World Water Day - 22 March 2002, Stockholm

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to be here in the beautiful city of Stockholm today. We are indeed lucky to celebrate World Water Day in a place where 33% of the city area is water, most of it clean water.

It is wonderful to return to the birthplace of UNEP, Stockholm, on the 30th Anniversary of our foundation. Sweden hosted the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, which established the basis for environmental cooperation, and UNEP as the environmental conscience of the United Nations system. Sweden's support ever since has remained strong, for this we are very grateful. In his opening address to the 1972 conference the late Mr. Olof Palme said "Our future is common, we must share it together". These wise words should continue to guide us today.

I would like to thank the Sjöhistoriska muséet for providing this magnificent setting for the "Focus on Your World" exhibition, and I thank Hartmut Schwartbach, the 1999-2000 winner for being with us today. The photos are taken from the UNEP photo competition, which we run in partnership with Canon Inc. This exhibition features the work of an extraordinary group of photographers from all over the world , whose contributions open up our eyes to the richness, diversity and fragility of our planet.

As Hartmut, I'm sure, can testify, every unique image on display is one person's view of the world, and our impact on this world. Each photographer, while going about his or her daily life, absorbed the environment in which they live. They observed the changes in the landscape, the beauty, and the destruction. The role of man, and the struggle of nature. The hopes, and the fears of mankind.

The photographers' personal response is captured in these images, whether they took many years, or a split second, to conceive. The images moved the photographers, and every photographer hopes that they will move us too. In these images we are confronted with the world as it was, is, and could be in the future. The contrasting realities of awe-inspiring beauty, and environmental damage and devastation are portrayed clearly. All is possible. The choice is ours. Let us choose wisely

Even 30 years after the foundation of UNEP, we are still struggling with the question of how best to manage the world's environment. This year, as we work towards the World Summit on Sustainable Development it is clearer than ever, that the Earth's precious resources, and fragile ecosystems are vital to a sustainable future.

We cannot ignore what we see around us. Now is the time to take action to meet the goals of the Millennium Declaration:

· To halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of the world's people whose income is less than one dollar a day, and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

· and, by the same date, to halve the proportion of people who are unable to reach or to afford safe drinking water.

In the light of this commitment, the theme of World Water Day in 2002, "Water for Development", is particularly appropriate.

Without adequate clean water, there can be no escape from poverty. Water is the basis for good health and food production.

This year, water pollution, poor sanitation and water shortages will kill over 12 million people. Millions more are in bad health and trapped in poverty, much of their energy and time wasted in the quest for clean water.

75% of water is used for agriculture. Crop failure due to lack of water, or too much water, can mean starvation for many.

Mankind is always at the mercy of water for survival and development. Water's almost sacred status, is recognized the world over. The Koran mentions that all life originated from water, and that man himself is created of water. Water's power to destroy is well known. In the Bible floods and drought were punishments sent from God.

The poor rely on as little as 10 litres per capita per day to survive while the rich use as much as 250 litres. Some equity must be restored, for water is vital to economic development. We face a huge challenge to ensure sustainable water demand and use, and supply of water to all. Appropriate action is required to meet this challenge.

The earth's water supply is static. The Chinese understood this as early as 500 B.C, however the demand for water is growing. We have to work to facilitate supply and make demand more realistic. We have to address a crisis of management and governance rather than a crisis of scarcity.

There is a need for investment in water services, and water conservation. Water resources must be developed, and managed efficiently. Awareness at every level must be increased, so that appropriate solutions can be implemented.

This year let us use World Water Day to open the eyes of the world to the lack of water for development, and the reasons behind this problem. We should make every effort to give a new perspective to the millions of women trudging great distances to fetch water. We have to give new hope to the children suffering, and dying, from water related diseases.

Let us make World Water Day more than a date in the calendar. Stockholm seems to be a good place for starting initiatives. Let today mark the start of action to meet the goals of the Millennium Declaration - action which should be reinforced at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in Johannesburg.

The thousands of photographers who participated in our photo competition have shown that they care. They transformed themselves from being merely passive observers to active ecologists and environmentalists. Their powerful images should inspire us to care and to continue action in furtherance of the 1972 Stockholm declaration of principles, which aim:

"To inspire and guide the peoples of the world in the preservation and enhancement of the human environment"

It is time for me to pause. Time to let you have a look at the images for yourselves. For they will open our eyes and help us see how our world is changing. If you don't like what you see, then now's the time to focus on your world and take action to change your world.


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