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    Press Release No:   UNIS/SG/2524
    Release Date:   22 March 2000
    UN Committed to Ensuring World Water Security and “Blue Revolution”,
    Says Secretary-General, in Message to World Water Forum

     NEW YORK, 21 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the World Water Forum in The Hague, to be delivered on his behalf by the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Klaus Toepfer, on 22 March:
     

     I am pleased to convey my greetings to all the participants in the Second World Water Forum.  All of us should be grateful to the Netherlands for hosting and supporting this conference, to the World Water Council for taking the initiative to organize this forum, and to the World Commission on Water for the Twenty-first Century for guiding the development of the "Long-Term Vision on Water, Life and the Environment in the Twenty-first Century" and its accompanying Framework for Action.

     The centrality of water in our lives -- social, economic, political and spiritual -- cannot be overestimated.  Water has been a major factor in the rise and fall of civilizations.  It has been a source of conflict and tension between nations.  Its quality reveals everything, right or wrong, that we do within our ecosystems.  It is an indicator of poverty and social development.  Nearly every decision we make -- whether the issue is growth, housing, transportation or economic development -- is directly linked to the use of our water resources.  And every year, more than 5 million people die as a result of poor water quality -- 10 times the number killed in wars.  More than half the victims are children.  In short, water is life.

     According to UNEP's Global Environment Outlook 2000 report, global freshwater consumption rose sixfold between 1900 and 1995 -- more than twice the rate of population growth.  About one third of the world's population already lives in countries with moderate to high water stress.  The problems are most acute in Africa and West Asia, but lack of water is already a major constraint to industrial and socio-economic growth in many other areas, including China, India and Indonesia.  If present consumption patterns continue, within 25 years two out of every three people on Earth will live in water-stressed conditions.  Indeed, the declining state of the world's freshwater resources, in terms of quantity and quality, may well prove to be the dominant issue on the environment and development agenda of the new century.

     The picture is not unremittingly bleak.  Some countries have adopted integrated approaches to freshwater management, and created institutions for that purpose.  Public pressure has helped to reduce discharges of toxic substances and improve water quality in a number of river basins.  New technologies and "demand management" have improved efficiency in irrigation, industrial processing and municipal supplies.  A new emphasis on the harmonization of water policies with land and forestry policies has improved soil and water conservation and halted land degradation in vulnerable landscapes.  International networks and cooperation, especially among countries sharing water resources, are likewise being strengthened.  This Forum itself is one sign of the gathering recognition surrounding the world’s impending water crisis.

     However, overall progress has been neither sufficient nor comprehensive enough.  Sandra Postel, Director of the Global Water Policy Project, has stated that we need a "water ethic" -- a guide to right conduct in the face of complex decisions about natural systems.  This is something we should all strive for in the next decade of the twenty-first century.  The UNEP, for its part, has proposed a "fair share" water strategy at the national, subregional and regional levels.  It calls for a fair share for the poor; a fair share among competing uses; a fair share for among local communities, for women and children, and for future generations.  It also emphasizes the need for education and capacity building.

     Now is the time to move beyond protocols, declarations and conventions; now is the time to move from vision to action.  Let us think of the poor man whose crops wither on a parched plot of land; or of his wife, who walks five kilometres or more daily to collect a few pots of water; or of their children, racked by water-borne diseases.  The United Nations family joins you in committing itself to ending their plight, fulfilling the vision of Agenda 21, ensuring the security of the world's water resources and ushering in a "blue revolution" for the twenty-first century.

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