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Christian Friis Bach

Bach's Blog

The Executive Secretary's Blog

Water is key to sustainable development

The past months have illustrated once again how important water is as a source of life, prosperity and peace. From the ongoing drought in California, affecting 90% of its population to the catastrophic floods and landslides in Myanmar, critically affecting 1.3 million people and displacing some 300,000 households, the world is increasingly becoming aware of the consequences of its failure to adapt to climate change or address the scarcity of freshwater. In fact, as illustrated in the recent report of the World Economic Forum on global risks, water crises are perceived to have the strongest impact on societies along with interstate conflicts and failure to adapt to climate change.

2015 is however also a year of great opportunities for improving water quality and sanitation and for providing every person in the world with equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water. Only a few weeks ago, United Nations Member States agreed to put forward for adoption at the UN Summit in September an ambitious Agenda for 2030, which includes water as one of the 17 sustainable development goals. This will be a major breakthrough.

These goals promise to pave the way for the eradication of poverty and hunger and for promoting peace and prosperity in a healthy environment for future generations.  The water goal and the many water-related targets in the other goals well reflect the complexity of water challenges: from access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation; water quality; water efficiency and sustainability of water use; water governance; protection of water-related ecosystems; water-related disasters; health impacts from water-borne disease and water pollution; to capacity building and stakeholders involvement.

In addition, the new Agenda also contains a call for transboundary water cooperation.  While this had been debated since the first Earth Summit in Rio back in 1992, the international community could not find yet a consensus on this topic, given its political implications. This is therefore a testimony of the ambition of the 2030 Agenda and of the raising international awareness for the need for cooperation to tackle global water challenges. Given that 60% of the world’s rivers and lakes cross borders and that 40% of the world’s population live in shared basins, this will be a real game changer.

All these issues, and the challenges that lie ahead, will be discussed this week in Stockholm at the 20th World Water Week. In this context, the UNECE Water Convention and the Protocol on Water and Health offer important instruments to help countries reach the ambitious objectives of the Agenda. They offer a framework for intersectoral dialogue, which contributes to breaking the silos between different sectors and issues such as water, energy, food and ecosystems. In the Balkans for example, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, which share the Sava River Basin, have made significant progress in transboundary cooperation and are currently exploring ways to further improve coordination with energy and agriculture sectors.  The Convention has proven its effectiveness in Europe and is now open to all UN members States. 

The goal to provide water and sanitation for all, contained in the new Agenda will require massive action. UNECE stands ready to share its twenty years of experience on transboundary water cooperation with governments, business, civil society and academia. I call upon all parties to work together to ensure that we make the most of this unique opportunity.


If you wonder why the animal accompanying my blog is a cow, it is because cows are fascinating animals; the cows of our host country, Switzerland, are famous for their quality; and because I am still a farmer, and miss the cows I had in Denmark. Now I got one back.