UN General Assembly Holds High-Level Dialogue on Water

22 March 2010: To mark World Water Day, the UN General Assembly held a High-Level Dialogue on the implementation of the International Decade for Action on “Water for Life” 2005-2015, and the realization of the internationally agreed water-related development goals. The Dialogue was held on 22 March 2010, and was organized around panels on: Water and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); Water, Climate Change and Disasters; and Water and Peace and Security.

Opening the Dialogue, Ali Abdussalam Treki, General Assembly President, underlined that water is a “crucial factor in the climate change debate” and noted that the Dialogue provided an opportunity to highlight the linkages among water, climate change and disaster risk management.

Asha-Rose Migiro, UN Deputy Secretary-General, underscored that climate change compounds water-related challenges by increasing the frequency and severity of droughts and floods. She stressed the need to build resilience to extreme events, underlining that it is one of the priorities of the Secretary-General's High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing.

Oqil Oqilov, Prime Minister of Tajikistan, whose Government initiated the International Year of Freshwater and the International Decade for Action “Water For Life,” stated that climate change leads to increased water stresses, especially in arid and semiarid regions.

Speaking via video-link, Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, Chair of the Secretary-General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, said the current model for reclaiming water should be modernized and made more energy efficient and cost-effective to meet climate change targets and spur green growth.

During the panel on “Water and the MDGs,” several speakers, particularly from low-lying coastal States, emphasized that climate change was undermining water security. Stressing the vulnerability of freshwater supplies to climate change, they underlined the need to address that issue at the 16th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 16) of the UNFCCC, to be held in Mexico at the end of 2010.

The panel discussion on water, climate change and disasters was moderated by Jorge Jurado, National Secretary for Water, Minister and Presidential Cabinet Member of Ecuador. One panellist stressed that disasters happen when communities were ill-prepared, and that the world's focus must move from disaster response to reducing risk and vulnerability. Speakers on that panel included Abdelkebir Zahoud, State Secretary for Water and Environment, Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment of Morocco; Salvano Briceño, Director, UN International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction (UN/ISDR); and Barbara Frost, Executive Director of WaterAid, UK.

Briceño explained that climate change would affect disaster risk in two ways: through the likely increase in weather and climate hazards; and through increases in the vulnerability of communities to natural hazards. He stressed the need to urgently capitalize on the common concerns of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, and to seek the multiple wins of reducing disaster risk, adapting to climate change, and attaining the MDGs and sustainable development.

During the panel on “Water and peace and security,” João Gomes Cravinho, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal, highlighted that human rights of water could not be divorced from the impact of climate change, particularly in cases where people were already suffering from desertification. Noting that adaptation to climate change offers a number of new areas for cooperation, he called for increased international cooperation for sharing water resources. Olcay Unver, Coordinator, UN World Water Assessment Programme of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighted the need to include a water dimension in policies and actions aimed at addressing climate change, the economic crisis and other economic development issues. He noted the absence of a sufficient mitigation and adaptation package in the climate change negotiations, and suggested parties use concepts such as benefit-sharing and common joint projects. [UN Press Release]