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World Water Day 2019 Symposium

"World’s Water in the Era of the SDGs"

Statement by Michelle Bachelet United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

United Nations University, Tokyo

22 March 2019

Your Imperial Highness,
Your Excellency Vice-Minister Kudo,
Dr Malone,
Excellencies,
Friends and colleagues,

I’m delighted to join you today. It’s a great honour to be in such distinguished company. Japan has made commendable efforts in implementing its human rights commitments and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It has a wealth of experience and expertise, including in the areas of water and disaster management, and is deeply engaged with achieving sustainable societies in which no one is left behind.

I’m particularly honoured to share this platform with Your Highness the Crown Prince, who has spoken so eloquently about the importance of sharing water for our common prosperity at the UN General Assembly and in many international forums, including as a former honorary president of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.

World Water Day reminds us just how vital it is that we tackle SDG 6– the goal to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for everyone by 2030 – is literally a matter of life and death for millions of people on our planet.

Yet, water is more than a goal. It’s a human right. It is fundamental to human dignity.It is life itself. It is indispensable to sustainable development and indivisible from other human rights.

If we see a thirsty child, we would give him or her a glass of clean water. If we see a child collecting drinking water from a filthy or toxic lake, we would feel compelled to intervene. If our globalised world and the 2030 Agenda mean anything, it´s that we should not see this gross inequality as someone else’s problem.

Today, as the new UN World Water Development Report makes clear, three in 10 of the world’s population still lack access to safe water at home. Six in 10 are without safely managed sanitation services. Millions of lives are lost each year as a result.

But safe water and sanitation are not just guarantors of good health. They are gateways to multiple other rights: nutrition, food security, livelihoods, education, shelter, peace and stability.

They are essential to the whole of sustainable development, and to tackling our planet-wide challenges – climate change and the people displaced by it; or the threat of conflict as water scarcity deepens, populations grow, and pressure on resources increases.

Friends and colleagues,

The 2030 Agenda is the world’s promise to itself to end inequality. It means tackling all the biting and systemic discrimination that continues to mar our global communities. It is central to our efforts to build a stable, peaceful, inclusive and prosperous world.

Already we’re seeing progress. Since 2000, billions of people have gained access to basic water and sanitation services; maternal mortality in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by 37%; and mortality in children under five years old has halved. In 2015, more than a billion fewer people were living in extreme poverty than in 1990.

But despite this progress, we are not on track for 2030. And when we fail to deliver sustainable development, we’re also failing to deliver human rights.

The challenges in front of us are considerable. We cannot move forward as a global society while so many people are living without safe water. And we cannot deliver safe water without addressing other deeply-entrenched inequalities, which disproportionately affect women and children, minorities and indigenous peoples, refugees and migrants.

A "business as usual" approach will not take us in the promised direction. This journey requires immediate and accelerated action. While States hold the primary responsibility for delivering both human rights and the SDGs, strong partnerships are vital to success.

We must break down our traditional divides and work together, drawing from this reservoir of the SDGs, human rights law, scientific and technical know-how, strong national leadership and humanitarian action on the ground. The diversity of people and skills represented here today reflects this very well.

But our commitment to safe water, sustainable development and leaving no one behind runs even deeper than attaining targets. We must be ready to invest not just in infrastructure, but in people themselves, as active participants and rights-holders.

Development that is centred in human rights is more powerful, more sustainable and more effective. It promotes empowerment, inclusiveness and equal opportunities for all.

Our challenges are great but our commitment is greater. I look forward to the partnerships that will deliver water and human rights for all the world’s people.

Thank you.