At the outset, let me express my pleasure to join you at this important milestone on the road to the UN 2023 Water Conference.
Also, let me commend the Government of Egypt for its leadership in convening these high-level policy dialogues on water scarce countries, which highlight the special challenges faced by water scarce countries to achieve their sustainable development goals.
Such dialogues are timely as the Arab region remains far from achieving water accessibility and availability, despite our joint commitment to SDG 6:
- 90% of the population – over 390 million people in the Arab region– reside in water scarce countries.
- Nearly 50 million people lack access to basic drinking water.
- Water quality is worsening, and groundwater storage is rapidly declining.
To complicate things, two-thirds of freshwater resources cross one or more political boundaries.
Furthermore, climate change is affecting water availability, and water-related climate events are rampant across the region.
All of these challenges are compounded by COVID-19 repercussions, the Ukraine War, and conflict and displacement. But why is water scarcity such a major issue in the Arab region?
It is because water scarcity is all about water security. It is about human security. About food security. About peace and security. About health, prosperity and dignified life.
Water scarce countries do not have the luxury to continue with business-as-usual. Water diplomacy is needed. Transboundary cooperation is necessary. Water security is crucial. We must act now.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The challenges are daunting, but progress has been made and solutions are in hand. The Arab Regional Preparatory Meeting for the UN 2023 Water Conference, hosted by ESCWA in partnership with the League of Arab States in May, shared success stories and reviewed progress at the national and regional levels:
- A new Joint Ministerial Council for Water and Agriculture now regularly meets.
- Regional knowledge hubs, such as those fostered by ESCWA on climate change and groundwater, provide a shared knowledge base that informs water cooperation.
- New financial instruments are supporting green recovery in the water sector, which is needed in our region now burdened by 1.4 trillion dollars of debt. This includes ESCWA’s Climate/SDGs Debt Swap-Donor Nexus Initiative.
Climate finance is also an issue in the Arab region.
Arab States receive less than 7% of their articulated climate finance needs; of this limited amount, only one-fifth support adaptation in the water and agriculture sectors.
Increasing finance for water is central to achieving our ambitions.
So, what are the actions ESCWA is committed to take to address the situation?
ESCWA commits to convene an Arab Climate Finance Forum for Water Action in 2023. This forum will build upon the climate finance forum that ESCWA hosted last month with the Egyptian COP27 Presidency and the UN Climate Change High Level Champions, which overwhelmingly demonstrated that water and adaptation are the climate finance priorities for Arab States.
With your involvement and partnership, ESCWA commits to bring the water and climate communities together to promote bankable projects to support in overcoming the finance gap.
It also commits to continue its work on innovative finance initiatives and to be the voice of the region for more climate Concessional loans, grants and the realisation of the 100 billion dollar commitment by developed countries per year.
Our commitment, your partnerships, active engagement, and actions will accelerate progress during the second half of the Water Action Decade and support the achievement of the Paris Agreement goals.
In closing, let me commend the Cairo Call for Action and your contribution to the UN 2023 Water Conference preparatory process.
ESCWA stands with you to champion the water agenda. It calls on member States and stakeholders to actively engage in the Water Action Decade and to ensure water security for sustainability, peace and prosperity for all.