Opening Remarks
Mourad Wahba

UN Assistant Secretary General
UNDP Regional Director for Arab States
General Assembly of the Arab Water Council

Opening Plenary - 14:00-15:00 March 16, 2019
Intercontinental Hotel, City Star, Heliopolis, Cairo

Thank you. I would like to begin by thanking His Excellency Dr. Ahmed Abu El Geit, Secretary General of the League of Arab States and His Excellency His Excellency Dr. Mahmoud Abu Zeid President of the Arab Water Council for extending this opportunity to be here to open the 5th General Assembly of the Arab Water Council. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is pleased to be a partner for this event alongside the World Bank, UNESCO, CEDARE and the People’s Republic of China.

This is an important gathering to review the state of water challenges in the region and chart the path to more sustainable use of water in line with Sustainable Development Goal 6 on water access. Next week, 22 March, marks World Water Day which the UN marks annually to raise awareness of the pressing global water crisis facing communities around the world.  This year the theme of World Water Day is “Water for All”. Access to water is a key determinant of inequality and poverty around the world and expanding access to water is a fundamental basis for achieving results across the SDGs.

The Arab region receives rainfall well below the world average, with the average person in the region accessing just one-eighth of the renewable water that the average global citizen enjoys. Fourteen of the world’s twenty most water stressed countries are in the Arab region, while water demand in the region continued to grow. By 2030 the effects of climate change will also take a toll on the challenge of water security, possibly reducing renewable water resources by a further 20%. If these trends of growing demand and reduced supply continue, projections are that the region’s water deficit could almost triple from 2000 levels by 2030.

An urgent need exists to enhance systems for integrated water resource management, to find synergies with and generate co-benefits across the SDGs. Water plays a vital role in achieving various SDGs including those on poverty reduction, food security, energy access and gender equality. New capacities are needed to improve the nexus between water, food and energy security, to expand water access for empowering livelihoods and health of women, to manage risks from climate change, reduce water loss and enhance conservation, explore innovations in water reuse and recycling, and scale up investments in community based solutions and private partnerships.

Poor and marginalized communities, and women suffer the most from lack of water access and stand the most to benefit from new initiatives to enhance water security. In the Arab region, an important focus in this regard is the growing numbers of communities across the region displaced by conflict, for whom access to water is an existential need and a key foundation for recovering from crisis.

UNDP has a growing portfolio of initiatives to help address this challenge, implemented in concert with our sister UN agencies. At the regional level, UNDP has led the establishment of a new SDG Climate Facility regional programme, a partnership between the League of Arab States, Arab Water Council, UNDP, UN Environment, UN Habitat, UNISDR and WFP, with USD 7 million support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

The new partnership will help countries achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement in a way that brings co-benefits across SDGs including a priority focus on SDG 6 on water. From 2007-2017, the region suffered one of the most severe drought cycles in its modern history triggering water insecurity and famine in some parts of the region and internal displacement from rural to urban areas in others. With temperatures rising faster than the global average, urgent efforts are needed to build climate resilience into the region’s water systems. The SDG Climate Facility project will help generate new risk management tools, early warning systems, and scaled-up access to green finance and technology for resilience of communities and ecosystems.

Another example is our regional partnership for sustainable use of the Nubian Aquifer, one of the largest underground aquifer systems in the world, stretching over approximately 2.6 million square km under Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan. The aquifer is a critically important source of water in the region and will be increasingly in demand in the future. Growing pressures on the aquifer pose threats to sustainability of the shared resource and could lead to transboundary tension unless cooperative measures are put in place.

In recent years UNDP helped produce a diagnostic assessment of the state of the Nubian Aquifer and a regional Strategic Action Programme (SAP) identifying strategic actions to be undertaken jointly among the countries. To support results under this regional framework of cooperation, UNDP is now launching a joint project with UNESCO, FAO and IAEA, with USD 3.9 million support from the Global Environment Facility. It will help enhance scientific understanding of the shared resource, develop regional and national institutional capacities for co-management of the transboundary water resource, design national action plans to align water resource management actions with poverty eradication, women’s empowerment and other development objectives, and achieve equitable and sustainable water use of the Nubian Aquifer among partner countries.

At the country level, UNDP is also scaling up its cooperation on water access, with a particular priority on restoring water facilities for communities impacted by conflict cross the Arab region. In Yemen for example, more than 19 million people, close to 80% of the population, lack access to clean drinking water and sanitation, as the country faces the largest and fastest outbreak of cholera in modern history. UNDP’s Emergency Crisis Response Project, with over USD 300 million support from the World Bank, helps to respond to the various crisis recovery needs of the people of Yemen. One among many key results thereunder has been to expand access to water for the benefit of over 2 million people, through the establishment of more than 300 water harvesting and water supply projects around the country and 70,000 cubic meters of water reservoir capacity.

In Iraq, millions of IDPs have been returning to areas of the country newly liberated from the Islamic State group. UNDPs Funding Facility for Stabilization, with over USD 400 million of assistance from a group of 20 donors , supports over 1,000 projects for various stabilization and recovery needs. One key focus has also been on rehabilitation of water facilities, with 25 water rehabilitation initiatives in Ramadi, 14 in Ninewah Plains, and rehabilitation of 12 water treatment facilities in Mosul. These and other activities are helping to expand water access for hundreds of thousands of people, supporting overall stabilization and resilience in crisis-affected parts of Iraq.

Your excellencies, Dear Colleagues, achieving more sustainable use of water in the Arab region is one of the top priorities for the UN. Through our new cooperation at regional and country levels, the UN Development System is helping mobilize new resources and develop new capacities to accelerate achievement of SDG 6 and local crisis recovery goals. The UN system stands ready to continue and expand our cooperation on this important agenda. Thanks again to the League of Arab States and Arab Water Council for convening this important gathering of countries across the region.

Thank you.  

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