of its contribution to the Water Action Agenda, her Government has contributed $49 billion to ensure that climate resilient water and sanitation systems are a priority worldwide.  The United States water strategy aims to strengthen local and global systems to serve the needs of underserved communities.  Financing is essential to support climate-resilient infrastructure, she said, stressing that her Government is looking forward to working with the global community on this important issue.

GILBERTO PICHETTO FRATIN, Minister for Environment and Energy Security of Italy, said his country is witnessing increasingly recurrent periods of drought, as is the broader Mediterranean area, which, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is one of the areas most at risk.  Italy resolutely upholds the Water Action Agenda, placing the theme of water at the core of its cross-cutting climate change strategies, he said, underscoring the duty to put into action ambitious policies and timely interventions.  “We must start from our own home,” he said, affirming his country’s determined response to the drought crisis.  Detailing its various initiatives, he said that Italy, under its Recovery and Resilience Plan, has allocated funds for water resources equal to €4.38 billion over the course of five years and set up a coordination board to respond rapidly and effectively to the crisis, including using new legal and operational instruments.  To support the most vulnerable regions, in 2022, the Ministry of the Environment allocated €69 million for international cooperation projects through multilateral channels and €5 million through bilateral agreements.  More than 50 bilateral cooperation projects prioritizing the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean basin and small island developing States have been approved, he added.

JANAINA TEWANEY MENCOMO, Minister for Foreign Relations of Panama, noted that unequal water use, the pollution of water basins and the use of water as a political instrument have been the cause of local and regional conflicts that threaten global peace and security.  For Latin America, in particularly as a region with abundant water that will become the world’s breadbasket, water use and management must be suitable to sustain human consumption and global food needs.  She spotlighted the Panama Canal to underscore the importance of good water management for world trade, uninterrupted supply chains and in turn peace and stability.  Her Government has also notably led by example through its transboundary cooperation mechanism with Costa Rica on the management of the four rivers that they share.  Stressing the need to urgently standardize international policies on responsible transboundary water management, she said effective solutions must adapt to local, national, regional and global contexts; involve innovative financing mechanisms; and include stakeholders from the private sector and civil society.  Indigenous and ancestral peoples have been the custodians of water in many territories.  States must consider cultural contexts; ensure the inclusion of local Governments and community leaders; and empower them.  She then highlighted several of her Government’s voluntary commitments, which included making the Panama Canal carbon neutral by 2030; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and ratifying the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes.

The Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources of the Philippines called for integrated resource management approaches centred around risk-informed and transformative governance, while preserving global biodiversity for generations to come.  She cited the critical need for “nexus governance”, aimed at preserving a balance between water supply and consumption.  The Philippines has established a Water Resource Management Office, aimed at integrating water-related mandates across the entire Government.  Among other initiatives, the country has also created a national geospatial database for natural resources, including water, and is working to de-risk all of its investments.  Those policies aim to ensure that “no ecosystem or community is left behind”, she said, drawing attention to the Philippines’ cycles of increasingly destructive typhoons and over $10 billion in disaster damage in recent years.  Noting that many developing countries face similar challenges, she called for solutions that address the ecological, socioeconomic and governance aspects of sustainable development, adding that the Philippines plans to introduce a draft resolution on water, sanitation and hygiene in health-care facilities at the United Nations later in 2023.

NIZAR BARAKA, Minister for Water and Equipment of Morocco, noting that his country is among those most vulnerable to climate change, said that it has witnessed severe drought over the last five years, which has negatively affected sources of groundwater.  To ensure its water needs are met, Morocco has built 152 dams that save large amounts of water, and another 10 are currently under construction.  The Government is committed to continuing efforts on all levels to manage water demands through structured projects, including those designed to desalinate seawater and utilize renewable energy to reduce costs.  Detailing other national efforts, he reported that Morocco has been able to recycle 350 million cubic metres of water, has increased the capacity of drinking-water networks by 76 per cent and will implement national programmes to irrigate more than 1 million acres by 2030.  Work is also under way to increase power generation through hydroelectric projects that will cover 50 per cent of the country’s energy needs by that same year.  He added that it is now time for cooperation on all levels and for the building of fruitful partnerships on a large scale.

