UN launches heads of state panel on global water scarcity
THE UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has convened an emergency panel of heads of state to prompt a political response to the world’s increasing scarcity of water.
The high level panel on water will find ways to coordinate the often piecemeal political decisions made by the plethora of regulators, governments, companies and individuals who draw from dwindling water reserves. It will also raise a widely-neglected problem to the highest level of political discourse.
“Water is a precious resource, crucial to realising the sustainable development goals, which at their heart aim to eradicate poverty,” said Ki-moon, who announced the formation of the panel alongside the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, at a special session of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos yesterday.
The announcement comes as countries experience water stress and water-related disasters that will grow worse due to climate change without better policy decisions. Water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the global population and is projected to rise.
Floods and other water-related disasters account for 70 percent of all deaths related to natural disasters. About 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines while each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases.
“The new panel can help motivate the action we need to turn ideas into reality,” he said, adding that countries needed to take the lead on tackling the problem.
According to a report by The Guardian of London, the panel will meet regularly between now and 2018 and will be chaired by the presidents of Mexico and Mauritius, Enrique Peña Nieto and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. The two presidents were chosen for their countries’ diverse and representative water challenges. Mexico faces large scale water shortages associated with its booming developing economy, and as a small island state, Mauritius is especially vulnerable to climate change and the many water issues that come with a warming world and rising sea levels.
A further eight heads of state from the developed and developing world will be invited by Ki-moon to join the panel. It is intended they will develop an agenda focused on tangible changes. One example given was the sway the heads of state will have over the operations of the World Bank. As shareholders and clients, heads of state are in a unique position to advise the bank on problems with the way water projects are funded.
“Achieving the water global goal would have multiple benefits, including laying the foundations for food and energy security, sustainable urbanisation, and ultimately climate security,” said Kim. “My hope is that this panel accelerates action in many countries so that we can make water more accessible to all.”
The politics of water can be divisive, and competition for the resource has become a serious threat to stability in water-scarce regions in parts of Africa, the Middle East and south Asia.
“We are already seeing elements of water scarcity coming through – not just because of climate change, but [because of] over-abstraction. We are seeing stress points – social tensions or conflicts over a lack of access to water,” said Dominic Waughray, head of public-private partnerships at the World Economic Forum.
According to the UN, 90per cent of all disasters are water related and by 2050 the world will have just 60 per cent of the water it needs. At last year’s announcement of the SDGs, the UN set its sights on delivering “water and sanitation for all” by 2030, but the issue is rarely discussed by those with the power to address it, said Waughray.
“There has never been a coordinated political momentum. Even when it gets to water ministers, they are sometimes not the most influential ministers in a cabinet. The water community might have done a very good job of analysing the problem and coming up with solutions, but it has never broken through politically at the highest level, at scale, in developed and developing countries,” he said.
Attending the session, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestlé and chair of the 2030 Water Resources Group, said: “The mark of success for the panel will be practical action and tangible impact. Let this be an opportunity to break down silos at the highest level and collaborate with private sector and others.”