Speech given at the Signing Ceremony of ‘The Geneva Actions on Human Water Security’

This speech was delivered at the University of Geneva on the occasion of the Signing Ceremony of The Geneva Actions on Human Water Security on 7th July 2017 by its Convener, Professor Quentin Grafton of the Australian National University and UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance.

Professor Quentin Grafton signs The Geneva Actions on Human Water Security in Geneva, Switzerland, on 7 July

Professor Quentin Grafton signs The Geneva Actions on Human Water Security in Geneva, Switzerland, on 7 July

Welcome, Bienvenu, Bienvenido.

Thank you all for attending the Signing Ceremony of the Geneva Action on Human Water Security. This event will be brief, as will be my speech, but it nevertheless represents an important first step toward:  

  1. Securing the Delivery of Basin Water Needs for People
  2. Securing Improvements in the Condition of Watersheds, Streams, Rivers and Aquifers
  3.  Securing Better Water Planning, Management and Governance

More than 50 people from 20 different countries in the north and the south have come together today to put their individual names and reputations on a Charter. This is not simply a declaration of principles, but is a call to arms. All of the Founding Signatories recognise the world needs coordinated, prioritised and funded actions to provide basic water needs, respond to the deterioration of watersheds and depletion of aquifers, and correct failures in water governance.

All of us here today are aware of the many declarations on water dating back to at least 1972. Yet, every year more than one million people die from diarrhoea as a result of poor access to clean water and inadequate sanitation. About half a million of these are children.

Most of the world's rivers are polluted and are not suitable for direct human use. In many dry and semi-arid locations water extractions from aquifers and rives are growing at an unsustainable rate and this jeopardises future food production. Sadly, in many locations water planning, management and governance is ineffective and fails to respond to human needs and environmental demands for water.

This is not just a water problem, it is a people problem, and it is a global problem. Indeed, water security is consistently ranked as one of the top global risks facing humanity. There are already 1.8 billion people living in basins and catchments with high water stress and, on present trends, could double or more by the 2050s.

Despite recent improvements in some countries, there are still 2.4 billion people who lack access to improved sanitation and some 700 million or more who lack access to safe drinking water. Extra efforts and additional funds are needed now to transform how we use and conserve our precious water resources.

This urgent challenge will not be resolved simply by nice words, laudable principles or good intentions alone. It requires individual efforts and meaningful actions. It, also, absolutely demands funds to invest in the delivery of hard and soft solutions to the many water challenges the world faces.

Inspired by the Green Carbon Fund that was established by 194 governments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries we, here today, categorically state that the world needs a Global Human Water Security Fund.

This Fund would invest an amount equal in value to US one cent per person per day. This is equivalent to the price of just one cup of coffee for each of us every year. While a very small sum of money for many of us individually, this translates into a very large sum at a global scale, or some USD 27 billion per year.  Yet this amount is less than a third of what is proposed in the Green Carbon Fund, and is much less than the current world water needs if we are to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and, especially, Goal 6: ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.’

The time for action is now. Today, the 7th July 2017, is the beginning of a series of actions that will deliver a Water Secure World.

This is the first step to securing sustainable access to a resource that is fundamental to life on earth and which is of utmost value physically and spiritually to all people.

Honoured Guests, Founding Signatories, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, Damas y Caballeros, please join me in witnessing the Signing Ceremony of The Geneva Actions on Human Water Security.

Martyn Pearce