DUARTE CORDEIRO, Minister for the Environment and Climate Action of Portugal, noted that 2022 was one of the driest on record for his country due to low rainfall and unusually frequent and intense heat waves.  His Government has responded to these challenges by reducing its consumption; increasing the efficiency of its water usage; and preserving water at its sources.  By 2025, it wishes to reuse 10 per cent of all treated water for purposes that do not require potable water, such as permanent crop irrigation, street cleaning and golf courses.  Portugal will also seek new sources, particularly through desalination; cooperate on water; and share experiences, knowledge, innovation and technology.  “We will not have achieved our mission as long as there is one person without dignified conditions to safe and easy access to water,” he said as he called for a strong water agenda and urged the international community to accelerate its efforts; redouble its commitments; improve financing; and create institutions that can ensure good governance and adequate regulation.  As States must also urgently improve the coordination and coherence of their work on water, a special envoy on water can help by giving water the voice that it lacks.

The Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources of the Dominican Republic, noting a needed change in his country’s water governance regime, said there were 23 institutions that covered water management and were constantly contradicting themselves.  In addition, some 70 per cent of water was used in productive activities leading to great profit for companies who were not being charged.  His country’s law was obsolete and needed to be revamped in a comprehensive way to incorporate the triple dimension of water as a human right, human resource and natural resource.  Notwithstanding the institutional disorder, the situation has begun to change in the last two years, he said, noting that detailed calculations of infrastructure needs were made, including $9 billion, roughly equal to 8 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022.  Pointing to two lines of action, he said a water cabinet with the participation of all institutions linked to the water sector and the President met on a fixed day of the week to follow up on investment projects and identify problems.  A water bureau convened in June 2021 allowed for the discussion of Government proposals in consultation with the population so agreements could be reached in all provinces of the country.  The outcome was a consolidated national policy for the regulation, planification, protection and conservation of water resources for 2021-2026, he said.

WALID FAYAD, Minister for Water and Energy of Lebanon, said that water should be a catalyst for peace and cooperation rather than conflict.  Noting the current interconnected crises in health care, energy and environment, he said these crises and military conflicts have been preventing developing countries from tackling their challenges, including by affecting access to safe and clean water.  Rivers and other subterranean water should be deemed tools of peace, he said, adding that they should not become pretexts for starting wars.  Lebanon has the right to benefit from its proportion of subterranean and surface water, he said, adding that it is necessary to consider the economic feasibility and economic impact of desalination.  Noting the large number of Syrian displaced persons who have joined the Palestinian refugees hosted by his country, he said Lebanon requires assistance to improve the living standards of its own residents and the displaced people it is hosting.  This support is crucial to avoid tensions caused by competition for resources, he added.  Imagine if France hosted 20 million displaced persons or the United States hosted 100 million refugees, he said, adding that many development projects and services in is country had to be paused due to the economic burden of hosting refugees.

The representative of Chile said the structural deficits that are impeding the achievement of water security are discouraging.  Water is a cross-cutting issue that impacts everything from food security to the development of ecosystems, she noted, calling on global leaders to “step up and think out of the box” as they develop ambitious commitments.  To expedite progress towards the achievement of Global Goal 6, synergies are needed as commitments are integrated into the community level to manage water resources.  This can help achieve progress on food security and food sovereignty.  Agreements on water must be implemented, she said, stressing that Chile wants to move on a development model that includes investment and places the human rights of people and the preservation of ecosystems at the centre.  In 2022, her Government strengthened cooperation by shifting practices and programmes that were working on a national level to a regional level.  Setting concrete goals, such as reusing grey water for irrigation, and sharing information is helpful.  As a country with a diverse climate and territory, Chile believes that working to achieve water security is essential.  Her Government is also working to shift from a top-down to a bottom-up approach that makes use of the knowledge of local groups.

