Press Releases

                                                                                                                            23 March 2004

    Only Rational, Informed Political, Social and Cultural Response Can Reduce Disaster Vulnerability, Secretary-General Says in Water Day Message

    NEW YORK, 22 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan on World Water Day 2004, entitled “Water and Disasters:  Be informed and be prepared”:

    The theme of this year’s observance of World Water Day is “Water and Disasters:  Be informed and be prepared”.  Water-related disasters -- including floods, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones -- inflict a terrible toll on human life and property, affecting millions of people and provoking crippling economic losses.  As ever, it is the poor and vulnerable who are most adversely affected, but as we saw in Central Europe in 2002, even industrialized nations can suffer immensely.  However much we would wish to think of these as strictly natural disasters, human activities play a significant role in increasing risk and vulnerability.  And of course, there are also strictly man-made disasters, such as oil-spills and toxic run-off, that do great damage to our precious water resources.

    Modern society has distinct advantages over those civilizations of the past that suffered or even collapsed for reasons linked to water.  We have great knowledge, and the capacity to disperse that knowledge to the remotest places on earth.  We are also the beneficiaries of scientific leaps that have improved weather forecasting, agricultural practices, natural resources management, and disaster prevention, preparedness and management.  New technologies will continue to provide the backbone of our efforts.  But only a rational and informed political, social and cultural response -- and public participation in all stages of the disaster management cycle -- can reduce disaster vulnerability, and ensure that hazards do not turn into unmanageable disasters.

    This year’s observance of World Water Day also marks the publication of Guidelines for reducing flood losses.  A manual and menu of options for decision makers, the guidelines are a joint effort of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the National Weather Service of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the World Meteorological Organization, with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.  They are also meant to contribute to the discussions at the next World Conference on Disaster Reduction to be held at Kobe-Hyogo, Japan in January 2005.  I commend them to all interested actors.

    Beyond water-related disaster reduction issues, the international community has taken other steps to face global water problems.  In the year 2000, heads of State pledged to stop the unsustainable exploitation of water resources by developing water management strategies that promote equitable access and adequate supplies.  At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, world leaders agreed to develop integrated water resources management and water efficiency plans by 2005.

    The international response to current world water challenges contains much admirable effort, but for the most part, it has been inadequate.  If we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving, by 2015, the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water, we will need to make 270,000 new water connections per day.  The requirements for meeting the sanitation goal are even more formidable.  This is not to demean the dedicated efforts being made by a number of governments and thousands of civil society groups, but rather to demonstrate the urgent need to go beyond business as usual.

    With that in mind, I have decided to establish an Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.  To be chaired by former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, the Board will also include a wide range of eminent persons, technical experts, and other individuals with proven experience in inspiring people, moving the machinery of government, and working with the media, the private sector and civil society.  I have asked the Board to use the unique expertise of its members to raise awareness of water and sanitation issues, to help mobilize funds for water and sanitation projects, and to encourage new partnerships.

    Water is central to our hopes of eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development.  On World Water Day, let us renew our efforts to give water issues the attention they deserve, now and over the long term.

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