World Water Day Event 2018

Remarks by His Excellency Dr Mohamed Asim, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives

Panel 2 "Role of relevant stakeholders in mobilizing needed means for the implementation and follow-up of water related SDGs"

22 March 2018


Mr Gilbert Huongbo, Chair of UN-Water and President of IFAD, esteemed Panellists, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Firstly, I would like to thank the President of the General Assembly for convening this High Level Launch Event of the International Action Decade on Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028. I wish to also convey our appreciation to Tajikistan for your leadership and initiative in realising this day.

As you know, the Maldives is a Small Island Developing State, but we are much more accurately, a Large Ocean Developing State. The Maldives is over 90,000 square kilometres large. Yet, our total land area is only 298 sq kilometres. The irony is though, is that despite being surrounded by large expanses of water, achieving access to safe and affordable drinking water, increasing the water quality, and water efficiency is an ongoing challenge.

Our population of 400,000 people are scattered over 188 administrative islands – islands which do not have surface freshwater. Freshwater resources in Maldives are scarce and groundwater aquifers that occur in the porous coral sands and rainfalls provide the main source of freshwater traditionally. However, over-use, and salt water intrusions and other sources of pollution have depleted these groundwater aquifers in recent years. At the same time, climate change is causing adverse impacts and posing challenges on water security in the country. Warming temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns and sea level rise will continue to impact the availability and supply of water in the country.

Desalination has been our solution of choice. Desalination facilities have been established in the capital city Male, with the first facility established in 1985. Today, this plant caters to almost one-third of the national population that resides in Male'. Additionally, desalinated water is also transported to islands on boats, that report water shortage during the dry period every year. First, desalination is a costly, and energy-intensive process. And second, supplying the capital city of Male', as well as an increasing number of islands, places enormous strains on the supply, as well as the costs. This is an extremely vulnerable situation, as we clearly saw in December 2014, when a fire in the desalination plant, left the capital city with no water for three days. Water had to be flown in from neighbouring islands to sustain the population until repairs could be made.

To counter these challenges, the Government has put together a National Water and Sewerage Policy in 2017, at the heart of which lies SDG 6, and interlinked targets. The policy determines national planning targets in line with SDG 6, aiming to provide access to safe water supply and adequate sewerage services to 75% of the population by the end of 2018. The policy also encompasses strategies to engage all stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society, and researchers.

The Government is testing various solutions as well. "Supporting Vulnerable Comnunities in Maldives to manage climate-change induced water shortages" Project targets 49 islands across 13 atolls of the country that continue to suffer from water shortages in dry season. This will cover 105,000 people, roughly 30% of the population.

The concept incorporates rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharging and supplying of desalinated water – three key methods of accessing water in the country – to combat the shortages. A 90-day reserve of clean water will be secured, reducing the exposure to untreated water, and associated health risks. Solar-based water desalination plants will be established in four of the most vulnerable regions in the North of the country. And they in turn will serve as hubs for water production and distribution for all seven Northern atolls during the dry season, reducing burden on Male. The other islands will see an improvement in their rainwater collection infrastructure, as well as groundwater protection and improvements.

This is an ambitious project, which we hope will bring about a much-needed boost to access to water in the country. We will continue to share our experiences in this regard, here at the UN, so that we can learn from your experience and also hopefully there would be something useful for other countries like us.

One key observation is that we found that multi-stakeholder engagement is key. The IWRM project is a collaboration of many. The project was one of the first projects to be awarded financing by the Green Climate Fund. All key government agencies were involved in the design and in monitoring implementation. Local Councils, and representatives of recipient communities, local utilities operators, civil society were also invited to give feedback on the design of the project and in the implementation.

Mr Moderator,

I will stop my remarks here, but I wish to underscore a final point about how this kind of dialogue contributes to the implementation of the sustainable development goals in general, and the water related goals and targets specifically. In 2015, we adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – an ambitious set of goals, and targets, that will transform our world to a more peaceful, inclusive and sustainable one.

A key part of that agenda was the promise to ensure availability and the sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. We believe that this event we are having today, and the International Decade on Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028, will contribute towards the realisation of the 2030 Agenda. First, the decade will undoubtedly raise awareness, and the profile of the issue. Second, we will be able to look at the challenges and discuss solutions to overcome them, at the global level. Third, it will highlight best practises, and innovative solutions, that can be replicated and scaled up elsewhere.

The next few years, Excellencies, would be crucial. We are already seeing how draught, lack of access to water, is causing conflict, and impacting peace across the world. We are seeing a dramatic increase in water related disasters, impacting SIDS and LDCs in particular. Which is why, we believe that the consideration of these long term development objectives are crucial for sustaining peace, and ensuring a more prosperous future for all.

Thank you