Resources for:
  Civil Society
  Business Persons
  Children and Youth

Thematic Areas

 Printable Version

United Nations Secretary-General's message to the Third World Water Forum kyoto, March 2003

I am delighted to have been asked by Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations to represent him at this landmark event.

It is an inescapable truth that water is at the centre of our lives.

Water is at the heart of all great religions, cultures and belief structures.

We are here in Japan. May I thank the Japanese government and its people for their hospitality. We are in Kyoto, the ancient city, whose streets and public spaces are adorned with shrines and temples to the gods and godesses of the Shinto faith including the goddess of water and the sea.

The architectural-beauty of Japanese temples is often reflected in still lakes. The Japanese garden culture integrates water to reflect a philosophy of nature in peace. Indeed water has often been portrayed as a mirror, not only to our physical bodies (after all we are as human beings 70 per cent water) but our inner selves, our spiritual side.

In the Hindu, Christian, Islam and other religions and faiths, water is not just about cleaning the skin, but about cleansing the soul. It is the font of life itself.

The Koran says ‘we have created every living thing from water’. In Assyro-Babylonian mythology, first the gods and afterwards all beings arose from the fusion of salt water and sweet or freshwater.

It is up to us, here at the 3rd World Water Forum, to give water back its meaning and to start working our own miracles to ensure that the Millennium Development goals and the targets and timetables agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) are met. Implementation is the blue print for success.

Some minor miracles have already been achieved in respect of the forum. Organizing the logistics for such an event as this, in which an estimated 6,000 people are taking part, has been an heroic achievement.

So once again, may I thank on behalf of Kofi Annan and the entire UN family, the Government of Japan and the World Water Council, particularly its Chairman, Dr Abu-Zeid, and the former Prime Minister Hashimoto, the Chairman of the National Steering Committee of the Third World Water Forum, and hundreds and thousands of staff and volunteers for all the excellent work done to date.

I would also like to congratulate the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Matsuura, and his entire staff for spearheading the UN-wide preparation of the World Water Development Report.

Before I deliver the Secretary General’s speech, let me quote from the Luhya tribe of Kenya, where UNEP is headquartered.

“You can refuse a man anything if he comes to your home. Food, shelter, anything. But you cannot refuse him water”.

There are two billion people on the planet without access to sufficient, clean, water. Let us here, in Kyoto, not refuse them this basic right.






22 March 2003

Freshwater is essential for healthy ecosystems, for sustainable development and for human survival itself. Yet too often, in too many places, water is wasted, tainted, and taken for granted. All over the world, pollution, overconsumption and poor water management are decreasing both the quantity and quality of available water. Agriculture requires a major share of freshwater resources to secure food for people, yet its routine water-using practices are often inefficient. Overall demand for water already far outpaces population growth. If current trends continue, two out of every three people on earth will suffer moderate to severe water shortages in little more than two decades from now.

Overwhelmingly, it is the poor in developing countries who suffer the most. It is they who lack access to safe drinking water; they who often pay the highest price for water; they who lack adequate sanitation; they who have the least say in water management. And it is the children among them – more than 2 million -- who die each year from water-related diseases. This is a social, economic, environmental and political crisis that should be among the world community’s highest priorities.

At the Millennium Summit in 2000, and again at the World Summit on Sustainable Development last year in Johannesburg, world leaders recognized the centrality of freshwater to human development, and committed themselves to a precise and time-bound agenda for addressing the world’s current and future water resource and sanitation problems. This year, the International Year of Freshwater, we must move from promises to practice, from commitments to concrete projects, from intent to implementation.

It is often said that water crises and scarcities will at some point lead to armed conflict. But this need not be the case. Water problems have also been a catalyst for cooperation among peoples and nations. Countries with expertise in “drip irrigation” or the management of watersheds and flood plains are sharing that knowledge and technology with others. Scientists, local authorities, non-governmental organizations, private businesses and international organizations are pooling their efforts in the hopes of bringing about a much-needed “blue revolution” and to improve management of this vital resource. Whatever else divides the human community, whether we live upstream or downstream, in cities or in rural areas, water issues -- the global water cycle itself -- should link us in a common effort to protect and share it equitably, sustainably and peacefully.

The investments, policies and technologies required to rise to this challenge are within our means. Let us all now work together to secure the world’s water for the future.


In closing, it gives me great pleasure to declare the celebration of World Water Day officially open and I extend a warm welcome to you all on behalf of the UN System. As you know the theme for the day is ‘Water for the Future’ and I would like to highlight that maintaining and improving the quality and quantity of freshwater available for future generations is critical for achieving economic development, social progress and sound environmental management.