“Preventing conflict and sustaining peace through promoting water cooperation, in New York, Geneva, and around the world”

Bern, 18.09.2017 - New York, 18.09.2017 - Address by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter at the 72nd UN General Assembly (High-Level Side Event on water cooperation as a tool for conflict prevention) - Check against delivery

Dear colleagues
Ladies and gentlemen

The dynamic rhythms of the Symphonie on Water and Peace that we just heard remind us that we have something to celebrate today: a report with a strong and optimistic message and a wide range of proposals that deserve broad discussion here in New York and around the world.

But before I come to that let me mention that we Swiss have a second reason to celebrate, and that is the 15th anniversary of Switzerland’s accession to the United Nations, as decided by the Swiss people. While my country has been committed to the UN principles since the founding days of the organisation, our membership has opened up more direct ways to promote them. Today’s event is a perfect reflection of this. I am grateful to all of you who have joined us here today. (Toast: Let us drink wine and talk about water!)

A key theme at the UN today is the need to get better at preventing conflict and sustaining peace through the combined use of the instruments of peace and security, human rights, and development. This is very much in line with how Switzerland conceives its own foreign policy. We are therefore committed to help strengthen cooperation between the different UN pillars to improve the world’s collective response to today’s challenges.

One example is the ‘Appeal of June 13th’, a Swiss initiative that calls for more systematic inclusion of the human rights dimension in conflict prevention and for closer cooperation between the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the Security Council in New York. It has been supported by 71 countries so far.

Another example concerns water – and this is why we are here today. As we have heard, water is becoming increasingly scarce and developing into a key global challenge for both our and future generations. There is a mounting global water crisis that risks undermining both development and peace.

Addressing this water crisis requires the broad use of the instruments available to us – very much in the spirit of sustaining peace. Yet, while water has become firmly established as a development issue, it is only gradually emerging on the international agenda for peace and security.
Switzerland is committed to fostering awareness, discussion and action on the link between water and peace. It is with this in mind that we launched the Global High-Level Panel on Water and Peace in Geneva almost two years ago, together with 14 co-convening countries.

While the risk of water becoming a major source of tension is real, we see much potential in making it a key instrument for cooperation and a driver for peace. It is a Swiss foreign policy priority to promote transboundary water cooperation, strengthen hydro-diplomacy and leverage water as an instrument to prevent conflict and sustain peace.

The report that has just been presented to us provides an invaluable basis from which to advance on these issues. It lays out the challenges in a clear and understandable fashion, and it comes up with recommendations that are innovative, relevant and action-oriented.

Switzerland would like to thank all the panelists for coming up with such a substantive report.  Our particular thanks go to Dr Danilo Türk. We are grateful for your excellent work as chair, for this presentation today, and for your strong commitment to our common cause. Let me also express our gratitude to the Geneva Water Hub and the Strategic Foresight Group that have assisted the Panel, as well as to the co-convening countries, which are present here today.

The report contains a considerable number of recommendations that Switzerland intends to pursue further. Let me mention three:

First, the Panel points to the imperative of protecting water infrastructure and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law. This has particular resonance in Switzerland – protecting civilians and ensuring better adherence to international humanitarian law are Swiss priorities that also apply to the field of water.

Second, we consider facilitation, mediation, and hydro-diplomacy to be key for decreasing water-related tensions and preventing  conflict. 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.  Switzerland stands ready to facilitate the creation of such a capacity in Geneva.

Finally, we agree that the provision of adequate funding for the promotion of collaborative schemes in transboundary water infrastructure is essential. The emergence of a new global architecture for infrastructure financing (based on environmental, social and governance principles) provides opportunities for shaping a blue infrastructure investment agenda. Switzerland encourages development banks and other financial institutions to provide incentives for collaborative water projects. Other innovative forms of financing outlined in the report also deserve thorough discussion.

Dear friends

The Panel’s report marks a milestone in our efforts to promote blue peace. But in many ways, it is more the beginning than the end of our common journey. Switzerland’s goal is to foster a global debate on the recommendations and work towards a roadmap on moving from ideas to joint action.

It is no coincidence that New York is our first destination after the launch of the report in Geneva last week. Mainstreaming the issue of water, peace and security firmly in the UN context is vital. The best way to develop political momentum for our cause could be to launch a group of friends on water, peace and security here in New York, as proposed by Senegal a while ago. One thing we should continue to work towards is a Security Council resolution on this issue.

Switzerland will also seek to build further momentum in Geneva, including through the Geneva Water Hub. Finally, promoting the notion of blue peace in those local and regional contexts where it is lacking today must remain a priority. It is encouraging that we have participants from around the world tonight. Water can help advance a culture of cooperation and develop a sense of togetherness where it is underdeveloped today.

So let’s spread the blue peace vision and put it into practice – to prevent conflicts and to sustain peace. Thank you.

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