We have to anticipate the crises linked to water [fr]
Preventive diplomacy and transboundary waters - Statement by Mr François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 6 June 2017
At the outset, allow me to express France’s deep sympathy or and solidarity with the United Kingdom and Afghanistan in the wake of the terrible attacks that struck London and Kabul. I would like to thank President Morales for his presence at today’s meeting and express our gratitude to the Bolivian presidency for this relevant initiative on the topic of preventive diplomacy and transboundary waters and congratulate it on the high quality of the concept note, which clearly describes the problem we are discussing today. I would like to also thank Senegal, who, in November 2016, had the excellent idea of organizing a debate in the Security Council on the topic of water, peace and security (see S/PV.7818). The discussion that we are having today owes much to this felicitous initiative undertaken by Senegal. I shall limit myself to three brief observations, which I think are important.
My first comment is that water is a vital resource at the heart of development and human rights, but which also touches on security and peacekeeping. The debate on transboundary waters is essential because it is urgent and legitimate for the Security Council to address these issues.
Access to water and sanitation was recognized as a human right by the United Nations in 2010 in a compromise resolution, which owes a great deal to the efforts undertaken by the Bolivian presidency. Many human activities depend on water resources and, at the same time, global demand for water has grown considerably, which is leading to an increase in pressure being placed on water resources. These tensions will continue to rise in the upcoming decades. The World Bank estimates that, as a result of population growth, the water needed for agriculture is expected to increase by 50 per cent between now and 2050 and water needed for energy production will increase by 85 per cent. The pressure on water resources has major consequences in terms of security. While environmental factors are rarely the sole cause of conflict, it is undeniable that access to and the use of natural resources can contribute to the outbreak of violence.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, at least 40 per cent of the conflicts that have broken out over the past 60 years are somehow related to natural resources, such as gold, minerals and oil, but also fertile land and water. Conflicts related to sharing water can arise locally among consumers, as well as among States at a transboundary level. With regard to both surface or underground water, conflicts related to transboundary waters are frequent. They lead to the unequal management of water resources and punish in particular the poorest populations. Upstream countries put significant pressure on downstream countries and too often impose their rules. This then becomes a serious issue of justice. Water is a real factor of stability and fairness. It therefore deserves our full attention and should not be neglected in the anticipation and settlement of disputes. Too often a source of division, water resources can and must become a factor for cooperation and peace between States.
My second point is that there are effective international tools that must promote in order to prevent water conflicts. I am of course thinking of the two major multilateral conventions that should guide all our action in this area: the New York Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses and the Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes. These two conventions are, to my mind, complementary and not rivals. The Helsinki Convention is, in some respects, more ambitious than the New York Convention. It is mandatory, it covers groundwater and goes further in terms of protecting the environment. It also provides a mechanism for dialogue and arbitration — a veritable tool for facilitating and pacifying water management in the context of tensions between riparian States on the same river, lake or aquifer. I recall that the Convention has been open to all States Members of the United Nations since March 2016.
The principles underlying these two texts are fundamentally similar. They are essentially the principle of reasonable and equitable use of transboundary waters, and an undertaking not to cause significant harm to ones neighbours. Both texts also provide a very comprehensive toolkit, detailed and adapted recommendations, and good practices based on long experience. Let us learn to make use of these tools, recommendations and good practices.
I should like to add an important point about the New York and Helsinki texts. These conventions set down key principles but leave much leeway for the parties concerned and do not impinge on the sovereignty of States. I believe that this is a great strength; conflicts are resolved much better on a local or regional basis. We need to promote governance bodies based on river basins, as local parties are best able to assess their needs and discuss the equitable sharing of their waters in order to ensure sustainable and peaceful access to their resources. To that end, we must facilitate dialogue, propose appropriate tools and support cooperative approaches proposed by the parties on the ground but in no case make decisions on their behalf.
My third and last remark is of a more general nature. Climate change exacerbates most environmental issues and makes development issues more complex. Water is no exception. Water resources are becoming increasingly scarce and under increasing pressure due to the combined effect of global warming, population explosion and increasing water demands. The cost of access to the resource will rise and tensions will intensify. Some 90 per cent of natural disasters are related to water. Floods, droughts, storms — these disasters tend to multiply as a result of climate change. These constraints affect the living conditions of human beings; cause or contribute to serious humanitarian crises, such as famine; and give rise to conflicts among neighboring States. Water issues are thus closely linked to the challenge of climate change. It therefore seems to me that in order to prevent water-related conflicts, the challenge of climate change must also be met and, to that end, Paris Agreement on Climate Change must be implemented.
In conclusion, I pay tribute to the Secretary General, who, with great foresight, has stressed the need to decompartmentalize the approaches to sustainable development, human rights and peace and security. The issue of water illustrates with particular force the concrete imperative of a comprehensive approach. We must anticipate water-related crises, strengthen dialogue and promote the creation of sustainable partnerships by focusing on a long-term vision. There is an urgent need to preserve our water resources so as to preserve our future and that of our children in a peaceful and sustainable environment. This is one of the critical issues of our time, and its importance will only grow in the coming years. France will remaining resolutely committed in that regard.