3 September 2003


NEW YORK, 2 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the Dushanbe International Freshwater Forum, delivered by Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 30 August:

It gives me pleasure to send my greetings to all the participants in the Dushanbe International Freshwater Forum.  I would like to thank the people and Government of Tajikistan for organizing this conference on one of the most pressing development issues of our time.

Freshwater is essential for human survival, healthy ecosystems and sustainable development.  Yet, all over the world, both the quantity and quality of safe water are decreasing as a result of pollution, over-consumption and poor water management.  Already, an estimated 1.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.4 billion have no access to adequate sanitation.  Each year, more than 2 million children die from water-borne diseases.

At the Millennium Summit in 2000, the Member States of the United Nations pledged to reduce by half, by 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water, and to stop the unsustainable exploitation of water resources.  Last year in Johannesburg, the World Summit on Sustainable Development added an additional commitment: to halve, also by 2015, the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation.  And earlier this year in Kyoto, the Third World Water Forum provided additional impetus.

Our challenge now is to move from commitments to concrete projects.  We must improve water productivity, particularly in agriculture, by getting more crop per drop.  Regional management of watersheds needs to be strengthened, since so many water sources are shared by more than one country.  And we need better water management strategies that promote both equitable access and adequate supplies.  It is not too late to prevent serious water shortages in the decades ahead, but any further delays carry great risk.

Providing water services to all, especially the poor, is vital in and of itself.  It is also crucial for the success of our fight against poverty, hunger and disease.  In this, the International Year of Freshwater -- proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly at the initiative of Tajikistan -- let us do our utmost to generate real momentum towards the internationally agreed targets and goals.  I wish you all success in your important deliberations.

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