The European Union and its Member States welcome the opportunity to discuss water cooperation in the General Assembly at the occasion of the World Water Day, in parallel with the official World Water Day event in The Hague, and as we celebrate the International Year of Water Cooperation.
The challenges that water security creates in terms of economic and social development, as well as on peace and security, are enormous. Given urbanisation and population growth, water use is projected to increase by 50% by 2025, by which time roughly 5.5 billion people – two thirds of the projected global population – will live in areas facing moderate to severe water stress. The impact of climate change only further aggravates these risks acting as a multiplier for water shortages, poor water quality, droughts or floods.
Despite the fact that the world will likely surpass the drinking water MDG target, over 780 million people today do not have access to improved sources of drinking water, especially in Africa, and major inequities remain. Also, those numbers might be underestimated since there is no reliable global data on the quality of water.
Moreover, the sanitation MDG target remains severely off-track. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and unhygienic conditions claim many lives, including an estimated 1.6 million children under the age of 5 who die from only diarrhoea alone.
Safe drinking water and sanitation are crucial for a healthy and dignified life. Yet those millions of people worldwide still lacking access to clean drinking water are therefore deprived of a basic human right. The European Union and its Member States affirm that the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity.
In addition to the bilateral cooperation from the EU Member States themselves, the European Union has provided, since 2007, nearly 2 billion Euro to water and sanitation projects in more than 62 countries worldwide. During the period 2004-2009, EU aid has made a significant difference in the fight against poverty by providing access to clean water to more than 32 million people and sanitation to over 9.5 million of people across the world.
Through decentralised cooperation, local authorities have also played a key role through capacity building in developing countries.
The commitment of the European Union and its Member States to the water sector was reinforced during the recent Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012, where world leaders recognized that water is at the core of sustainable development and committed to the progressive realization of access to safe and affordable drinking water and basic sanitation for all and to significantly improve the implementation of integrated water resource management at all levels.
However, and despite the great development in the sector, we should also recognize the challenges ahead and the threat of increasing tensions in many parts of the world due to the lack of access to clean water, an indispensable source to sustain human life, and to increase competition over water resources. These needs will only be met with additional access to water resources, increased water efficiency, and by ensuring that the competing needs of drinking water, water for energy generation, and water for agriculture are reconciled in an integrated and equitable manner, while securing water needs for healthy ecosystems by preventing water pollution.
Enhanced water cooperation across borders is indispensable in this context, given the very often transboundary relevance of these issues.
This year’s theme is water cooperation. Water security is most often a regional and transboundary issue. Water resources are limited and unequally distributed across countries and regions, and this can be a source of tensions and instability, threatening regional and international peace and security.
Europe is a land of shared waters. About 60% of the EU countries’ surface area lies in river basins that cross at least one national border, within and beyond the European Union. Joint management of Europe’s international rivers has a long history – major examples are the Danube and Rhine Conventions implemented by all riparian States, as well as the EU Water Framework Directive applicable to the 27 EU Member States, the recently adopted Blueprint to Safeguard European Water with its global aspect as well as the international agreements on cooperation between EU Member States and third countries that exist, for instance, in South East Europe. We believe that equitable, efficient and collaborative management of transboundary water resources is an essential element for sustainable development, security and stability. Indeed, it is essential to help adaptation to and mitigation of climate change in many parts of the world.
We stand ready to share our experience and expertise. Through the European Union Water Initiative we are already engaged in many areas around the world in promoting transboundary and regional cooperation on water resources. Transboundary Water cooperation can also be strengthened by supporting the UNECE 1992 water convention, which is now open to non European states, and other relevant instruments which promote sustainable management of transboundary river basins , such as international river basin and lakes commissions, and in particular the 1997 New York Convention which should come into force in the following months.
Water security is one of the major security challenges of our time. We are aware of the challenges, but also of the opportunities given by water cooperation, and are fully committed to cooperate with partners in this endeavor.
On the occasion of the World Water Day and as we celebrate the International Year of Water Cooperation, we would like to stress the importance of continuing to raise awareness about water cooperation, continue to promote sustainable and collaborative approaches on management of shared water resources and continue to explore ways we can all work together in pursuing these common objectives.
Given the key role played by water for the purpose of poverty eradication and sustainable development, and of its strong linkages with other priorities such as food and energy, we are convinced that water should be thoroughly addressed in the follow up to Rio+20, including in the process of the elaboration of Sustainable Development Goals, and of the post-2015 UN development framework.