ANXIOUS JONGWE MASUKA, Minister for Agriculture, Lands and Rural Resettlement of Zimbabwe, voicing his regret that his country and many others will be unable to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 by 2030, pointed out that increasing water demand — from rapid population growth, urbanization, agriculture, industry, commerce and energy — is exacerbating an already insalubrious situation.   Climate change is also worsening and intensifying water-related disasters, creating complex challenges and threatening lives and livelihoods, especially for the most vulnerable.  Against this backdrop, his Government has developed various strategies to ensure water availability; built resilient agricultural systems; launched a transformational borehole drilling programme to ensure that women and girls do not have to walk long distances to fetch water; and implemented a community- and demand-led sanitation and hygiene promotion campaign.  Zimbabwe has also overhauled its water and sanitation governance architecture; improved coordination and efficiency; and collaborated with regional countries to strengthen transboundary water courses management.  Joining the calls for a United Nations Special Envoy for Water, he underscored the need for investment in dam construction, irrigation development, underground water abstraction, rural and urban water supply, innovation, governance, transboundary water management collaboration, capacity development, data collection and information sharing.  “With the requisite political will, increased investments and better collaboration, we indeed can generate the required momentum to achieve the SDG6 targets and much more,” he insisted.

CECILIA ABENA DAPAAH, Minister for Water and Sanitation of Ghana, aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, urged those present to “imagine a world without water”, which will ensure this resource is protected.  She also said that the increased interdependence of the current global order requires international cooperation to share water resources.  This will ensure the socioeconomic development of countries bordering shared basins and will help to prevent conflict.  Noting that Ghana and Togo are actively working on a transboundary water project to supply water to the residents of Lomé and its environs, she expressed hope that the Conference will provide an opportunity to mobilize all relevant actors towards integrated water-resource management, particularly in the field of transboundary cooperation.  Detailing national efforts, she said that the Government established the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resources in 2017, reporting that, since that year, Ghana and its development partners have invested $1.397 billion to expand water and sanitation services for the benefit of approximately 5.3 million people.

ABDELMONEM BELATI, Minister for Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries of Tunisia, said his country is among those suffering from the scarcity of its conventional water resources, noting that the per capita share of water for Tunisians is 420 cubic metres a year — a quantity below the water poverty level.  Moreover, over the past eight years, it has witnessed an unprecedented severe shortage of rainfall negatively impacting the water dam reserves and other water resources.  He noted great investments in the water sector in his country with a view to mobilizing conventional and non-conventional water resources via the building and linkage of dams, as well as water desalination plans and use of recycled water.  In cooperation with its donors, Tunisia has conducted many pilot studies, such as water strategy prospects for 2050, as well as a departmental plan to recycle sanitation water.  His country’s efforts to search for solutions continue, he said, thanking all countries and international organizations for their financial and technical support to Tunisia to develop its agricultural sector and wisely govern its natural resources.

HANI SEWILAM, Minister for Water Resources and Irrigation of Egypt, stressed that water should not be treated as a commodity.  It is comparable to air and access to it is a human right.  His country is an example of the complex challenges of water scarcity and climate change, he said, noting that as the last country on the path of Nile, it is affected by climate change in the entire river basin.  Scarcity of water has always been a challenge for Egypt, which relies on the Nile to provide for the food needs of its people through agriculture.  Yet, despite sizable investments in water management and recycling, his country is forced to import food.  Effective cooperation in transboundary water management is an existential issue for Egypt, he said, expressing concern about unilateral moves such as the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia, which was built over 12 years without consultations with neighbouring countries or consideration of the economic and environmental effects on them.  Such dams can have catastrophic consequences including extensive droughts that could cause 50 per cent loss of the arable lands of Egypt.  Stressing the importance of regional and international cooperation to ensure that water resources are managed in a balanced way, he said that his country is committed to consultations based on sound scientific information.

OUK RABUN, Minister for Rural Development of Cambodia, said that his country is blessed with abundant water bodies and can be considered as a “water wealthy” nation.  Yet there is still a significant gap in its capacity to harness such resources efficiently, in ways that support equitable and sustainable growth and human development.  Access to clean water remains one of the four fundamental priorities of Cambodia’s socioeconomic development policies and strategies, he said, adding that its water policy not only emphasizes access for all to clean water but also water conservation and mitigation of damage from drought, floods and rising sea-levels.  The Government is making efforts to utilize the “white gold” of water resources to boost tourism by holding the River Festival and Sea Festival annually.  As of 2022, access to basic water service has increased to reach 78 per cent of the population, he noted, adding that integrated water resource management needs not only legal and institutional frameworks, but also stronger coordination mechanisms.  Calling for the development of infrastructure networks to support water resource management at national, regional and global levels, he said the international community must leverage digital technology for the efficient and effective use and management of water resources.

