‘Bring the Water Action Agenda to Life’, Secretary-General Urges Conference, Calling for Game-Changing Commitments on World’s Most Important Resource

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the United Nations Water Conference, in New York today:

I thank the Netherlands and Tajikistan for co-hosting, and the President of the General Assembly for his critical role.

Water is humanity’s lifeblood, from the food we eat to the ecosystems and biodiversity that enrich our world to the prosperity that sustains nations, to the economic engines of agriculture, manufacturing and energy generation to our health, hygiene and survival itself.

Water is a human right — and a common development denominator to shape a better future.  But water is in deep trouble.  We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use and evaporating it through global heating.

We’ve broken the water cycle, destroyed ecosystems and contaminated groundwater.  Nearly three out of four natural disasters are linked to water.  One in four people lives without safely managed water services or clean drinking water.  And over 1.7 billion people lack basic sanitation.  Half a billion practice open defecation.  And millions of women and girls spend hours every day fetching water.

I see four key areas to accelerate results and change the present situation.  First — closing the water management gap.  Governments must develop and implement plans that ensure equitable water access for all people while conserving this precious resource.

And I also call on countries to work together across borders to jointly manage water.  One of my proudest achievements as Prime Minister of Portugal was signing the Albufeira Convention on water management with Spain 25 years ago.  The Convention is still in force today.  We see similar initiatives in Bolivia and Peru and elsewhere.  And I urge all Member States to join and implement the United Nations Water Convention.

Second — massively investing in water and sanitation systems.  The proposed SDG [Sustainable Development Goals] Stimulus and reforms to the global financial architecture aim to increase investment in sustainable development.  International financial institutions should develop creative ways to extend financing and accelerate the reallocation of Special Drawing Rights.  And Multilateral Development Banks should continue expanding their portfolios on water and sanitation to support countries in desperate need.

Third — focusing on resilience.  We cannot manage this twenty-first century emergency with infrastructure from another age.  This means investing in disaster-resilient pipelines, water-delivery infrastructure, and wastewater treatment plants.  It means new ways to recycle and conserve water.

It means climate and biodiversity-smart food systems that reduce methane emissions and water use.  It means investing in a new global information system to forecast water needs in real time.  It means covering every person in the world with early warning systems against hazardous climate or weather events.  And it means exploring new public-private partnerships across our work.

And fourth — addressing climate change.  Climate action and a sustainable water future are two sides of the same coin.  We must spare no effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and deliver climate justice to developing countries.

I have proposed to the G20 [Group of 20] 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.  Earlier this week, I presented a plan to supercharge efforts to achieve this Climate Solidarity Pact through an all-hands-on-deck Acceleration Agenda towards reducing emissions.  We don’t have a moment to lose.

This is more than a conference on water.  It is a conference on today’s world seen from the perspective of its most important resource.  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 cooperation.

From water as a key driver across economies and policymaking to the recognition of water and sanitation as a human right.  From the integration of water and climate policies to an 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.  Thank you very much.

For information media. Not an official record.