Cooperation on Water Use Is Essential, Conferees Agree

Pollution is an increasing threat to world water supplies. Here, community volunteers work to clean up Manila Bay in June.
Pollution is an increasing threat to world water supplies. Here, community volunteers work to clean up Manila Bay in June.

22 August 2013

Washington — International and regional cooperation on the use of water resources is essential for every human activity, delegates to an August 20–21 conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, said.

The Central Asian city hosted a U.N. conference in conjunction with the International Year of Water Cooperation. A U.N. General Assembly resolution in 2010 designated 2013 as the year.

“There is no alternative to cooperation on water,” said the U.S. representative at the meeting, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Reifsnyder of the department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Increasing demands from growing populations and economic activities will place ever greater demands on finite resources, Reifsnyder said, making cooperative water management imperative.

The United States has “a range of institutional arrangements that support joint research, data sharing and cooperative decisionmaking,” Reifsnyder said. “We are working with Canada, jointly managing our shared river systems to optimize power production, protect the environment and minimize the risks from floods.”

The United States also has resource-sharing agreements with Mexico on its southern border, Reifsnyder said.

About 770 million people worldwide lack access to an improved water source and 2.5 billion lack access to basic sanitation, according to estimates made by the U.N. Development Programme.

At the same time, UNDP Associate Administrator Rebeca Grynspan said, limited resources are subject to greater stresses.

“Water waste and water pollution increasingly threaten the integrity of aquatic and agro ecosystems vital for life and food security,” Grynspan said at the multilateral meeting hosted by the Tajik government.

Reifsnyder said discussions at the Dushanbe meeting reflected a broadly shared understanding of the problems surrounding water resources. He cited a mutual willingness among participants to share resource data and work toward joint solutions in the allocation of resources.

According to UNDP, more than 260 watersheds cross political boundaries of two or more countries, representing about half of the Earth’s land surface and serving 40 percent of the global population. Through the Shared Water Partnership, UNDP has helped more than 100 countries prepare cooperative management plans in these shared water systems.

The United States provides funding for the partnership, Reifsnyder said, to foster political cooperation on shared waters which, in time, will support other development assistance efforts.

This high-level meeting is held as the international community recognizes the U.N International Decade for Action “Water for Life, 2005–2015.”

Between 1990 and 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to clean drinking water, according to a 2012 U.N. announcement, cutting in half the proportion of people without safe drinking water.