5 March 2003

Human Community Should Be Linked in Common Effort to Protect, Share Water Equitably, Sustainably, Peacefully Says Secretary-General on World Water Day

NEW YORK, 4 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on World Water Day, which is observed 22 March:

Freshwater is essential for healthy ecosystems, for sustainable development and for human survival itself. Yet, too often, in too many places, water is wasted, tainted, and taken for granted. All over the world, pollution, overconsumption and poor water management are decreasing both the quantity and quality of available water. Agriculture, in particular, is among the most egregious offenders, commanding the lion's share of freshwater resources, yet often inefficient in many of its routine water-using practices. Overall demand for water already far outpaces population growth. If current trends continue, two out of every three people on earth will suffer moderate to severe water shortages in little more than two decades from now.

Overwhelmingly, it is the poor in developing countries who suffer the most. It is they who lack access to safe drinking water; they who often pay the highest price for water; they who lack adequate sanitation; they who have the least say in water management. And it is the children among them -- more than 2 million -- who die each year from water-related diseases. This is a social, economic, environmental and political crisis that should be among the world community's highest priorities.

At the Millennium Summit in 2000, and again at the World Summit on Sustainable Development last year in Johannesburg, world leaders recognized the centrality of freshwater to human development, and committed themselves to a precise and time-bound agenda for addressing the world's current and future water resource and sanitation problems. This year, the International Year of Freshwater, we must move from promises to practice, from commitments to concrete projects, from intent to implementation.

It is often said that water crises and scarcities will at some point lead to armed conflict. But this need not be the case. Water problems have also been a catalyst for cooperation among peoples and nations. Countries with expertise in "drip irrigation" or the management of watersheds and flood plains are sharing that knowledge and technology with others. Scientists, local authorities, non-governmental organizations, private businesses and international organizations are pooling their efforts in the hopes of bringing about a much-needed "blue revolution" and to improve management of this vital resource. Whatever else divides the human community, whether we live upstream or downstream, in cities or in rural areas, water issues -- the global water cycle itself -- should link us in a common effort to protect and share it equitably, sustainably and peacefully.

The investments, policies and technologies required to rise to this challenge are within our means. Let us all now work together to secure the world's water for the future.

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