11 Nov 2013 Speech Water

Remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director, UNEP at the Closing Plenary of the Budapest Water Summit

Ministers, Excellences, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to address the closing plenary of the Budapest Water Summit.

The Government of Hungary - and in particular the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Rural Development - deserve our gratitude for taking the initiative in organizing this Summit.

Our mutual preoccupation and mutual focus is the bridge between the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the current process around the post 2015 development agenda.

That includes the debate around a set or a suite of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNEP considers that the environment is key to ensuring a sustainable future not as a dimension above and beyond all others-but as an essential and integrated ingredient in the mix needed for truly transformational aims and aspirations of the post 2015 process.

The MDGs have provided a good and focused target for the international community in respect to tackling poverty including as they relate to water and to sanitation.

Improvements have been made, even more remarkable given the rapid growth in population in the intervening years.

But the challenge of delivering sustainable development, including in the area of water is universal.

Here I would like to echo Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and stress the importance of water quality.  Water quality is as important as water quantity. We do not have sufficient knowledge to appreciate fully the extent of pollution, its sources and its impact. In the meanwhile, new pressures like introduction of new chemicals and impacts of climate change are worsening the situation. The global water quality challenge is huge and complex and will require a collective effort.

If a global community and a global population of now over seven billion people-rising to over nine billion by 2050-is to survive let alone thrive, we need to accept two realties.

Namely that sustainability is not just about assisting developing countries onto a sustainable path, developed countries need to think this through and embrace this issue too.

And secondly, that decoupling economic growth from the use of natural resources including water is an imperative.

The UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel estimates that by 2050 the world will triple its use of natural resources-an unsustainable prospect on anyone's cards.

Fortunately, there are legions of shining examples where sustainable water management including in respect to sanitation are flourishing across the globe.

The challenge and the opportunity is to scale them up, accelerate them and federate them widely.

The challenge too is to provide the creative and innovative policies and financing that can touch the lives and day to day reality of a poor farmer in Kerala, India as much as it does in a municipality like Budapest.

The search for the post 2015 landscape and the SDGs was very much born out of the Rio+20 Summit of June 2012.

Rio+20 also enabled the inclusive Green Economy as one pathway towards achieving a sustainable century.

UNEP's work on the Green Economy, in partnership with many, underlines that the opportunities for the sustainable management of water are not ethereal or rocket science. They are straight forward and are pragmatic-and are achievable with the right focus in respect to policies and resource mobilization.

The evidence from the work on the Green Economy is that with $198 billion of investment over the next 40 years-allied to smart policies- water use can be made more efficient, enabling increased agricultural and industrial production.  

It is beyond the scope of this address to cover all the policy switches that can support this investment and thus achieve positive outcomes in respect to sustainable water and sanitation management.

Many will be subject to local and national circumstances, whether it be public private partnerships or the shared governance of water supplies.

But let me mention a few as they relate to the focus of UNEP and the urgency to address the interconnectivity of the water challenge.

Investing and re-investing in ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and river systems will be key-these are the sources of many rivers and other water systems as well as being natural water storage and water purification systems.

In Kenya, where UNEP is headquartered the government is investing in one of the country's largest closed canopy forests for precisely that reason. It is the source of some 12 major river systems that underpin the economy including its revenue-raising tourism destinations like the world famous Massai Mara. 

Indeed overall the services provided by this forest to the Kenyan economy, including in respect to water are worth some $1.5 billion a year.

Agriculture is, as we all know, key to sustainable water management-yet we live in a world where at least, at least, one third of all the food produced is either wasted or lost.

A recent study by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that the amount of water involved in this breathtaking statistic could provide enough drinking water to all the world's households.

Close to 30 per cent of arable land is being used for food that is never eaten and forests are being cleared daily for crops and meat that never makes into the human diet.

I would urge you to join the joint UNEP FAO Think Eat Save-Reduce Your Foodprint campaign as one positive step to address this absurdity.

And what about sanitation?

Some two billion tonnes of wastewater is being discharged into rivers and coastal waters annually-yet if recycled, a great deal of this could provide fertilizers for, for example, agriculture and other important uses.

Sanitation should be seen as a social, economic and environmental opportunity rather than a challenge and thus can afford revenue-raising possibilities rather than being perceived as a cost and a burden on economies.

Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,

We have all the policies and financial pathways to ensure that no one is forced to live without enough water-all the creative solutions to make a big difference to millions of lives.

As we look towards the post 2015 development agenda and the prospects of SDGs, let's look at the wealth of experience and the legion of examples to forge an international response that is truly and decisively transformational.

The outcome of the Budapest Water Summit here on the iconic Danube is a building block towards the Future We Want, as it relates to water, as it relates to assisting a world of many that  equitably shares our common inheritance.

Thank you.