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Mr Chancellor of the Institut de France,
Mr President of the World Water Council,
Mr. Director General of Suez Environment,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to start by congratulating the Institute of France and the “Water for All” foundation for organizing this event.
The continuing shortage of clean drinking water in the world is unacceptable.
You have thus offered me another opportunity to speak about a subject that is dear to me, and I thank you.
For fifteen years, I have fought so that water, humanity’s common treasure, is recognized as such, so that it is subject to international standards, and so that it becomes a priority in development programs.
I will not restate the figures that illustrate the dramatic consequences the lack of water has on human health, the environment, or the economy. At this very moment, hundreds of people are dying of cholera in Haiti due to a lack of clean water. This damning example is overwhelming.
In 2010, there are still one billion people who do not have truly clean drinking water and over two billion who have no access to decent sanitation.
In 2000, we set clear, accessible objectives.
But everyone already knows that the Millenium Development Goals will not be met by 2015 in many countries.
I am worried.
I fear that the momentum that inspired us ten years ago is crumbling and that public opinion is now focused on the emerging challenges of globalization.
Your efforts this morning to diagnosis and find practical solutions is vital. Let us not be afraid to flush out false solutions or state truths, even if this leads to bitter debates.
Time is running out/of the essence. We must succeed and we can no longer plead ignorance or lack of experience.
Since the Millennium Goals, water culture and techniques have spread widely throughout the world. Thousands of NGOs and foundations have emerged. Operators and financial institutions have developed their skills. Extensive knowledge has been accumulated.
This long experience has taught us that water requires exacting leadership and management. Water is a public service;
It is up to States to create the framework to protect and use this resource. It is up to local authorities to take on its management. Alongside them, NGOs and public and private operators carry out obviously vital work, but their action would be all the more beneficial if it were clearly defined.
Confusing the roles of each entity is harmful. It saps the rise of local actors. It undermines the confident support of populations needed to respect and maintain equipment. The efforts of all these stakeholders must be coordinated.
Water will always be a political issue that stirs debate. It is natural that positions oppose each other over the ownership of water, its cost, or its management. Doctrinarian discussions however can not replace the need for action and results.
All these challenges can be overcome. This morning’s testimonies from Nour-Eddine Boutayeb, Gerald Jean-Baptiste, Mamadou Dia, Samreth Sovithiea, and Jean-Marc Jahn are proof.
I thank them wholeheartedly for having participated in the seminar.
They showed us that in Morocco, Haiti, Senegal, Phnom Penh, or Algiers, projects are underway and that human determination is stronger than natural or financial constraints. Their stories and those of Laurent Chabert d’Hières and Margaret Baty, converge towards the same conclusion: access to water is not only an obligation, it is an achievable one.
Your commitment to water, ladies and gentlemen, will not end any time soon.
Everything indicates that water related issues across the globe will worsen.
It is less a question of insufficient ressources, than it is one of a steady increase in demand throughout this century. By 2050, world population will have increased by 50% and demand for more water even more so to feed these three billion extra people. Erratic weather patterns will not ease the situation as it provokes disruptions in agricultural production.
During the 21st century, conflicts over the use of natural resources will therefore increase.
I know for example that tension over water has become threatening in the basins of the Nile, the Mekong, or the Euphrates. The question of transboundary rivers and aquifers will become a major issue in world diplomacy.
The foundation I created two years ago, has chosen preventing such conflicts as its foremost mission among the many it has undertaken.
It honors through Annual Prizes individuals involved in this fight.
I have just awarded forty-eight hours ago, the 2010 Prize to Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, former Special Envoy of the United Nations for his efforts in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan and Mr Mario Giro Head of International Relations for the Sant Egidio Community in Rome, for his tireless efforts in Kosovo and Africa.
I firmly believe that the discreet and tireless efforts of individuals to prevent conflict is an effective means of preserving world peace.
But the dedication of a certain few is not enough.
It is therefore necessary that the international community and the States intensify their efforts to finish defining the legal and ethical framework needed to manage water.
I am happy to see things are progressing.
Thus, last July, the United Nations General Assembly took an important step in recognizing the universal right to water and sanitation. Similarly, the UN Convention of 1997 on international watercourses has received further support.
France has just ratified it, as did Nigeria, bringing the number of signatory countries to twenty-one.
Fourteen more are still needed for it to take effect.
All these procedures are hopelessly slow. It took thirty years to complete the signing of the 1997 Convention.
The world however moves increasingly quickly. New questions emerge such as climate change, market regulation, the energy crisis. Multilateral action in favor of water will undoubtedly need to changes its pace, to avoid being bumped aside by history.
France will have the opportunity to exercise its influence, as it will organize, in March 2012, the 6th World Water Forum.
France possesses legitimacy in the field of water. It pioneered the launch of this global campaign.
I would like to thank Loïc Fauchon, President of the World Water Council and Jean-Michel Severino, Chairman of the French Water Partnership, for taking charge of this mission.
Thirteen years have passed since the first Global Forum in Marrakech in 1997.
I know that everyone in the international community for water, is aware of the need for a jolt.
I hope the 2012 Forum will be the stage for this and that it will stand out in history as the “Forum of Solutions”.