Africa: Remarks By Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme At the Opening Session of the 22nd UN Water Meeting
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Michel Jarraud, UN-Water Chair and World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General,

Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat,

Co-chairs, distinguished delegates, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the 22nd UN Water meeting, which we are proud to host in Nairobi, the environment capital of the world and home to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN-Habitat.

This meeting comes at a time when the world prepares to reach consensus on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is that, and of course, the Paris climate change COP on the horizon, that make 2015 a pivotal year for the environment and a historic opportunity - and responsibility - to take definitive steps towards improving the human condition and the quality of life on earth.

Water in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

In the context of UN-Water, our mission has been to prioritize water in the post-2015 development agenda. A broad goal would capture the fundamental importance of water as a lifeline for humanity and as a precious natural resource.

The proposed goal builds on and extends existing commitments such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the priorities agreed at Rio+20. The goal also provides an overall framework that is universally applicable, but that responds to particular national circumstances and addresses account costs, benefits and means of implementation.

UNEP particularly welcomes the 'Advisory Note' on the SDG on water and I would like to thank all of you who were involved in this effort for a job well done as we continue to contribute to the discussions on the post-2015 SDG development process.

Challenges Ahead

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The international target to halve the number of people who do not have access to safe drinking water was met, with over 6.1 billion people with access to improved drinking water sources - 1 per cent more than the 88 per cent set target. Yet, 11 per cent of the world's population - 783 million people - are still without access to safe water.

And the MDG target to improve basic sanitation is still far from being met. Around 2.5 billion people still lack basic sanitation.

As human populations swell and economies expand, water resources are being depleted and polluted to an extent never before witnessed.

The deterioration in water quality, for example, resulting from eutrophication - from dirty water and agricultural run-off - is estimated to have already reduced biodiversity in rivers, lakes and wetlands by about one-third globally, with the largest losses in China, Europe, Japan, South Asia and Southern Africa.

Competition for increasingly scarce resources has reached unprecedented levels, with urban populations expected to double in the next four decades, something our friends at UN-Habitat are only too well aware of and upon which they can speak in more detail over the next three days.

Yet, many low-income countries, who tend to suffer most from poor water quality, water scarcity and the impacts of wastewater possess as little as 8 per cent of the required capacity to effectively treat wastewater.

Both surface and groundwater resources are being depleted and polluted while wetlands and habitats are being destroyed. Ecosystems, species and communities around the globe are increasingly suffering from these impacts. Unsurprisingly, those countries and regions hardest hit by water scarcity, water quality issues and the impacts of wastewater tend to be developing economies.

Across Africa, around 547 million people lack access to basic sanitation, and of the 5,000 people who die daily due to water and sanitation diseases that are easily preventable, a significant number are from Africa.

The scale of the human tragedy is only compounded by the economics of it.

The failure to provide adequate provision of basic sanitation is a deadly barrier to poverty eradication.

According to the Economics of Sanitation Initiative, in Kenya alone, approximately US$ 347 million of GDP is lost every year to poor sanitation, which impacts on the labour force and, in turn, adversely affects economic productivity and the pursuit of poverty eradication goals owing to the related reduction in household incomes and savings, as well as school attendance.

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

The impacts of our increasingly stressed global water resources can be felt by almost everyone, in the form of food insecurity, disease, degraded ecosystems, biodiversity loss, loss of economic productivity, endangered marine life, loss of tourism and more.

What this means is that the remedy to these ills cannot be administered in a piecemeal and fragmented form. An integrated approach is key because solutions that address the environmental challenges, if they are to be effective, must also address the economic and social ones.

All countries, regions and international agencies should combine efforts to apply integrated approaches to water supply chain management to address these challenges, now, and in the post-2015 development agenda. And in this regard, the coordinating role of UN-Water is becoming more and more important.

The Opportunity

It is time to turn this environmental and human health challenge into an opportunity.

For example, according to the Analytical Brief launched today, agriculture consumes 70 per cent of global withdrawal, but agricultural irrigation from reclaimed wastewater is on the rise, and is being used to irrigate 20 to 45 million hectares worldwide.

This is just a fraction of what is possible if policy and available technologies converge to ensure that our global water resources, and all of their component parts in the water cycle - especially wastewater and water quality - are fully integrated into a more holistic water agenda as part of the post-2015 process.

UNEP and UN-Water

Since its inception in 2003, UN-Water has evolved into a vital global body whose incredible contribution to the recent work of the Opening Working Group bears testimony to the value attached to its work and contributions in this area.

UNEP is proud to be part of UN-Water and our contributions include the coordination of the 'Status Report on Integrated Water Resources Management' launched at the Rio+20 Summit which informed its outcomes - "The future we want".

UNEP also coordinates UN-Water's work on water quality including coordinating the publication on Waste Water Management launched this morning.


Ladies and gentlemen,

While the Millennium Development Goals aimed to lift people out of poverty, the SDGs aim to keep them out of poverty, by ensuring that development is both socially and environmentally sustainable.

A framework to achieve this must consider the ways that activities in different sectors, including water, interact, including their respective pressures on natural resources.

We need to develop approaches that minimize trade-offs and maximize synergies between sectors, making the SDGs more cost-effective and efficient, reducing the risk that progress towards one goal will undermine progress towards another, and ensuring sustainable resource use.

You have before you an exhaustive and ambitious agenda. I wish you all the luck in your deliberations and we look forward to the recommendations of the meeting.

UN-Water is a shining light in terms of One UN cooperation and will continue to be that as we support the implementation of the SDGs into the future.

Thank you.

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