Speech by Melanie Schultz, Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment of the Netherlands, at the Third UN Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-elected President of the United States in 1936, the Dust Bowl was at its height. Millions of Americans had to leave their homes because of drought and land degradation. A third of the population was malnourished and poorly housed.
In his second inaugural address, President Roosevelt said, and I quote: ‘The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.’
Roosevelt made water management, land management and soil protection national priorities.
And as a result, the nation’s prosperity, security and prospects gradually improved.
Millions of people finally had a reason to stáy and not to leave.
Today we face a similar challenge. Around the world, people’s livelihoods are being threatened because of too little water, too much water, or a lack of high-quality water.
In fact a new report by the World Health Organization and UNICEF points out that 2,1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water. That’s 3 in 10 people worldwide!
This problem also ties in with the issue of migration.
Across the globe, people are fleeing in search of greater security. Often because of war and violence. But also because of years of failed harvests due to drought, increasing soil salinity, or the rising sea level.
The story of Colitha Kasuana from Papua New Guinea is a case in point.
Colitha, her husband and their four children had a banana plantation. Slowly but surely it was swallowed up by the sea. As a result, she and her family decided to leave their native country.
Stories like this will become increasingly common. I myself met lots of people in Bangladesh who were forced to leave their homes.
I expect to see a lack of water security becoming one of the main triggers for migration.
According to UN estimates, by 2050 climate change will have forced some 200 million people to leave their homes.
In fact, we’re already seeing the first signs.
Large numbers of migrants from the Middle East, West Asia and Africa.
And the rising sea level is threatening the lives of many inhabitants of small island states like Fiji and Kiribati.
Of course, lack of water security is almost never the sole cause of migration. Political instability such as civil war and terrorism are all major factors.
But there’s no doubt that a lack of sufficient clean water is one of the drivers of migration.
It is rightly viewed as a threat multiplier: it magnifies issues and intensifies conflicts.
That’s why I’m drawing particular attention to the theme of migration today.
Good water management and smart climate adaptation can curb migration. This is something we can work on together.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have made progress.
Water plays a central role in almost all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Paris Agreement was a major breakthrough in establishing the impórtance of climate resilience.
For the first time in global climate talks, adaptation was given the recognition it deserves.
This stresses the importance of good water management. After all, 90% of climate adaptation is about water.
At the same time we need to take the next step. We have to move on from targets and ambitions to implementation and action. In fact, ‘implementation’ should be our new motto.
What steps should we be taking?
First: we need a more coherent approach to water-related SDGs. With over 35 organisations working on water issues, the approach at UN level is fragmented and unworkable.
In recent months, UN member states held two dialogue sessions to discuss this problem.
The Netherlands is a strong supporter of setting up an Intergovernmental multi-stakeholder UN water platform.
This platform would be a hub for data, reports, best practices and the preparation of guidance to the High Level Political Forum. I hope that we can reach soon agreement on this.
Second, we have to make sure that water management and climate adaptation remain high on the international agenda.
The COP23 this autumn in Bonn is a good opportunity for doing just that. Together with a number of partner countries, the Netherlands is organising a special Water Action Day at this event.
But highlighting the issue is not enough. One of the key conditions for a long-term approach is solid financing.
A recurring theme is the gap between government funding available and total funding required for adaptation.
At the same time we see that existing adaptation funds not being exhausted because of bottle necks in developing a project pipeline.
How can we increase the bankability of these projects?
How can we ensure that the private sector invests in them and helps close the gap?
This brings me to my final point: knowledge sharing. The world’s need for knowledge about water management and adaptation is set to grow.
The Netherlands, as a low-lying delta country, has a wealth of experience in this field. We deploy our knowledge in projects around the world, as well as in HELP, the High Level Panel on Water and the Delta Coalition.
Last year, I launched this coalition with twelve delta countries in Rotterdam.
I especially thank Bangladesh for hosting the second Delta Coalition ministerial conference next week.
To make our knowledge even more widely available, we are working with Japan and UNEP to set up the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation. This Centre will be launched at the COP23 in November this year.
The help it provides will be as practical as possible. Because that’s what matters now.
Let me conclude.
The international spotlight is on water management.
Migration makes the need to take concrete action more urgent than ever.
Action that gives millions of people a secure future.
Action that gives millions of people a reason to stay instead of to leave their homes.
Just as at the time of President Roosevelt and the Dust Bowl.