Amid Growing Demand, Cooperation over Finite Water Resources Key to Ending Conflict, Deputy Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Event

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson's remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the General Assembly high-level side event on "water as a source of peace: developing political momentum to advance water cooperation and prevent water-related conflicts", in New York today:

I am pleased to address you today on the critical topic of "water as a source of peace". This meeting builds on increasing international efforts to mobilize action on one of the defining challenges of our time: providing safe water for all. There is a growing recognition that natural resources frequently play a central role in conflicts and, at the same time, hold the key to their prevention.

This point was most recently reinforced at the recent World Water Week in Stockholm, and in the Security Council meeting on Water, Peace and Security in April this year.

In today's interconnected world, water availability is directly related to peace and security, but also to development and human rights. As I argued during World Water Week earlier this month, I believe the three pillars of the United Nations - peace, development and human rights - can be directly translated to the water challenge.

Water is peace - it is a central element to the security of communities and nations. Water is life - it is indispensable to development, indeed to our survival on Earth. And water is dignity - it is a human right, fundamental for justice and rule of law.

The focus of our meeting here today is on the first part of this equation: the linkage between water and peace.

Cooperation over water resources is an urgent and demanding challenge. Strains on water are rising in all regions. Climate change, pollution and growing demand for water are adding up to scarcity and ever greater risks. More frequent and more intense periods of drought are devastating communities, causing hunger and driving people from the countryside to cities, increasing pressures on water which can lead to instability. By 2050, the world population could rise to 9 billion - 9 billion people sharing the finite resource of water.

We have repeatedly seen competition over this scarce resource be a major driver of discontent, turning into both internal and regional conflicts. I have personally witnessed this in Sudan, Iraq and elsewhere. While these risks are real, we must also recognize and build on the opportunities that water presents for international cooperation.

It would be a mistake for us to get caught up in "water-war" rhetoric. Water equally represents a source of cooperation, a source of growth and a source of mutual positive dependence.

In fact, when we examine history, we see that cooperation over water, in fact, is more common than conflict over water. In the second half of the twentieth century, more than 200 water treaties were successfully negotiated. The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan has survived two wars, and remains in force today. In Africa, collaboration in the management of water resources has a long history.

In 1964, the Lake Chad Basin Commission was established to manage equitably the declining waters of the lake. Today, the Lake Chad Basin Commission - in a different, more troubling environment - has expanded to cover critical regional security threats, such as terrorism, the illicit arms trade and cross-border insurgencies. In the Senegal River Basin, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal have had a long history of cooperation and benefit-sharing, including joint ownership of infrastructure developments.

The United Nations, in partnership with regional organizations and other actors, has engaged in numerous efforts to promote and support regional cooperation on water conservation, governance and management. Our engagement is based on the understanding that if we are to prevent conflict, we must address its root causes. In Central Asia, for example, our Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy is supporting Member States in their search for mutually acceptable ways to manage transboundary water resources.

Here, as in other regions, the United Nations stands ready to support Member States through its mediation expertise on addressing natural resource issues as a means to prevent and resolve conflicts.

As populations grow, development expands and pressures on water resources increase, the world must develop models of sharing and cooperation in the interests of peace and prosperity. As we work to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must capitalize and expand on positive experiences and initiatives, which could serve as lessons learned for how to deal with potential conflict.

There is enough water to meet the world's growing needs. But, we have to change how water is used, managed and shared. All sectors in all countries must work together for responsible and sustainable solutions. Everyone has a role to play.

The challenges are daunting. But, there is a promising potential in using shared management of water as a means to build regional cooperation and to prevent conflict. Together, we can turn this potential into reality.

Source: United Nations.