Address at the United Nations World Water Day 2017.
March 22, 2017 Sheik Zayed Media Centre, FAQ,HQ, Rome.
The Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations,
Mrs. Maria Helena Semedo;
Permanent Representatives and Heads of Missions to the Food and Agriculture Organisation;and
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Buon Pomeriggio and warmest Fijian greetings to you all.
It is a real pleasure for me to be with you all back at the Food and Agriculture Organization Headquarters, this time as we gather to celebrate World Water Day 2017.
Yesterday, we had the opportunity to discuss the sustainable use of our soils and forests – resources critical to our survival. And today, we are here to celebrate a resource foundational to life’s very existence – clean, safe water.
We are here because we all recognize that access to clean water is one of the most – if not the most – important determinants of quality of life. Truly, there is almost no aspect of development that is not directly influenced by reliable access to clean water and adequate sanitation.
And unfortunately, there are too many areas around the world where lack of access to both safe water and proper sanitation is crippling economic advancement and causing a myriad of health crises.
That is what makes this day so important. Today we can reiterate the enormous importance of clean water access, and go a step further by exploring how our community of nations can better ensure that everyone has the clean water they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives.
This year’s World Water Day theme “Wastewater” is in line with Sustainable Development Goal target 6.3, which calls for improved water quality by reducing pollution, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater by 2030 and increasing recycling and safe re-use globally.
Access to water and access to sanitation are intrinsically linked. If we only guarantee access to clean drinking water but fail to properly manage wastewater, we can end up in a situation even worse than where we started, particularly in urban areas.
Equal attention must be afforded to both endeavors. Equal action must be taken by Governments who are serious about improving the quality of life for their people.
And I’m very glad to see that this year’s theme gives credence to such an important part of ensuring access to safe water supply.
There is an urgent need for greater investment and research into the management of wastewater to reduce the life-threatening impacts that wastewater pollution has on our environment. With enough effort, there is potential to turn wastewater from a hazard into a valuable resource, as it can be treated and reused as drinking water or repurposed for agricultural uses. The basics of making this happen are not complex. We need strong effective governance, we need effective policies, regulations and legislations, with consistent monitoring, control and enforcement to give teeth to regulations.
And we need greater public awareness on the importance of water conservation and sanitation. The challenges in getting this done can vary by country, but many challenges are shared – and we need close cooperation between nations to push action on this issue.
As part of our own commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and Targets on water and wastewater, the Fijian Constitution contains provisions guaranteeing the right of every person to accessible and adequate sanitation and to clean and safe water in adequate quantities.
Today, I’m very proud to be able to say that around 80 per cent of Fiji’s total population has access to treated and reticulated water. Currently, 25 per cent have access to wastewater facilities - and extensive work is underway to upgrade wastewater reticulation networks to extend coverage in urban and peri-urban areas.
We’ve made huge investments in this area and have partnered with donor agencies and investment banks to spread the enormous health benefits of proper sanitation as widely as possible.
As a small island developing nation, we have considerations as well that relate directly to the growing threat of climate change.
Last year, when our shores were rocked by the strongest cyclone to ever make landfall in the Southern Hemisphere, Tropical Cyclone Winston, while many services dropped out, water supply to our major population centers remained normal. And for most of our affected rural areas, water supply was back to normal in a few weeks. So we’ve made resilience a priority, and those investments have paid off.
There is plenty to glean from Fiji’s own experience in increasing access to water and sanitation, particularly in the context of climate resilient development. And this is an important conversation to have, especially as problems relating to water and sanitation are being exacerbated by the effects of climate change in vulnerable areas around the world.
When wastewater is released into the environment without any treatment, our environment, our water and our agricultural supplies are all put at risk. And that can skyrocket the contraction rates of water-borne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.
We know now that – globally – 80 per cent of the wastewater generated from our homes, cities, industries and agriculture flows back into ecosystems without being treated or reused, and that unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths every year. In the aftermath of a climate-related disaster, those effects can be made even worse.
So, as President of a nation so disproportionately affected by the impact of climate change, I urge that resilience be kept at the top of the agenda in any deliberation of how best to advance access to sanitation services.
Developing countries need support to make that happen. That needs to arrive in the form of funding, technical training and assistance and the transfer of relevant technologies.
The unfortunate reality is that efforts to make these important advancements are hampered by global crises – such as climate change – that the most vulnerable nations have done little to cause.
And a deep gap remains between the resources available to these nations and what is necessary to adapt our water and sanitation system to provide reliable, resilient services to our people. There is little debate on the scale of problems we face. But, in many ways, we need to change our thinking about how those problems must be addressed.
Not only from the larger international community, but stretching all the way down to the day to day decisions and behaviors of our citizens. For every actor, on every scale, the focus should remain fixed on the protection of the environments and ecosystems that sustain us. If we remain true to that, every man and woman on earth will benefit.
Thank you again for being here today for this important celebration, I wish everyone a very happy World Water Day.
Grazie and thank you.