«Water as a source of peace: Towards a roadmap for common action» (fr/en)

Bern, 14.09.2017 - Geneva, 14.09.2017 – Opening address by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter on the occasion of the Global High-Level Panel on water and peace - Check against delivery

Chers panélistes,
Mesdames et Messieurs, chers amis

Merci à toutes et tous de votre présence ici à Genève et dans cette Maison de la paix. C’est une maison particulière, presque magique et, en tous les cas, utile. En quelques années, elle est devenue un symbole et un point de convergence.

Un symbole, tout d’abord : car cette maison symbolise l’engagement de mon pays, la Suisse,  en faveur d’un monde qui doit viser la paix et la sécurité.

Un point de convergence, ensuite : car cette maison accueille la réflexion commune pour l’action commune, en faveur d’un monde qui veut se développer de manière durable et qui pense aux générations d’après.

Cette maison de la paix et cette cité de Genève au jet d’eau mondialement connu forment un endroit idéal pour la manifestation qui nous réunit aujourd’hui ; pour le lancement de notre nouvelle action commune ; pour faire de l’eau une véritable source de paix.

Ladies and gentlemen

Conflict prevention and promoting dialogue and cooperation are key objectives of Swiss foreign policy. This is reflected in our commitment to the Maison de la Paix. It is also reflected in how we approach the issue of water. I am therefore delighted that today’s event takes place in this venue of peace and inspiration. I am grateful to everyone who has made this possible.

Water is a Swiss foreign policy priority. Why? Because water is at the core of sustainable development; because water is an essential factor when it comes to peace and security; and because there is a mounting global water crisis that risks undermining both – development and peace. Water is rapidly becoming increasingly scarce and turning into a key global challenge of our and future generations.

Switzerland is committed to addressing this water crisis. We have long worked to improve people’s lives by providing reliable supplies of drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities. We contributed to making water a goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And we have developed our Blue Peace approach to promoting water cooperation with a view to preventing conflict and finding common solutions on water for the benefit of all.

The link between the scarcity of water and conflict is well documented. Water-related issues have contributed and exacerbated conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. Water has even been turned into a weapon of war, be it through withholding it, contaminating it, or flooding. And competition for access to water is bound to grow given the growing demand for water, urbanisation, ongoing pollution, and climate change. Despite this worrying development, water is only gradually emerging on the international security agenda. Cooperation in this field has been limited so far.

It is Switzerland’s vision that water will be as firmly established as a peace and security issue on the political agenda as it has been recognised as a development issue.

Our message is optimistic: While the risk of water turning into a major source of tension is real, there is much potential to make water a key instrument for cooperation and a driver for peace. The mutual benefits of good and common water governance in transboundary watersheds are enormous. They include more trust, better access to water and other basic services (such as energy, agriculture and health), and generally better conditions for sustainable growth. This is why Switzerland is committed to promoting transboundary water cooperation, strengthening hydro-diplomacy and pushing to do more to leverage water for peace.

We have engaged in regional Blue Peace initiatives for several years in Central Asia and in the Middle East. I am grateful to Prince Hassan of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for being with us today - he will address us in a short while. In addition to this regional approach, we have initiated the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace. We have done so because we consider it essential that there be a global discussion and framework on how to deal with the water crisis and make water a key tool of preventing conflict and sustaining peace.

When we launched the Panel here in Geneva almost two years ago, there was a sense of excitement and curiosity on how this endeavour would evolve. In today's introduction, we have already heard about the fascinating journey across the globe that the Panel has pursued since – a journey that has led to both a report as well as a piece of music that is bound to become a strong and lasting symbol of what the Panel, and all of us who are supporting it, seek to achieve.

I wish to thank everyone who has contributed to this journey. First and foremost, I am grateful to the Panelists and their skillful chair, Danilo Türk. You have come up with a substantial and invaluable report full of proposals that have the potential to shape the international debate. We also thank the 14 countries that together with Switzerland have co-convened the Panel, and in particular Costa Rica, Senegal and Slovenia which are today’s co-hosts.

Our thanks also go to the Geneva Water Hub and Strategic Foresight Group which have supported the Panel, and to the composers and the musicians who we will hear playing the symphony later today.

The key points of the report will be presented to you shortly. Let me underline that Switzerland appreciates how the Panel has not only laid out the challenges in a clear and understandable fashion but has also come up with recommendations that are innovative, relevant and action-oriented.

On the issue of water in war, the Panel points to the imperative of protecting water infrastructure and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law. This will have particular resonance in Switzerland and in la Genève internationale – and I wish to thank Madame Beerli, vice-president of the ICRC, for her keynote address here today. 

Regarding the issue of water for peace, let me single out just three of the many important proposals that Switzerland intends to push: First, we consider facilitation, mediation, and hydro-diplomacy capacities for decreasing water-related tensions and preventing such conflicts to be key. The idea of an impartial clearing house for such activities – what the reports calls a ‘Global Observatory for Water and Peace’ – deserves to be pursued further – and why not here in Geneva?

Second, we agree on the importance of confidence-building through exchanging water data and developing common standards. Evidence-based decision-making is a vital step towards good and cooperative water governance and an issue that we will continue to promote strongly.

Finally, we agree that the provision of adequate funding for the promotion of collaborative schemes in transboundary water infrastructure is essential. The report lists a series of proposals, and it is vital that we make progress in this field as fast as possible.

And this brings me to my conclusion: the report of the Panel that we are launching today is not the end of the journey – in many ways it is the beginning of our common effort to advance global blue diplomacy.

Switzerland is committed to promoting this report widely. Our goal is to foster broad discussion on the recommendations and to work towards a roadmap on moving from ideas to joint action. Our first destination will be New York where we will present the report in the UN High-Level Week next Monday. Mainstreaming the issue of water, peace and security firmly in the UN context is vital. And I agree with the Panel that the time is ripe for a Security Council resolution on this issue.

After New York, further destinations will follow. At the same time, we want to anchor the issue of water, peace and security in Geneva. I am pleased that we can now sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Geneva, which will become the new home of the Geneva Water Hub – a home that will allow the Geneva Water Hub to develop further into a centre combining services for hydro-diplomatic action together with think-tanking and research. It will also be a home that will reinforce the continued engagement of Switzerland to transforming water into a force for peace. Into a source of peace.

Thank you.

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