Thursday, August 18, 2011

Secretary General’s Report (August 9, 2011) on the implementation of Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation: The case of Water as a Priority Sector

Adopted from the Report of the Secretary-General: Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development

Water is essential for achieving sustainable development and the MDGs. Properly managing water resources is an essential component of growth, social and economic development, poverty reduction and equity, and sustainable environmental services.

As there are many competing demands on water, investment in water infrastructure and better management of water are key to meet all needs, particularly in rural areas and to enhance agricultural productivity. As development proceeds, with the shift to commercial and industrial activities in urban areas, water has to be managed for energy and food production, transportation, flood control, and drinking water and sanitation, as well as for industrial and commercial activities.

These needs are not always recognized. Usually water is mostly talked about in context of safe drinking water and sanitation. These are important issues as 2.6 billion people do not use improved sanitation, while 884 million people do not use improved sources for drinking water, but it also needs to be recognized that there is an urgent need to address the inherent interrelationship between water and other important development-related sectors, like energy, food, and the environment.

Decision-making on water requires seeking synergies and selecting appropriate trade-offs. It also requires distinguishing between short-term ‘fire-fighting’ – responding to the urgent issues of the day – and long term strategic development. Developing multipurpose water schemes and reusing water wherever feasible can lessen the need for trade-offs by enabling the same volumes of scarce water to deliver multiple outcomes.

A new dialogue between developed countries and developing countries on water management and its role in sustainable development in urgently needed. Countries should work together to identify socioeconomic priorities and to invest in and use water to power the engines of growth, so that instead of competing demands on water, they will become complimentary.

The challenges are great, but the unsustainable management and inequitable access to water resources cannot continue – because the risks of inaction are even greater and can jeopardize achievements in other sectors of sustainable development. Leaders inside and outside the water domain have critical, complementary roles. Leaders in the water domain can inform the processes outside this domain and manage water resources to achieve agreed socioeconomic and environmental objectives. But leaders in government, the private sector and civil society determine the direction that actions will take. The international community can provide a platform where this integrated approach to water is recognized and commitments are undertaken in its support. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+ 20) can be such a platform.


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