Statement from The PRESIDENT of the 63rd Session United Nations General
To the Fifth World Water Forum Delivered by Maude Barlow, Senior Advisor
on Water to the President
Istanbul, 19 March 2009
Sisters and Brothers All,
I am very pleased to be able address the Fifth World Water Forum and
through my Senior Adviser on Water, Ms. Maude Barlow, I send warm
greetings to what has become the largest gathering of concerned water
advocates in the world. I wish to address some concerns regarding the
processes and structures of this institution today with candor and the
genuine hope that we can find new ways to broaden our partnerships
around the crucial issues arising from the water crisis that is
relentlessly unfolding around the world.
As you may know, I have made access to water for all people a priority
during my presidency of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly.
My concern has moved me to be the first General Assembly President to
address the Forum since its inception in 1997. At a time when the global
water crisis continues unchecked, the General Assembly has committed
Member States to ensure that as much progress as possible is made
towards the goals of the 2005-2015 International Decade for Action
"Water for Life", which it proclaimed in 2003.
The primary goal of the UN Decade is to promote efforts to fulfill
international commitments made on water and water-related issues by
2015. These commitments include the Millennium Development Goals to
reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking
water by 2015 and to stop unsustainable exploitation of water resources.
The UN requires dynamic partnerships to ensure the realization of these
The General Assembly is joined by other members of the UN family to
advance these goals. I am heartened by the decision last year of the
Human Rights Council to appoint an independent expert on the issue of
human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and
sanitation. Her appointment was clear demonstration of the rising
concern of the international community of the impending water crisis,
and the need to ensure that our joint efforts are guided towards meeting
the needs of the world's most vulnerable and the disempowered.
Just last week in Geneva, Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque presented her
first preliminary report to the Human Rights Council, which focused on
the problem of lack of access to sanitation, and its connection to other
human rights obligations. She is now focusing on the normative content
of human rights obligations related to access to sanitation and the
development of criteria for good practices relating to the human rights
obligations for water and sanitation. These are initiatives that all of
us gathered here should heed and support.
I do not need to tell you the scale of this crisis. I trust we share an
awareness of the importance of supporting the billions of people who are
suffering from lack of access to clean water and sanitation. What is
less clear is our awareness of the need to build dynamic partnerships to
ensure support for the vulnerable communities in their search for
sustainable solutions to the complex problems surrounding access to
My views on water have been deeply influenced by Maude Barlow's
exceptional work over the past years to bring the global water crisis to
the attention of the international community. I share her view that
water is a public trust, a common heritage of people and nature, and a
fundamental human right. I am convinced that we must challenge the
notion that water is a commodity to be bought and sold on the open
market. We must work quickly to guarantee that access to drinking water
constitutes a fundamental right of all peoples and is included among the
goals of the United Nations Decade.
The World Bank reports that by 2025, two thirds of the world's
population will not have enough clean water. This is why water is
increasingly seen as the "oil" of the twenty-first century, with all the
serious consequences that implies. Those who are committed to the
privatization of water, making it a commodity like oil, are denying
people a human right as basic as the air we breathe.
Because of these beliefs, I feel I must express my concerns regarding
the constitution and performance of the World Water Forum. As President
of the General Assembly, I see more clearly than ever the importance of
inclusive and democratic partnerships in addressing the global
challenges before us. Yet to be successful, these partnerships need to
be in keeping with the UN development agenda and the goals of our
Organization, and must take into account and reflect the emerging trends
in international law, including international human rights law. I
believe the UN's own ambiguity and lack of leadership have hindered our
ability to steer a course and forge more constructive partnerships for
addressing the critical issue of water.
I am concerned that the World Water Forum is currently structured in a
way that precludes partnerships with the advocates of the principles
mentioned above. The Forum's orientation is profoundly influenced by
private water companies. This is evident by the fact that both the
president of the World Water Council and the alternate president are
deeply involved with provision of private, for-profit, water services.
It is important that the United Nations insist on more clarity on the
issue of "commodification" of water and articulate a rights-based
approach on access to water. I strongly believe that UN agencies and
offices should spearhead the effort to articulate, through a legally
constituted process, a clear, comprehensive framework for dealing with
issues of access to water and sanitation. Guidelines should be
established as to the accountability and responsibilities of the members
of the World Water Council and the World Water Forum.
I was troubled to learn that the current World Water Forum Ministerial
Statement was only agreed upon when some states ensured that there was
no binding obligation on governments to actually implement any of the
articles within the statement. The issue of water is too important to be
left without a binding and accountable process. We can and must do
It is clear that the present World Water Forum does not share the widely
held views against water privatization and on preventing water from
becoming a commodity. I must agree that future Forums should adopt
international norms and conduct their deliberations under the auspices
of the United Nations. I urge UN Member States to work together to
promote policies for a Forum that meets our well-developed methodologies
for such events. These policies should be implemented before the meeting
of the Sixth World Water Forum.
This new orientation will give new impetus to a range of positive
initiatives. Now is the time when we need to join forces and resources
to take immediate steps to protect the sources of this precious resource
and improve measures to prevent water pollution. It will bolster our
efforts to involve more people in creative and dynamic partnerships to
address the crisis, which is placing at risk the lives and well-being
billions of human beings.
A broader-based Forum will also provide new opportunities to work
together to develop the processes that allow us to work through any
water conflicts in a peaceful manner based upon the rule of law. We need
to utilize the clear mechanisms of human rights and international law
for this to be successful.
For all these reasons, it is essential that those of you representing
governments at the World Water Forum take steps to reverse the decision
to remove reference to the right to water from the Ministerial
Declaration. As it stands, this important statement undermines the
efforts of those who are struggling for access to clean water and
sanitation. I urge all of you to support the efforts of the delegation
from Uruguay in the process to open up the statement and do the right
thing. We all know the real work comes after the words, and on this we
must all stand together.
All of us - the United Nations, Governments, the private sector and
organized civil society - must join forces to find solutions and
positive ways forward. Together we must reassert our role as stewards of
planet Earth, a role that has been abandoned for so long. We must
recognize that the narrow, profit-driven approach to the precious
elements of life is leading us to a dead end, not only for humanity but
for all life on our beleaguered planet. We must find new respect for
what has been entrusted to our care and manage our resources for the
good of all.
All of us, without exception, share responsibility for the state of our
world. But we must move forward. Today, we are witnessing a confluence
of large-scale, interrelated crises -- access to clean water among them.
But crises need not necessarily turn into tragedies. This is a time of
tremendous opportunities to introduce corrective measures to improve our
way of doing things. The World Water Forum should be one of the key
vehicles in this work.
I thank you for your support for this appeal, which goes to the heart of
the work of the Forum. I entrust my advisor, Maude. Barlow, to help us
rethink and join efforts to develop a truly representative legal
framework for dealing with water.
Thank you http://www.un.org/ga/president/63/statements/water190309.shtml