COLLIN DAVID CROAL, Minister for Housing and Water of Guyana, shared that his Government has adopted a low carbon development strategy which prioritizes integrated water resources management along with energy and food security.  To address climate-related water challenges, it has also boosted access to water; increased the efficiency of its water use; mitigated threats to water quality and availability; and improved its infrastructure.  As part of the Amazon Basin, Guyana remains committed to regional transboundary cooperation and will continue to work on transboundary initiatives to monitor both the quality and quantity of water while promoting its harmonious use.  He then called for a cooperative global water information system to strengthen policy development; promote evidence-based decision-making to support climate-smart water management; and encourage investments in sustainable and resilient water infrastructure.  Since financing for water reuse, desalination and wastewater treatment continues to remain a major challenge, he encouraged developed countries, small island developing States, landlocked developing countries and least developed countries to increase their exchanges in technology and innovation.  It is clear that more concerted action must be undertaken to restore, manage and preserve the integrity of water resources, he stressed, urging the international community to combine its knowledge and best practices to find the solutions to its water woes.

NORBERT TOTSCHNIG, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management of Austria, noted that, even in the twenty-first century, approximately 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and almost half of the world’s population lacks access to adequate sanitation and hygiene.  He therefore supported the establishment of a Special Envoy for Water to give voice to these individuals.  Noting that his country — situated in the Alps — is blessed with rich water resources, he said that the Government works to manage them responsibly.  This means investing in four things:  raising awareness regarding the importance of responsible water use; deploying state-of-the-art technology in the field of water infrastructure; developing early warning systems and monitoring mechanisms to detect and prevent water waste and pollution; and exploring opportunities where water can support other Sustainable Development Goals, such as the transition to renewable energy.  Adding that water has not only the power to divide, but to unify, he pointed out that water has brought Austria closer to its neighbours through cross-country cooperation, including the Danube Water Programme.

JUMAA HAMIDU AWESO, Minister for Water of the United Republic of Tanzania, announced that his country will launch a multi-billion-dollar water investment programme in May 2023.  In addition to implementing various water investment programmes to mobilize funding, his Government has carried out major reforms of its water sector, which included the establishment of a dedicated agency for rural water supply and sanitation; enhanced water management; increased water sector budgeting; and strengthened legislation.  As a result of these efforts, access to clean water now stands at 77 per cent in rural areas and 88 per cent in urban areas.  Despite these accomplishments, the water sector still faces some notable challenges, especially in terms of climate-induced drought and inadequate funding to accelerate universal water coverage and sanitation in rural areas.  He called on the international community to increase its investment in water resources management; consider water as a driver and enabler of human development; place water at the centre of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda; and assess water’s value and contribution for global, regional and national economies.  It must also invest in human capital while building institutional capacity to improve water governance; establish joint efforts to manage shared challenges; enhance water cooperation and partnerships; and consider water as a substantive agenda, he added. 

FIDINIAVO RAVOKATRA, Minister for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene of Madagascar, noting that his country is the fourth-largest island in the world, said that due to its geographical position and the impact of climate change, its coast suffers annually from the disastrous consequences of cyclones.  The southern region, with its semi-desert climate, is particularly exposed to recurrent drought.  While his country has renewable water resources estimated at 387 billion cubic meters per year, the majority of those water resources are lost to the ocean due to lack of sufficient infrastructure for water storage and distribution.  In that regard, President Andry Rajoelina established a water strategy to ensure water for all, he said, noting a resulting increase in the number of new beneficiaries of access to water.  Currently, his country is carrying out important water infrastructure construction projects.  One project under way and financed by the State is the mobilization of the Efaho River and construction of a 97-kilometre pipeline to supply water to 60 villages particularly sensitive to drought, and to irrigate hundreds of thousands of hectares for a real socioeconomic transformation of the country’s southern region.

For information media. Not an official record.