Building peace in the minds of men and women

Mobilization at the highest level at UNESCO to meet the challenge of access to water

13 May 2019

Innovative solutions to problems related to the governance and management of water, a fragile and essential resource, are the focus of the first UNESCO International Water Conference. Ministers from some 40 countries are participating in the conference in Paris, France, on 13 and 14 May, together with over 1000 experts, scientists and youths from 126 countries.  

"Access to water is not only a matter of development. Above all, it is a fundamental right and an instrument of peace and security in the world" reminded Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, in her opening remarks. Yet, half of the world's rivers are now altered, as the IPBES report on biodiversity reminded us, and nearly one in three people still live without access to safe drinking water and sanitation. “It is our collective responsibility to put in place a responsible management of this common good. This is the very spirit of the Conference: to change our way of thinking and adopt a holistic approach for the sustainable management of this universal resource.”

Water is an essential driver of conflict prevention and peace, a prerequisite for any development. Without water, none of the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can be achieved, as Serigne Mbaye Thiam, Minister of Water and Sanitation of Senegal, pointed out, underlining "the central role that water plays in social and economic development, energy and food production, ecosystem health - in short, the survival of humanity". Indeed, three-quarters of the world's renewable energy is provided by water, and three-quarters of the available water resources are devoted to food production.

Water related issues are so complex that they can only be dealt with by bringing together expertise and experience from different disciplines, in a multilateral, cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary approach: in a holistic manner. Only UNESCO's mandate in the sciences, education, culture and communication makes this possible at a global scale.

Following the opening ceremony, a high-level panel on water brought together key stakeholders in the water sector, including Mr Zhenya LIU, President of the Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization (GEIDCO); M. Hamet Baba Ly, Chair of the Intergovernmental Council of UNESCO-IHP; Mr Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council; Mr Jean-Louis Chaussade, CEO of Suez; and Mr Torgny Holmgren, Executive Director of the Stockholm International Water Institute.

During this first day, on the links between energy and water in Africa were discussed and proposals presented to increase benefits for people. The Conference features thematic panels on topics as diverse as water and technological innovation, water ethics, water and heritage and water and gender.

It is organized by UNESCO, with support from GEIDCO, the Syndicat interdépartemental pour l'assainissement de l'agglomération parisienne (SIAAP), the Regulation Agency for Water, Energy and Sanitation Services of Federal District, Brazil (ADASA) and the magazine Techniques Sciences Méthodes.