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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

28 March 2024

ES ESCAP

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to address this virtual event which will explore the important topics of water for security, peace and political stability.

Clean and abundant water is the basis for a prosperous future for all. Farmers and both rural and urban populations are connected by the water cycle that provides the sustenance and healthy ecosystems that are the lifeblood of our economies and societies.

The need for investment in sustainable water resource management cannot be underestimated. The demand from fast-growing cities and thirsty fields is growing, while more than half of the 4.7 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region face some degree of water scarcity.

Over extraction and pollution degrade freshwater systems while population growth outstrips infrastructure investment in many countries, leading to wasted water and vulnerability to drought and floods.

Climate change will exacerbate all of these challenges. While the Pacific Islands face sea-level rise and contamination of freshwater sources, the retreat of the glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalaya region will mean significant changes in water availability for some 1.9 billion people.

Therefore, we must keep a laser focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and delivering on net zero commitments in this region. Our research shows that emission reduction targets by 2030 are off-track compared to the IPCC emission reduction trajectories recommended to contain global warming to within 1.5°C.

At the same time, we must build our capacity and institutions and management models to better govern these water resources, in addition to shifting water use patterns and upgrading infrastructure.

Against these backgrounds, please allow me to share three critical measures for strengthening water stewardship in the region.

First of all, water management systems must be based on natural systems. Systems thinking means that all stakeholders must recognize that hydrological systems extend beyond national and administrative borders.

This is a foundational principle for success in confronting the looming challenges. We need sustained dialogue and cooperation in transboundary river basins – but also in river basins that cross administrative boundaries within countries.

Then, cooperation on water governance across transboundary river basins must be strengthened. Here, we can learn from examining the arrangements in place in different parts of the Asia-Pacific region.

The Mekong River Commission, an intergovernmental body initiated by the United Nations over 70 years ago, now makes data available to the public on water levels. Transparent data sharing between countries can be a strong foundation for cooperation that lasts.

Finally, we must develop financing strategies that sustain the health of every stage of the water cycle, including flows of water for nature. This will mean a holistic financing strategy that engages a wide number of stakeholders.

This includes farmers, landowners, private sector actors who capture a large proportion of benefits from water, tourism operations, hydropower developments and water utilities, beverage producers as well as  high-consuming entities, among others.

We will continue to engage with the critical issues raised by this forum.

The UN family is preparing for the release of a new system-wide water strategy. ESCAP’s work with agencies in the region and as part of UNWater also continues and will serve as a platform for sharing lessons learned and facilitating cooperation among governments.

The International Year of Glaciers’ Preservation in 2025 and the International Conference on the Water Decade of Action in Dushanbe will be important rallying points for action.

I congratulate the India Water Foundation for the milestone marked by today’s event and for its role played in connecting people for a prosperous future.

Thank you very much.

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