Statement at the Commemoration of World Water Day 2015

Delivered at the commemoration of World Water Day 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand

Your Excellency General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Prime Minister of Thailand

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

In my remarks I would like to offer five points.

First, I would like to reinforce the most obvious aspect - that water is vital to human life and economic activity. As such, access to water for all is crucial. Lack of access to clean water and sanitation is a “silent crisis” and it has claimed more casualties through illness than any conflict. The growing demographic challenges accompanied by insufficient investment in the water sector, have magnified the problems of water scarcity and associated vulnerabilities. The multisectoral demands on water by agriculture, food, and energy etc. pose difficult tradeoffs in the use of water, and water resource management is further complicated by politics, particularly where water is a shared resource across national borders.

Second, the Asia-Pacific section of the World Water Development Report 2015, which we are launching today, focuses on a number of growing challenges triggered by:

  1. Accelerating urbanization. By 2015, about 2.7 billion people will live in the urban areas of Asia and the Pacific, placing considerable stress on the resource base of the region’s cities, including water, and undermining urban sustainable development efforts;
  2. Over-exploitation of groundwater beyond sustainable limits in dry regions that face excessive shortages and which carries the added risk of threatening agricultural production -- the main source of income for the majority of our regional population; and
  3. Stress on ecological systems. In Asia and the Pacific, the most natural disaster-prone region in the world, more than 90 per cent of the impacts of climate change are water-related, and more than 50 per cent of our regional urban populations live in vulnerable coastal zones and flood plains. Climate change is likely to increase the incidence and severity of extreme weather events.

Third, the good news is that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have helped to galvanize global efforts to improve access to drinking water and related areas. Asia and the Pacific can be justly proud of the progress made by member States towards the MDG goal of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water by 2015; consequently the percentage of people without access to water had fallen from 27 per cent in 1990 to 8 per cent by 2012. However, the region is further behind schedule as regards the MDG target on basic sanitation.

Fourth, going forward, our ambition has to rise. Universal access to safe and affordable water and sanitation must be at the heart of building a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for our people and our planet. Water features prominently in the post-2015 development agenda and one of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls specifically for “Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” In the context of worsening global climate change, the achievement of all water-related SDGs will be challenging.

Fifth, on this World Water Day, we need to recognize that investments in the quality and safety of drinking water, and improving sanitation, is “smart economics.” Such investments will help enhance human dignity, while reducing expenses and the burden on health systems, and contribute to easing the burden on women who haul water long distances.

In conclusion, I would like to recognize the Royal Thai Government for its leadership role on water in the region. Among others, Thailand sponsored two water-related resolutions at ESCAP Commission sessions, on regional cooperation in integrated water resources management and on building resilience to water-related disaster, which were unanimously adopted by all member States. These efforts are domestically reinforced by His Majesty, the King’s concept and philosophy of sufficiency economy that, among others, integrates the dimensions of water resources management. On our side, ESCAP is working closely with all other United Nations agencies to ensure the promotion of effective policy frameworks; better use of technology and innovation in water management; the sharing of regional and subregional best practices; and capacity development programs to build resilience in Asia and the Pacific to water-related risks and disasters.

I thank you.